From the opening scene of episode 4, it was obvious that the show would continue to stick to traditional and exaggerated gender roles that have played out in the prior episodes. The characters’ success is determined differently by their gender.
Let me set up the scene… extended family members (including an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, and a grandma) are visiting the Huang family from D.C. Within the family, it is a constant competition to be more successful than the others.
For Jessica and her sister, the battle is over looks, shopping deals, and mother’s love. These are the ways that the show gives them their value. The reasons for this might be because the show is suppose to be a throwback to the 90s, so they are overemphasizing the progress that has been made in the past two decades. Also, the roles might be cultural. The sisters are battling to be their mother’s favorite and not chasing after careers, which means that cultural loyalty remains at home for the women. While it is amusing to watch the sisters battle over perms, breast size, and discounted prices, the gender roles in the family are restrictive and limiting. The women seems to add nothing to the family except housekeeping and eye-candy…
For the men of the family, Louis and his brother in law (and ex-boss), their success is determined by their career, cars, and technology. The male characters are expected to have it all; the car, the computer, the successful company, etc. BUT, this is so restrictive, even for a comedy show. It is just another example of a place where female are not shown as succeeding in the workplace and where men are forced to be the sole provider and suporter. This scene makes men look like they have to be superheros and have it all, when realistically they don’t. This family gender role could also be tied to culture of the Huang family, so the roles speak more to the cultural expectations from this time period.
It is super easy to box genders up and make the characters easy to understand. For FOTB, the focus is on comedy and fast-paced plot, not intricate characters. In every show, something is sacrificed in production and through the family reunion scene, it is obvious that Fresh off the Boat doesn’t waste time having dynamic characters that redefine family gender roles.