As I’ve independently watched and analyzed Fresh Off the Boat, I have learned a lot from this show. No matter how lighthearted the jokes may be, the show still offers a glimpse into the struggles of a child of foreign-born parents as he grows up feeling out of place. So, for this last post, I’ll be looking at what makes this show successful according to some of its top names.
To begin, it’s worth mentioning that Fresh Off the Boat is loosely based on the childhood of the REAL-LIFE Eddie Huang. Yep, that’s right. He’s real, and he’s a TV chef! Cool, huh? As the show was first being developed, his input was taken into very close consideration because, after all, the show is all about him.
One main reason that allowed Fresh Off the Boat to give a different kind of insight into the lives of immigrants is summarized by Nahnatchka Khan, the showrunner.
“It’s told from the inside out, meaning the Huangs are always the ones who are telling the story, not the ones being looked at in a fish bowl and pointed at,” she says. This element stands out in several aspects of the show. The family is never portrayed in a way in which they look foolish. Sure, there are some humorous moments in which the cultural differences come to light (see Jessica and the country club, S1E7), but these are always laid-back, and as confirmed by Khan, this type of joke was intentional.
Another main reason that Fresh Off the Boat has been successful and widely praised is its lack of stereotyping. Yes, Jessica did homeschool her kids with her own version of “Chinese Learning Center,” but this was not presented in a demeaning way. Rather, Eddie presented this whole ordeal (in his eyes) as something Chinese parents do. It was neither harmful nor degrading; in fact, it was presented as beneficial to kids’ roundedness. Constance Wu, who played Jessica, speaks to this aspect in an interview. She says, “Stereotypes are only dangerous when they are used as the butt of the joke, and our writers have taken great care to never write a single joke that is based upon a stereotype.” As a Taiwanese American and a lead actress in the show, her praise of this writing technique speaks volumes.
In a world in which many are quick to judge and stereotype others simply based on appearance, Fresh Off the Boat’s depth in legitimizing Chinese-American culture is extremely refreshing. Here’s hoping this is a trend that sticks.