LOS ANGELES – A new sitcom centered around an Asian American family will hit network television next year.
Based off the memoir of celebrity chef and television personality Eddie Huang, “Fresh Off the Boat” tells the story of a Taiwanese family that moves from Washington, DC to the predominantly Caucasian suburb of Orlando, Florida. Set in the mid-90s through the perspective of 11-year old Eddie (played by Hudson Yang), the family tries to settle into their new home and achieve their own version of the American Dream, showing that the themes of immigrant and outsider experiences still continue to resonate with audiences. Also joining the cast are Randall Park as Louis, the father; Constance Wu, as Jessica, the mother; and Forrest Wheeler as Emery and Ian Chen as Evan, both Eddie’s brothers. The real Eddie Huang also provides voiceover narration in the series.
This upcoming half-hour, single-camera comedy set to air on ABC, comes twenty years after Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl,” the first Asian American television show that only lasted one season.
The Conference for Creative Content (C3), held on Saturday, Dec. 6, featured a panel moderated by Amy Hill (who starred as the grandma in “All-American Girl”) and a sneak peek of the series’ pilot. Panelists included executive producers Nahnatchka Kahn (whose previous work includes “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” and “American Dad!) and Melvin Mar, Samie Kim Falvey (Executive Vice President of Comedy Development at ABC), and Randall Park.
“For years…we [at ABC] had been looking for an immigrant family story because we felt like it really was the original American story and we felt like it was not being told,” Falvey said. “We knew it would transcend race and be this love letter to America, if executed properly.”
Falvey added that several scripts were bought and pilots were filmed that tell stories of immigrant families coming from different parts of the world, but nothing developed into a full production quite like “Fresh Off the Boat.”
“I read it and thought it was an amazing book. I related to it in a way that I never have with anything I’ve read before,” said Mar, who pitched the idea to create a show out of the book when the timing was right. He and Kahn had first met at a C3 panel two years ago and this show would be their chance to finally work together.
Park then recounted how Mar approached him during the development process about playing the father in the show, to which Park was skeptical because a show of the sort “has not happened in ages.”
“Then I found out it was picked up to pilot…it was like whoa, mind blown,” Park said, noting that he was then cast as Louis, yet still remained unsure that it would be ordered to be a full series.
“It really was a testament to how much we believed in the project,” Falvey said. “We started casting even before we had a script and before we picked up the pilot.”
To fill in the roles for the rest of the family, the producers did a casting call in New York, Seattle, Hawaii and Vancouver, but eventually found the two younger brothers in Southern California. Khan remarked how difficult it was to cast young Eddie “because we were really looking for someone who felt authentic, who had that swagger we were looking for, that wasn’t polished,” she said. Hudson Yang, who lives in New York, sent in an audition tape and was flown out for another live audition.
“From the beginning I was like, Hudson is the one, at least in my head. He was so good, so real,” Park observed since he was involved with the casting process.
To date, the show has already filmed 11 out of 13 episodes for the season.
“Without giving anything away, [this season] will be about [the family] sort of finding their place in Orlando and trying to figure out not necessarily how to fit in, but how they’re going to make everyone else fit to them, which is sort of how we’ve been looking at these stories — writing from the inside out, from the family’s perspective, instead of looking outside in,” Khan said of the progression of the season.
Khan also hinted that there will be an episode that alludes to “All-American Girl,” since the show aired around the same time “Fresh Off the Boat” takes place in. Hill spoke about some of the issues that “All-American Girl” faced twenty years ago, including criticism from the Asian American community, and asked how the producers and writers of “Fresh Off the Boat” will take the community and social media into consideration.
“I think certainly having the support of the Asian community was very important to us,” said Falvey. “Mostly because it’s a show with an Asian point of view from an authentic story and we didn’t want to be perceived as anything but that…we reached out to the Asian community…and started a grassroots campaign.”
Though the title “Fresh Off the Boat” is phrase that many deem politically incorrect, the show itself does not play into Asian stereotypes in a cheap or gimmicky way. Diversity on screen has become more apparent on primetime television this season with shows like “Blackish” and “Cristela.”
“This is a show that doesn’t apologize. We are being very specific, but in our specificity, we hope to be universal,” Khan said, adding that the responses after screening the pilot several times have been generally positive and that different races, cultures and ages will find the series relatable.
Park mentioned that the criticism he has heard was that “the accents weren’t right,” but instead of being defensive, it has helped him practice making his accent more authentic.
“This is the time to really represent the Asian market, represent the point of view. Luckily, we have this book that is very specific,” Mar commented. “And I think that’s the authenticity of all of it.”
“Fresh Off the Boat” will air on Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 8:30pm, with a second episode at 9:30pm. On Feb. 10, the series will move to its regular Tuesday 8pm time slot.
(LA Weekend December 20-23, 2014 Sec. B pg.2)