"This is the story of my family, an American family."
It's hard to believe that ABC kept Fresh Off The Boat until the midseason. Perhaps it wasn't ready for a fall premiere but it's easily one of the strongest new network comedies on ABC, or otherwise, and a sitcom they should have used to showcase of their new lineup, not tuck it away in the second wave of series premieres. FOTB would be the perfect piece for ABC's Wednesday night block with Black-ish and The Goldbergs (it does premiere on a Wednesday but will subsequently be moving to Tuesdays). Fresh Off The Boat would fit right in and even possibly upstage the network's other The Wonder Years-inspired sitcoms. It's fresh and familiar, warm and funny.
One of my most anticipated shows of 2015, Fresh Off The Boat is based on creator Eddie Huang's memoir of the same name (adapted for the small-screen by Nahnatchka Khan) and follows his family as they move from D.C. to Orlando so his first-generation Taiwanese father can open a steakhouse and realize his 'American dream.' However, the 90s set sitcom is mostly told through 11 year-old Eddie's point of view, showing how the family's black-sheep uses hip-hop to deal with the upheaval and struggle to make new friends in his school full of 'white-boys.'
As you can probably tell from the synopsis, Fresh Off The Boat has a lot of different avenues from which to find comedy as the show deals with racial and/or ethnic divides across generations as well as how they fit into the 1990s American landscape. A joke can come from the culture clash, the generation gap and/or the pop-culture of the period setting. There's a great Crocodile Dundee gag and the constant gangster rap soundtrack always keeps reminding the audience we're in the mid-90s. It's a deep well to pull from and Fresh Off The Boat manages it successfully in the first two episodes: the "Pilot" and "Home Sweet Home-School."
If you thought a network comedy might pull the racial punches, the sitcom addressed the 'C-Word' (the slur for people from China, not the nasty name for the female anatomy) in the very first installment. This not long after the Huang matriarch asks Eddie, "Why do all your t-shirts have black men on them?" A great line perfectly delivered by Constance Wu, who may be the real standout of the still-young series. There's always something interesting going on in her eyes as she tries to make the best of (while still complaining about) her family's new life.
As with most sitcoms, a lot of the success is in the casting and Fresh Off The Boat does a phenomenal job with the Huang family, as well as the supporting characters. I fully expected The Interview's Randall Park to be the standout but the entire ensemble is terrific. Park's optimistic father is overshadowed by his strict and vocal wife (played by Wu) and newcomer Hudson Yang as Eddie. It's a risk to hang your series on child actors but Yang is a pure delight, whether he's going 'gangster,' struggling to fit in at school or dealing with his almost too-perfect younger brothers. And guests stars like Paul Scheer and Maria Bamford don't hurt. Fresh Off The Boat is warm and inviting, yet has enough bite to make it seem 'fresher' than other sitcoms.
Fresh Off The Boat premieres TONIGHT, Wednesday, February 4 (with back-to-back episodes starting) at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC. Subsequent episodes will air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Based on Eddie Huang's memoir of the same name and adapted for TV by Nahnatchka Khan, the comedy stars Randall Park, Constance Wu, Ian Chen, Forrest Wheeler, Lucille Soong and Hudson Yang.