Three episodes of the first season of “Fresh Off the Boat” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
It’s easy to rally behind the importance of a show without first determining whether or not the show itself is worth your time. ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat tells the story of an Asian-American family moving from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida so the family can run a cowboy themed restaurant. It’s the first Asian-American-focused television series in twenty years, and it’s based off of former lawyer, current chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name. It’s also definitely not worth your time.
Structured as yet another grown-man-narrates-his-childhood-nightmare sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat kicks off in 1995 with the Huang family migrating down the east coast to Orlando, Florida. Not much backstory is given on the impetus for the big movie, but dad Louis (The Interview‘s Randall Park) and his big restauranteur dreams appear to be the entire reason behind it. Besides Notorious B.I.G.-loving Eddie, the family consists of dad Louis, mom Jessica, brothers Emery and Evan, and of course, the curt, wisecracking grandma.
Perhaps the best thing going for the show is the dynamic within the family. There’s love, but a sort of sweet hostility baked in as well, like sideway digs Louis makes at the kids – “I’ve grown to love it like the daughter we hoped Evan would be” – and a scene at the end of the pilot where Louis and Jessica threaten Eddie’s school with a lawsuit for a particularly nasty verbal fight between he and another kid. Youngsters Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen, as the youngest members of the Huang clan, get pretty much all of the show’s best jokes. They also play against the usual younger-siblings-are-monsters type in being hilariously likeable to literally everyone around them without a sliver of sarcasm.
Besides that, and a few funny recurring gags about Emery acclimating exceptionally well into Florida life, there’s just no other saving grace here. The basic plots of the first three episodes are so mind-numbingly expected they border on archaic: here’s how our hero learns how to fit in at school, here’s how the mom learns the true meaning of friendship, here’s how the dad learns compromise. Just because the show’s representing a culture that hasn’t seen exclusivity exposure on a TV show in twenty years, doesn’t mean the show itself had to feel twenty years old.
It also doesn’t really follow its own internal logic. Following a vindication of sorts for Eddie at the end of the pilot, a group of bullies go right back to picking on him in the second episode. How can he get these people to like him? A hot babe, of course! Thanks to a neighborhood block party, he gets his chance to impress a complete random set of other kids never even seen to be picking on him, but oh well who cares, while Jessica attempts to balance impressing her bitchy neighbors with being friends with the one woman they all hate. Constance Wu shines intermittently as Jessica, with her passive aggressive motherly support and frizzy-Orlando hair, but repeated trips back to the same joke well – this time with flashbacks depicting the loud, crowded bliss she misses in D.C.’s Chinatown – feel thin.