If you pay attention to what’s going on behind-the-scenes in the television world, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard a lot about FRESH OFF THE BOAT in recent weeks. The new series from 20th Century Fox Television is set to debut on ABC this Wednesday (in a special preview at both 8:30 and 9:31 p.m ET before moving to it’s regular day and time on Tuesday, February 10th at 8pm ET), but much off the talk has little to do with the actual content of the show itself, and much to do with the folks involved with it. Strip all of that away, and families just want to know this: Is it good, funny and worth investing 30-minutes per-week on? Having previewed the first few episodes here at Rock Father HQ, I can confidently say that ABC may well have a midseason surprise on it’s hands… if audiences become properly aware of it and give it a chance.
Inspired by chef Eddie Huang’s 2013 book, FRESH OFF THE BOAT: A MEMOIR, the title is a tad deceiving, if only because Eddie (played here by Hudson Yang) is not “fresh off the boat,” but an Asian American born in the U.S. to Taiwanese-Chinese parents. In the pilot episode we find the Huangs moving from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, where father Louis (THE INTERVIEW’s Randall Park) is opening the Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse in 1995. While Louis and wife Jessica (Constance Wu) debate how the business will be run and how the kids will be raised, Eddie and his brothers Evan (Ian Cheng) and Emery (Forrest Wheeler) are just kids that are looking to fit in. Thing is, as the real-life Eddie will eventually reveal through narration akin to THE WONDER YEARS or THE GOLDBERGS, Emery “blended in like a chameleon” while Evan had no problems just hanging out with Grandma (Lucille Soong). It was 12-year-old Eddie that was searching for identity, and in part he found it through an affection for pop culture and gangsta rap, much of which makes it’s way into the FRESH OFF THE BOAT soundtrack.
While I’ve not read Huang’s memoir, and certainly haven’t lived the life of a minority, I was at one point a 15-year-old that relocated to a different state back in 1992. In that, there’s a relatability that transcends race and should click with anyone who’s ever been uprooted and forced to readjust in a new place – especially those who have done it during the notoriously awkward tween-teen years. As Eddie struggles to find his seat in the school cafeteria for the first time, I flashed-back to myself at one point – scanning the room for just the right place. It’s a feeling that everyone has at some point faced.
Coming of age in the 90s, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and the “retro” vibe of that decade is now starting to hit, with VH1’s HINDSIGHT having just debuted with roots in the era, and FRESH OFF THE BOAT carrying that torch high – particularly on the rap note mentioned above. Eddie’s rockin’ Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy t-shirts as staples of his wardrobe, and so far I’ve caught Biggie’s “Big Poppa” sneaking in alongside Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” Snoop (when he was still SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)’s “Gz and Hustlas” and “What’s My Name?,” and Ice Cube’s classic, “It Was A Good Day” sliding in with some very non-gangsta cuts from Ace of Base and Bonnie Raitt.
The biggest asset that FRESH OFF THE BOAT has going for it is it’s cast. While the core cast is rock-solid, the supporting players are also fantastic, right down to some of the smallest roles. Paul Scheer is on-board as “Mitch,” the host of Cattleman’s Ranch, while cinematic gangster Noel Gugliemi (aka Noel G) pops up as the chef (hopefully we’ll see him more), and comic Maria Bamford shows up as a teacher to explain some ridiculous stickers on a report card. Someone else to look out for is the always-fantastic Ray Wise, who will be playing one of the Huang’s neighbors – one whose wife and daughter both manage to catch young Eddie’s eye.
There’s an underlying message of not only respecting, but embracing differences at work here, and that’s something great to see as these are waters that I’m just now starting to navigate as a parent. With two young daughters, my wife and I have never pointed out a difference in race or culture, but our oldest (she’ll be six this year) has begun asking some questions on her own. There’s a parallel between the Huangs on television and some of our real-life neighbors – two families of which (both next door and across the street) consist of immigrant parents raising U.S.-born kids, who in-turn play with mine. Seeing life reflected in media is a good thing for everyone.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT: Is it good? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. Is it worth spending 30-minutes per week on? From what I’ve seen so far, yes.
Stay tuned to THE ROCK FATHER as I’m heading to Los Angeles this week, and will be meeting with writer and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan on Friday to learn more on what’s ahead for #FreshOffTheBoat. Do YOU have questions about the show? If so, leave them below and I’ll do my best to get the answers while I’m in L.A.