From the first glance, Fresh Off the Boat may seem to be shot similarly to most sitcoms, going so far as to have an establishing shot over each new location, but in reality there are several key differences between how Fresh Off the Boat is shot and other sitcoms that we are all familiar with. For this post I will review season 1, episode 3: The Shunning. In this episode the show begins with an expositional recap of the show that highlights Luis’s struggle to run a restaurant and Jessica and Eddie’s struggle to overcome their otherness in the community. This recap consists of quick shots of dialogue that help to reinforce the ongoing conflicts between Eddie and his peer group, and Luis and his restaurant.
Similarly to most sitcoms, a lot of the comic and dramatic action unfold in a common gathering area, in this case, a living room. Early in the episode Jessica visits with the other neighborhood wives to shoot the breeze and discuss an upcoming block party. The camera zooms in on the character who is talking at the given moment but it keeps a wide enough shot to include the surrounding characters, which helps to reinforce Jessica’s overwhelmed state as she tries to blend in with the neighbors.
(The Huang parents while still being shot together are given a wide enough shot to convey both their body language and a full background.)
The dialogue between two characters in a sitcom will usually switch camera angles to focus on the character who is currently speaking in the show. In Fresh Off the Boat that is most certainly the case but the camera will also include the shoulder or back of the person being talked to, so as to give a sense of their presence in the dialogue. This practice reflects the shows overall tendency to rarely depict the Huangs by themselves. Since one of the focuses of this show is to portray the struggle of members of the Huang family to fit in, most of the show is designed to feature interpersonal interaction rather than individual experience.