Earlier this week, North Korea fired a missile over Japan. Trump has still been up to his usual hijinks. Everything current event-wise is kind of terrible. In the wake of a terrible world, I’ve been catching up on a show that’s new to me--Fresh Off the Boat.
Eddie Huang, author of the memoir ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat is based on, hates the show. He says he doesn’t recognize his life in the sitcom, and blames Nahnatchka Khan for his grievances. I’ve never read Huang’s book, but I can see how the sitcom style of Fresh Off the Boat feels like a bad approximation of a life. Then again, Eddie Huang is a culinary bad boy that thrives on being part of the counter culture of the day, so I’m not sure what ABC could have done to make the show in his image. While TV Eddie (Hudson Yang) listens to rap music and uses slang, he doesn’t seem to capture the hipster-chic persona of the real life Huang.
Regardless of Huang’s feelings, the show is good. A Chinese-American family that doesn’t feel like a complete stereotype is refreshing. Yes, there are episodes focused on cultural difference—like those that feature Jessica’s sister and mother—but on the whole, the show is funny and somewhat political, much in the same vein as Black-ish, another ABC favorite.
I’m a recent fan of the show of the show, and I’ve found myself loving the show in a way I haven’t loved a show in a long time. The true joy of the show, and what really sets it apart from other sitcoms, is the dynamic between Louis and Jessica (played by Randall Park and Constance Wu, respectively), the parents of the show. They’re married, and they have three kids, but they don’t suffer the stereotypes of so many sitcom couples.
Here’s why Jessica and Louis are making my week:
They’re a team. When I think of married couples on funny shows, I think of the dumb dad stereotype. Homer Simpson. Peter Griffin. Al Bundy. Tim Taylor. The bumbling dad is a TV trope at this point. Louis isn’t a bad dad. He loves his family and, while he’s funny and goofy in the way that many TV dads are, he’s also competent at his job. Jessica is bossy and smart, running the family with an iron fist—“before all that tiger mom stuff,” as the narrator says. You’d think that the writers of the show would try to squeeze in some jokes based on fights between mom and dad, but no. Louis and Jessica are a team.
In one episode, the Huangs are called to Eddie’s school after Eddie kicks a fellow student for calling him a racial slur. The principle tries to convince the Huang’s to punish Eddie, but they quickly turn on him, explaining that no one protected Eddie from racism at the school, and that they will sue the school if he’s punished. Then they high five. And smile. This is the first of many high fives throughout the series, small moments of victory over situations, their kids, and everyday life. Seeing the Huangs facing problems together, getting along and still in love, gives me a weird sort of hope for humanity.
They actually love each other. Sure, there’s an episode that jokes that Louis and Jessica’s idea of romance is doing their taxes on Valentine’s Day. That sort of dorkiness is endearing and it reminds me that love—in real life—isn’t what it appears to be in Nicholas Sparks novels. Normal life things can be fun too, if you like the person you’re with. Every time Louis tells Jessica they have time alone, Jessica’s reaction, the way she says, “Oh, Louis!” quietly, is more romantic than all the grand gestures and dramatic moments. At least to me.
They love their kids, but let them be themselves. The older I get, the more appreciative I am of my sheltered upbringing. Even though I sometimes lament the fact that I never got to watch My Little Pony in the early 90s, I’m glad I didn’t find out about a lot of the more unsavory aspects of life until I was older. The Huangs love their kids, but they don’t overshadow their own dreams. Not really. Sure, they (especially Jessica) try to impose their own hopes and dreams on the boys. In one episode, Jessica pressures Emory into training to be a tennis superstar, while hoping Evan becomes the Surgeon General one day. Yet even Eddie, who is clearly a misfit who listens to rap music and idolizes his white friends, has a place in the family. No one knows what Eddie will be when he grows up—his Baohaus days far ahead of him—yet they love him all the same. It might sound stupid to include loving one’s own kids as an endearing trait, but considering shows like Family Guy, where parents shame their own daughter, Meg (and for no particular reason? I’ve never understood it), Fresh Off the Boat communicates first and foremost that the Huangs are a family, no matter what. In contemporary America, whole, loving families aren’t really a thing, and maybe they never have been—I know my family isn’t perfect—but seeing a family led by parents who care is a nice escape from the tire fire that is our country right now.
I get that Fresh Off the Boat is a comedy show—the type that might be forgotten in 10 years. I get that there are problems with it, especially in terms of a few stereotypes that remain despite all of its groundbreaking work. But I also get that America is kind of a mess right now. Every time I look at my phone, I worry that there’ll be a notification from the New York Times or CNN telling me a new terrible thing that’s happened. I’m not unaware of current events, but I find myself wanting an escape into fun TV. I want to not think about the world on fire.
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The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.