If you had predicted a year ago that one of America’s top broadcast comedies would be a sitcom about a Taiwanese family moving from Washington to Orlando to open a cowboy steakhouse – you would have been laughed off the studio lot. But you would also have been brilliantly prophetic.
The sad truth is, the moguls of TV land rarely roll the ethnic dice when it comes to recounting the Asian-American family experience. It has been more than 20 years since Margaret Cho's All American Girl was cancelled by ABC after only one season in 1994.
But when 7.94 million US viewers tuned into the premiere of Fresh Off the Boat (also on the ABC network) in February, their interest in the yin and yang of the Huang family revealed a healthy appetite for Asian fare – and you'll be able to sample the goods for yourself when the series debuts on OSN on Friday.
This lively comedy about the new American dream is inspired by the true story of foodie author Eddie Huang (author of Fresh off the Boat: A Memoir), one of three sons of Taiwanese immigrants, who grew up in Washington and Orlando and went on to make his fortune sating New York appetites with tasty snacks.
Now his manic childhood is being played out on the telly, as his family’s fictional counterparts come to grips with culture shock after moving to Orlando in 1995 to run the Cattlemen’s Ranch restaurant – where their life becomes anything but a Disney World dream.
The real revelation of this new sitcom is 12-year-old Hudson Yang, who plays Eddie Huang, a wheeler-dealer adolescent who plays all the angles like a pro at a pinball machine.
“That was the toughest role to cast,” says the show’s creator and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan. “Eddie’s very distinctive [with] his brand of swagger and style – and every kid that we were seeing was sort of just, you know, polished and didn’t have that authenticity we were looking for.
“And then Hudson put himself on tape from New York. And he was 10 years old, really raw – and he was fantastic.”
Much like Fred Savage carried The Wonder Years in the late '80s, Yang's character – who is crazy for hip-hop, rap and basketball – embodies the heart of this new series. And like The Wonder Years, it also employs a similar flashback technique, with voice-over narration from present-day Eddie, voiced by the real-life Eddie Huang, who's also a producer on the show.
The problems facing young Eddie seem endless. For example, it’s tough enough to be the new ethnic kid at school, but when he brings fat Shanghai noodles for lunch and a white kid shouts out “Wing Ding’s eating worms!” to gales of laughter, Eddie marches home and declares to his mother: “I need white-people lunch”.
Eddie's enthusiastic dad Louis, played by Randall Park (The Interview, Veep), embraces all things American, while Eddie's pragmatic mum Jessica, played by Constance Wu, is bewildered by "white" culture.
Rounding out the Huang household are his charismatic middle brother, Emery (Forrest Wheeler), and his goody-two-shoes baby brother, Evan (Ian Chen), both stereotypical Asian overachievers who still manage to fit in.
As one might expect, portraying Asians for laughs on American television is fraught with peril, and early reviews criticised the series for its clichés and stereotypical moments.
Stick with this sitcom, however, if you can. It soon dispenses with the easy and obvious gags to find surer, more meaningful ground.
“It’s important for me,” says the real Huang, “to make sure the show stays authentic, the show stays responsible to the book and the Asian community and people of colour in America in general”.
• The first episode of Fresh Off the Boat is at 8.30pm on Friday on OSN First Comedy HD