All Fresh Off the Boat’s sixth-grade hero Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) wants is to be as smooth as the hip-hop artists and pro athletes he worships. Well, and also some Lunchables. And maybe a pair of Air Jordans.
Such is the plight of an 11-year-old Taiwanese-Chinese-American whose family has moved from Washington, D.C.’s, Chinatown to the lily-white suburbs of Orlando so his immigrant dad, Louis (Randall Park, The Interview‘s own Kim Jong-un), can take a bite out of the all-American steakhouse business.
With his little brothers acclimating effortlessly, and his equally flummoxed mother Jessica (Constance Wu) newly recruited as the token “exotic” by the neighborhood trophy wives, Eddie’s at a loss on how to be his super-fly self and still crack the ranks of the in-crowd at school.
Fresh is based on the best-selling 2013 memoir of restaurateur, writer and TV host Eddie Huang, who, along with series scribe Nahnatchka Khan (American Dad!), manages to poke good fun at his family’s triumphs and travails without selling them short or making viewers feel guilty for laughing along — and laughing at ourselves in the process.
For Huang — who, in his signature forthcoming fashion, expressed concerns about Boat‘s tone in a recent New York Magazine article — having this story told to his liking goes beyond the personal connection.
“I care the most about the conversation that’s going to happen because of this show,” he said, sitting beside Kahn and the cast during a press conference at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “This show, to me, is historic. This show has a huge place, culturally, in America. I mean, I don’t think you guys have seen a TCA panel with this many Asian faces on the stage in a long time.”
True. But when Yang said that he was recently coached to be “more Asian” in an audition to play a “nerdy role,” Kahn jumped at the chance to point out that the Asian thing isn’t the only thing on Fresh Off the Boat.
“I think that that really speaks to what we’re doing here,” she explained. “For so long, it’s the Asian kid is the nerdy kid or the crime lab technician sending out for blood sample results.”
“Played it!” Park interjects.
“Or the quirky best friend,” adds Wu.
“Or the quirky best friend to the white girl,” Kahn continued. “Look at these people. This is amazing, and we’re so proud of it, and they’re done such a great job — they’re just playing flawed characters and funny, relatable characters. That’s what we’re trying to do; we’re starting the conversation and hopefully people will pick it up and keep it going.”
On the subject of conversations, asked about Fresh Off the Boat‘s challenging time slot opposite the CBS ratings behemoth NCIS, Kahn said her first and most difficult call was … home.
“My first reaction was, I have to call my mom,” she joked, “because she’s going to be real conflicted!”
Fresh Off the Boat premieres with sneak peek episodes Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 8:30 and 9:31pm ET, before moving to its regular time slot Tuesdays at 8:30pm ET, on Feb. 10