Fresh Off the Boat Roundtable: 5 and 6

“My favorite moment in this episode… maybe in this whole show… was when Eddie turned to the white character and said, simply, ‘Shut your damn mouth.’ Now that’s a mic drop moment.”

This week our roundtable discussion of TV’s Asian American family looks at episodes 5 and 6. Read below for more on Shaq (Fu and Soda, respectively), “the talk,” and more.

Belinda: What stands out most in episode 5 (“Persistent Romeo”) is the discussion of sexual assault, consent and sex, all of which are big issues to tackle in one 25-minute episode of a family sitcom. The fact that “Fresh Off the Boat” even addresses these matters shows a lot of complexity and audacity from the writers. A few scenes stand out. First, there’s Jessica’s “sexual harassment seminar” at Cattleman’s Ranch. This is, of course, played up for laughs, but Jessica ends up essentially harassing the workers (in what we’re supposed to see as a goofy, endearing manner). Louis cuts her off and later hires Dusty Nugget, who similarly gets kind of creepy with the employees. While I think the show has good intentions, do these instances make light of a serious problem?

Karen: I think those are really interesting questions, Belinda, and frankly, I have to say that the fifth episode’s treatment of sexual assault really made me wary and kind of uncomfortable. To begin with, the Dusty Nugget cameo was mostly played for laughs, as were Jessica’s (well-intentioned) attempts at teaching her employees and kids about sexual assault.

Esther: I agree, and I thought the framing device was also problematic: i.e. the way that Jessica’s fears were shown as irrationally stemming from her attention to “nightly news.” That kind of framing makes it seem like an individual woman’s quirk, or a housewife’s boredom, rather than a larger issue that’s worth addressing in a serious way. But I wonder how much this has to do with the limitations of a sitcom format and tone.

K: Yeah, exactly. Her paranoia was framed within her obsession with Stephen King — as a kind of pulpy read. So in that context, her fixation on issues of sexual assault was seen as a singular obsession, too. I agree that the sitcom doesn’t enable one to consider such fears more seriously, though.

B: Yeah, and Louis doesn’t take her and her concerns very seriously. He seems pretty dismissive of her “irrational” fears. It would’ve helped if he agreed that some kinds of precautions, like a sexual harassment seminar (which is normally required) are necessary. Like, he allowed for the sexual harassment seminar to happen to placate her rather than agreeing that it is a good safeguard in its own right.

E: I wonder if that is tied to a class discussion — like in terms of Louis’s money-making “pragmatism.” Which is part of the problematic nature of it, because then sexual assault education becomes a discussion of monetary ‘value’ for the restaurant.

K: Right. That’s a really good point.

@FreshOffABC/Twitter
@FreshOffABC/Twitter

B: Yeah, maybe that’s why he had her lead the seminar to begin with rather than hire someone legitimate.

E: Ugh, Dusty was so sketchy.

B: And even after she kind of botches it, he hires someone illegitimate still.

 

E: I guess that’s the joke, though. I did like when he spoke Mandarin.

B: YES! Hahahah. And not entirely horribly.

 

K: YES! That was hilarious. And so true to life, even — I always switch to Mandarin with my friends or parents when I’m about to rag on someone but don’t want them to know, haha.

B: But essentially, the sexual harassment training should’ve been something that was important to Louis regardless of the cost, and not something that he was forced into doing because of his wife.

E: Right. I kind of want to chalk up this episode as a forgettable attempt to address a topic kind of outside the scope of the sitcom format.

B: Well, many sitcoms address sex, especially in the parent-child context. So I think that was the focus of this episode, but they wanted to throw the whole sexual assault topic in there. Which, again, I think was audacious, but it wasn’t the best delivery.

E: I guess the generous reading of it would be something like: it was nice of them to try and address it, even though it was kind of botched. At least it was put out there? But that’s a pretty generous take on it.

K: Yeah, I appreciated them trying to tackle these kinds of issues, which does ring true to a kind of middle-school experience. From what I’ve heard, it’s also an adaptation from a moment in the memoir.

B: How did we feel about “The Talk” overall? It a strong bonding moment between Louis and Eddie, and it’s great that Lois didn’t want to water anything down, i.e. “Flowers and Watering Cans.” Some of it was a little uncomfortable, though, like when he talks about how excited he is for Eddie’s future spring breaks and how he might come with. Or how he moved to this country so Eddie could have lots of sex. I think this aspect was a lot more solid than the show’s way of addressing assault, but it still seemed a little awkward to me.

K: I think that’s a productive reading, Belinda.

E: Seeing this moment in the context of the next episode, which is more explicitly about father-son bonding, I am inclined to see “the talk” more generously. I appreciate the way that they build up the father-son relationship, and how (uncomfortably) direct the talk is. But there is also a squicky element of treating sex as… a prize? Or something to look forward to that takes the human connection element out of it.

B: Yeah, that’s not the way I see a father explaining sex to an 11-year-old. That’s how I could see an older brother explaining it to a younger brother, or a friend explaining it to a friend. But it definitely seemed like more of a “sex is awesome” kind of discussion rather than “here is what sex is.”

K: For what it’s worth, I do appreciate that Eddie got a less euphemistic talk about sex than the other kids in his class, though.

E: The contrast with the watering can version was pretty hilarious.

B: Yeah, the directness was definitely good and I like that he addresses contraception! Another big highlight is, of course, Jessica’s fervent “anti-date rape” lesson. It’s so over-the-top with her tackling Eddie on the bed with a giant stuffed animal. “You like that? Well, girls don’t either. No means no! Respect girls!” It has an important message but the delivery was, uh, peculiar. How did you feel about the way Jessica handled that?

K: YES, I really appreciated that moment just for the content and the message. But the way it was framed was definitely weird. I feel like we were supposed to be critically distanced from Jessica in that moment, and given how important that message (“no means no”/”don’t date rape”) actually is in a broader context, that made me really uncomfortable. Especially as Louis repeatedly tried to get her to apologize afterwards.

B: Agreed. I didn’t even find that very funny, and I think that was the writers’ intention.

E: Should we transition from there to episode 6’s (“Fajita Man”) handling of the father-son relationship?

Photo @FreshOffABC/Twitter
Photo @FreshOffABC/Twitter

K: Well, for starters, I liked episode 6 a lot more than 5.

B: Me too! This episode is more focused on the Huang family’s internal relationships than previous episodes.

E: I thought they did a very sweet and funny job handling a VERY common, pretty played-out theme: the intergenerational narrating of hard work. I loved that they brought the grandma in to the episode more and allowed her to speak.

K: Yes!! And even bringing in the legacy of the grandfather, while still troubling his work and parental ethics.

B: Me too! And I love that the grandma only speaks in Chinese. I almost wish the parents would interact with her in Chinese, but I know the writers don’t want to put off audience members with too much Chinese.

E: It definitely complicates a traditional narrative of filial piety, since the grandma steps in to point out that this hard emphasis on work alone has emotional costs. And I think that’s something that’s addressed at great length in other formats (I’m thinking of Asian-American literature here), but it’s nice to see a sitcom take on it. And some genuine sweetness. Or, I guess “genuine.”

K: Right. To be honest, I appreciated Louis as a character a lot more after this episode. I didn’t think he was as fleshed out (or perhaps as comedic?) as the other main characters, or even the grandmother, in the previous episodes. But this episode worked well to give him more dimension and deepen his relationship to Eddie.

B: I like that the grandma is able to get through to Louis — and that he follows in his father’s footsteps of promoting strong work ethic in his own son, but is able to soften up and compromise. That definitely makes him more complex and likable in my eyes. And it makes the grandma a more valuable character as well, rather than just a secondary character.

E: Yeah, definitely. I really liked the exchange between Evan and Emory at the table — where they have this weirdly detailed but adorable exchange but Evan’s career as a future pickle-maker, hahaha. The show is really smart about strategically utilizing the cuteness of their characters. I feel like that cuteness also is used too cover up otherwise problematic themes, like the womanizing we talked about re: Eddie.

B: Yes, their adorableness is kind of a distraction. Like comic relief… cuteness relief. I hope the brothers become more developed so that they start interacting with the parents beyond just being these little goody two-shoes, mamas’ boys. Haha.

K: To this episode’s credit, that little moment of interaction between Evan and Emery particularly did develop them a little more, I think… I feel like they maybe connect to each other a little more because they both model the ideal son, albeit in different ways, whereas Eddie is more of a rebellious son. I love the moment when Emery said, “I know you’re expecting me to say [my specialty is] the ladies, but I’m too classy for that.” So much snark!

E: Haha, yeah.

B: Yeah, that’s a good point. It does serve to distinguish them… Side note: I think it’s important that the show promotes work ethic as not just studying and achieving good grades — what many people *may* associated with Asian-American “work ethic” — but also helping out the family. What Eddie does is more on par with physical labor, but it’s still a character-building and father-son bonding activity, and I’m glad the show makes that a positive thing… that it’s not just pushing the “Chinese Learning Center” facet of hard work.

K: Right, it doesn’t feel stereotyped or reductive — especially with the fact that they lingered on the photo of the grandfather at the end. Speaking of work, let’s talk about Jessica’s job search?

E: Starting from the end, I loved that that storyline brought that moment of celebration where Jessica imitates Eddie’s “pimp walk,” haha. It was so cute and went against the stereotype of the stoic Chinese family that’s centered around the patriarch/filial piety.

K: Oh, yeah, that was adorable. I think every episode so far has ended with a feel-good family moment, but so far that one resonated with me the most.

 

E: What I really liked about it was the way this episode took a really clichéd sitcom storyline — the kid trying to buy something he can’t afford — and put an Asian-American spin on it. But that spin also managed to avoid feeling really reductive or essentializing.

B: Agreed! It was a fun moment, and it showed this sense of deeper understanding between Jessica and Eddie. Jessica’s always skeptical of these “fat brown men” Eddie is into, and Eddie feels like she never sides with him. But in the end, she kind of celebrates in a way that resonates with Eddie. And I like that everyone joins in, haha.

K: Yes, not to mention it was really culturally and historically resonant to that particular moment — I looked it up and apparently Shaq Fu WAS a hyped up game that later became dubbed as one of the “worst video games of all time.” LOL.

E: Hahaha.

B: I loved that the show mentioned that! That the one girly game the kid at the table got was so much better in the end, haha.

E: The 9-5 video game was awesome.

K: Yes hahaha. And it had a proto-feminist message! Bless.

B: That 9-5 ending was perf.

K: Thank goodness for Shaq that Soda Shaq (of the Arizona Iced Tea variety) was a much more successful business endeavor.

B: What is this Soda Shaq you speak of and how can I get some?!

K: https://www.drinksodashaq.com/ — For Belinda and any of our viewers who may be curious!

B: I love Arizona Iced Tea! So good to know. haha.

E: My favorite moment in this episode… maybe in this whole show… was when Eddie turned to the white character and said, simply, “Shut your damn mouth.” Now that’s a mic drop moment.

K: Yes, Esther, that was such a good moment, since it addresses a common Asian-American stereotype really well and in a funny way.

B: Not sure if the kid genuinely thought he was Japanese or was trying to tease him. Either way, that was a badass response.

All in all, our team still finds “Fresh Off the Boat” a sweet and fairly balanced look at a particular Asian American family, replete with 90s nostalgia and a great soundtrack. We look forward to next week’s episode. 

Not ready to disembark just yet? We recommend Phil Yu and Jenny Yang’s post-show commentary stream, “Fresh Off the Air.” Access it through The Angry Asian Man Blog, here.

Why Oscar Snubs Matter

“…in general the Academy and the industry it mirrors manage diversity the same way that corporate America does, by ticking off boxes.”

On February 23, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doled out its coveted statuettes to filmmakers in celebration of their achievements in the cinematic arts. But this year, the Oscars’ golden glow was tarnished by what many internet commentators have labeled a racist snub: the exclusion of Selma’s director Ava DuVernay and leading actor David Oyelowo from this year’s Academy Award ballot. Racism is a weighty accusation that is perhaps not entirely deserved. However, the fact that of no person of color was nominated in any of the acting categories this year does give one pause. A look at Academy history furthers suspicion: only about 4% of the acting awards have gone to people of color, according to an LA Times study in 2012.

Photo courtesy Time Magazine / Paramount Pictures
Photo courtesy Time Magazine / Paramount Pictures

Both the New York Times’ David Carr and Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson do not believe that Selma’s exclusion was fueled by overt racism. Writing for Variety, Mr. Levinson argues that though America is still a “racist country,” as a whole, things are getting better and that the controversy surrounding Ms. DuVernay and Mr. Oyelowo has been blown out of proportion. In his article, he offers three reasons why the Selma snub was likely not due to racial bias: 1. The academy does not have a track record of picking the best nominees, 2. White people get overlooked for Oscars too (example: Clint Eastwood didn’t get nominated for American Sniper) and 3. Since 12 Years a Slave won so many accolades last year, the academy cannot be racist this year.

Mr. Levinson concludes by arguing that “Race issues in America are significant and need to be addressed. The lack of diversity in Hollywood is valid, but change begins with education, not the Oscar ballots…Without that support, too many lost voices can’t join tomorrow’s screenwriters, or directors, or actors, or production designers, or cinematographers, or editors.” Though I appreciate Mr. Levinson’s call for social change, ending on this note subtly excuses the academy from having any responsibility in developing new artistic voices (or recognizing the diversity of existing ones). He essentially claims that if other societal systems were better combating racism, then there would be greater diversity in the industry (and the unstated implication: more black people may be more able to win Oscars). This argument feels like a cop-out, because it pushes responsibility onto other societal institutions, even though the academy purports to represent an industry that is hugely influential in shaping the cultural landscape.

The New York Times’ David Carr also believes that the Selma snub was not an “overt racist conspiracy,” but his assessment of the situation strikes me as much more nuanced than Mr. Levinson’s. Mr. Carr argues that

“…in general the Academy and the industry it mirrors manage diversity the same way that corporate America does, by ticking off boxes. That means that after Kathryn Bigelow won as best director in 2010 for ‘The Hurt Locker’—the only female director to have won in the award’s 87 years—there was no reason to even nominate her again from the extraordinary ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ The ‘woman thing’ had been checked off already. And it also means that though ’12 Years a Slave’ won best picture, its director, Steve McQueen, did not receive similar acclaim because that win took care of ‘the black thing.'”

Oscar observer Sasha Stone (quoted in Mr. Carr’s article) reports that “The Academy’s vote for ‘12 Years a Slave’ was like pulling teeth…To this day, I don’t think many members even saw it and now that it won, the academy has snapped back, like a rubber band, to what they know, to films that are made in their own image.’ If this is true, then we should not be surprised to see a lack of diversity in the Oscar nominees this year: the Academy is about 93% white, 76% male and an average of 63 years old.

One complicating factor seems to be that the Academy’s membership is also the reflection of the demographic breakdown of the film industry; therefore Oscar snubs may be related to the complex relationship between institutional politics, economics and racial/gender bias. An undercover report by the L.A Times in 2012 revealed that

Independent studies of some film crafts show that the academy’s demographics mirror the industry’s. Women make up 19% of the academy’s screenwriting branch, and a 2011 analysis by the Writers Guild of America, West found that women accounted for 17% of film writers employment. The academy’s producers branch is about 18% female, and the directors branch is 9% female, figures comparable to those in a study by San Diego State University’s Martha Lauzen. She examined the 250 top-grossing movies of 2011 and found that women accounted for 25% of all of the films’ producers, and 5% of all their directors.

Of course there are notable exceptions to these statistics. The current academy president, Cheryl Boothe Isaacs, is a black woman. When she was serving on the academy’s board of governors in 2012, she was one of 6 women and the only person of color.

Some argue that the Academy Awards are not obligated to reflect cultural diversity and they are not intended to make a political statement. Carr states that the awards “convey recognition at the highest level of a craft”, and are meant to recognize extraordinary careers in the motion picture industry.

In the L.A. Times report, Frank Pierson, former director of the academy and Oscar winner, is quoted as saying “I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for…We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”

Though I understand Mr. Pierson and others’ desires to judge works of art for their aesthetic qualities and craftsmanship without considering politics or demographics, I am not convinced that the academy engages in that kind of objective judgment. Much of the commentary and journalism on the Academy Awards confirms that Oscar decisions have a political component.  Although I agree with Mr. Levinson that institutional racism and sexism undoubtedly affect who has access to the resources to make a movie “worthy” of Oscar status, I see the academy—which has been “limiting membership growth for the last decade” according to the L.A. Times—as one of the institutions contributing to these inequities.

Because the Academy Awards are such a highly public spectacle, the Oscars make a political statement by choosing a “canon” of sanctioned artists. My concern is that at the core of these Oscar nomination controversies is the academy’s resistance towards developing a film canon that includes narratives that do not center on the white, middle-class, middle-aged male experience.

Photo from ABC
Photo from ABC

I can’t remember when I personally stopped trusting the academy to award Oscars to the most deserving films or artists each year.  It was sometime between my birth and the moment that I realized the academy was not going to award The Lord of the Rings trilogy much of anything until the final installment came out…and then it gave The Return of the King basically every award a self-respecting fantasy movie could hope to receive from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This struck me as false and political.

But despite my mistrust, I (like many skeptic film buffs) watch the awards every year and behave like a devoted sports fan, constantly yelling at the TV when the refs make a bad call as winners are announced. I feel vindicated when the academy and I agree on who should win Best Director and then immediately feel betrayed when it gives the award to someone I deemed undeserving, or it fails to nominate a film or artist I believe should be recognized—this betrayal happens almost every year, in one category or another. For me, it’s the nomination that matters—not the eventual winner. The exclusion of deserving candidates from the final voting ballots (see N.B.) does, in part, diminish the prestige of the Academy Awards. The high status that accompanies the taking home a golden statuette depends almost entirely on people believing that an Oscar actually represents the highest level of craftsmanship and artistry in film.

Even if an Academy Award is a false signifier, the heavy media coverage, star-studded red carpet specials, and historical prestige make the Academy Awards relevant because they have the power to compel people to watch certain movies, to engage with certain narratives. And nominations—and exclusions—make political statements about the voices that are valued in this community of filmmakers. And, in the words of Uncle Ben/Voltaire: with great power comes great responsibility.

Yes, the Oscars are over for this year and the time to speculate on who should have won is certainly up. However, it is never too late to insist that our cultural institutions recognize artists who create films that document experiences divergent from those of the academy’s largest demographic

N.B. on academy voting: According to the academy’s website, films are nominated by “the members of the corresponding branch—actors nominate actors, film editors nominate film editors, etc.” After films are nominated, the respective divisions vote on the nominees to determine the final ballot (which is the ballot that is presented as a given year’s class of nominees). All academy members—regardless of their division—are allowed to vote on the final ballot and the winners are revealed on live TV. This suggests to me that individual divisions—and individual members—have a lot of agency when selecting both nominees, and award recipients.

(Link) Fresh Off the Boat Roundtable: 3 and 4

If you missed it earlier, check out our earlier coverage of episodes 3 and 4 on contributor B.C.’s blog here!

…I thought that was really kind of emblematic of the way the show was treating black people — as markers of culture, happening in the background, with very little real interaction or full understanding. Maybe that is a little harsh, but I just feel like there’s a real disconnect between Eddie’s love of black hip-hop and his total failure to talk to real black people in a meaningful way, and the show kind of skirts around that. I just want to love this show without reservations and this element of it is holding me back.

Big Sound Saturdays: Heartbreak Playlist

American music is at its best when it begs us to dance through our tragedies…It’s this veneer, this Johnny-and-June-jingle, that makes you want to move.

Editor’s note: We’re really excited about this recurring feature from the brilliant S.A., where every week she offers us a playlist culled from the best of American folk, country, blues, and more, along with a brief guide/introduction. So sit back, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, and hit play. 

In a memorable segment for “This American Life” (here), Sarah Vowell names Johnny and June Carter Cash’s abiding romance “the greatest love story of the 20th century.” Borne of the single most famous family in Country music history, June Carter was already married when she met Cash backstage at the Grand Ole Opry—the same Cash who was addicted to pills and liquor, who dreamed one night of the hellish mariachi horns he arranged into Carter’s lyrical “Ring of Fire,” who she was to marry and leave a clean, happy, Christian life with, who was buried next to her just shy of four months after her death.

“Oh What A Good Thing We Had” is nestled in the middle of Johnny and June’s first joint album, Carryin’ On with Johnny Cash and June Carter, released seventh months before their marriage and boasting a cover of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and the raucous love song “Jackson.” The guitar jingles mime the platitudes Johnny and June croon to one another—“sunshine and showers” punctuating the “milk and honey”-essence of their love—except sung in the minor, notes descending, “gone bad.” Itself a great American tragedy, Oh What A Good Thing We Had sings as an in-joke with a punch-line occluded by the glitz of Country stardom and grime of country outlaws—a “long walk by the river” whose lead-up and fall-down we’ll never really get to know.

American music is at its best when it begs us to dance through our tragedies. Loneliness is borne not just from Dolly Parton’s child-killing tragedy ballads or Memphis Minnie’s plaintive moaning in “Crazy Crying Blues,” but from the Everly Brothers’ irreverent “Bye Bye Love,” the cloying “Tears on My Pillow” (sung by Little Anthony and the Imperials, who are memorialized not only by Olivia Newton John in Grease, but also by great American mythmaker Tom Waits in “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”), in the friendly intimation of the Girls of the Golden West: “oh darling, you’re breaking my heart.”

Bessie Banks reincarnates this deep-down heartbreak with her invective “Go Now,” where Barbara George taunts it, Waylon Jennings deflates it, and the great and powerful Linda Ronstadt refuses it outright. Already sanctioned a country classic by the time Gram Parsons performed it with the Burrito Brothers in 1969, “When Will I Be Loved” is usually a song of bombast; insistent, insolent, and really, really loud. Gram Parsons singing that tune is like Sonic Youth covering The Carpenters’ “Superstar”—he pleads with a jagged sadness that harbors the old defiance of the Country classics. It’s this veneer, this Johnny-and-June-jingle, that makes you want to move.

Fresh Off the Boat: Week One

Welcome to the first of our weekly roundtables on the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, starring Randall Park, Constance Wu, and Hudson Yang. We are really excited to be discussing this show, which—for better or worse—is significant in being the first major network sitcom about an Asian American family in about twenty years.

Esther: Initial impressions?

Belinda: I want to start by saying that Constance Wu is a goddess!

E: Haha yes! When she showed those boys what’s what with her minivan? Goals.

B: She is definitely my favorite character so far. I was going through and jotting down funny quotes… and they were like 90 percent hers.

Karen: I think she also has terrific comedic timing.

E: “What….is this store so excited about?”

B: And her facial expressions.

K: Like, the mannerisms are so mom-ish that I forget she’s only in her 20s.

E: True, that is a weird thing though…how they cast such a young actress. I guess that’s what Eddie Huang meant when he wrote that the mom was “exoticized?” Like they had to make her sexy somehow because a scary Asian woman who’s also not sexually appealing is just a no go?

B: She seems young, for sure. Too young to be their mom. The accent seems a little contrived too.

K: I thought Eddie Huang was talking about her accent [when he said she was exoticized].

E: Oh I see. Yeah the accents seemed pretty put-on….especially because Randall Park is Korean….

K: He dropped the accent in episode 2 though, I noticed upon rewatch.

B: I think so. They could’ve still chosen someone who looked older but is attractive. But I don’t think that’s an issue of exoticizing her. That’s something Hollywood does to all women; it’s just ageism.

E: True. Do we want to talk about what our hopes/anxieties were for the show going in? There’s been so much buzz about it in the interwebz…so much pressure.

B: I need to read Eddie Huang’s memoir.  I haven’t yet, so I wasn’t exactly sure what I *should* want to expect, you know?

K: Honestly, I feel like the show was gonna get picked apart as soon as I saw the trailer, because it’s the only Asian American show on TV in such a long time. And because of that I felt more compelled to go into it optimistically.

E: It’s the first in twenty years! That’s crazy.

B: It seemed to be getting a lot of support from Asians, though. Especially among the ones I had talked to and knew. A lot of Asian Americans feel that representation — good or bad — is a step forward and is important.

E: Definitely. I’m more inclined to be generous toward the show…because I feel like if we, as a community, are so vocal in our dislike of every major opportunity for “mainstream” representation we get, the opportunities might dwindle, you know?

B: Any experience is going to be cornstarch-y. Even that of a white family, you know? It won’t be dead on to his memoir because of the nature of the show.

E: Yeah true it always has to be more vanilla. Haha “cornstarchy” I love that.

K: I agree. I think Mindy Kaling faced a lot of similar criticisms when her show first started. Not to say all of the criticism is invalid, but it’s unfair because you don’t see white-centric shows getting the same kind of scrutiny for racial dynamics and representation.

E: And she still gets heat for not making her show more about race.

K: Exactly.

E: I think people are just anxious and afraid to get too hopeful, especially because it IS a network show so there are all of these constraints on the subject matter and tone. Anyway, after reading Eddie Huang’s article about how much the show had been neutered, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the sharp tone the show sometimes takes.

B: I think the show did a brilliant job with it — as far as the racial dynamics. It was clever about it and never distasteful. Like that lunch scene with Eddie and the black kid. It was nuanced with showing how both he and the black kid were picked on, but in different ways, and were fighting to not be on the bottom.

E: I felt like white constructs of exotic Asianness were mostly the butt of the jokes, rather than presenting Asianness as inherently exotic.

K:Well that’s one good example of what I was saying re:POC-centered shows getting scrutinized. I’ve already seen a bunch of criticism about how the portrayal of Eddie’s interactions with the black kid are anti-black

E: Hm I could see how people would take it as anti-blackness, but I think it’s actually a really nuanced portrayal of how even kids can be aware of really complicated racial power dynamics. Like you see Eddie making an overture toward connection, but both he and the black kid know that the lunchroom (and in broader white society), whiteness rules the roost.

B: Yeah, like he doesn’t fit in with the black kid just because he likes hip-hop, like he initially assumed.

K: I agree with you. And I want to see what they do with that from here on out, if the black kid is a recurring character (which I really hope he will be!)

B: I hope they *do* become friends. That “chink” comment, though…[the real] Eddie was called a chink by a black kid as a kid… and felt it was important to keep that bit in, despite the network being like… Awk.

E: But you know, that really felt like the kids repeating what they hear the adults around them saying.And that m oment contained a tiny detail that was really touching to me…because when the black kid shoved Eddie he also prevented him from MICROWAVING his pizza lunchable! And you know the white kids would have made fun of Eddie for that.

K: Oh my gosh, yes.

B:So that was intentional?

E: That detail felt intentional to me, for sure. Not necessarily in an overt, attention-grabbing way but I feel like it’s adding nuance to the staging of these racial confrontations, like these kids are acting out racial dynamics that become more and more pronounced as they get older. And yet there’s a kind of understanding between them underneath that. Like the black kid saying, “oh, the white people didn’t welcome you with open arms?” That’s both an insult and a kind of warning.

B: Oh man, that’s deep! I hope that was intentional. I did kind of pick up on that, but didn’t think much of it.

K: I like that interpretation, E. I really do hope they explore that more in upcoming episodes

B: Agreed. I hope he is a recurring character.

K: Also because the actor who plays the black kid also has great comedic timing and some good zingers.

E: The “you’re at the bottom thing” seems so relevant to me re: the complicated history of black and asian political alliances. I mean the lunchroom is really political,

K: Yes! Can we talk about the lunch thing?

B: The lunchroom is always a symbol of social dynamics.

K: Because that — i.e. white people being repulsed by an “exotic” lunch — totally happened to me too.

E: It’s kind of a primal scene. It’s both racial and also just the complicated anxiety/dynamics of being a kid.

K: Yes, especially when the black kid says his best friend is a 40 year old man. On the one hand that’s played for laughs, but on the other hand it’s kind of also indicating how disconnected he is from his white peers.

E:  I hope the old man friend gets shown later.

K: Me too!

E: Maybe it’s his dad or something!!

B: Hahaha.

K: Speaking of which…I want to talk about Eddie’s brothers too. Because they are adorable but also great foils to Eddie. The running gag of how Emery immediately integrated into his surroundings was hilarious to me.

E: I think they did a really good job writing the dynamics between the mother and children too. Like I was so touched when Eddie and the mom went to buy the white people food for lunch, haha.

K: I totally agree — each of the brothers represents a specific attitude towards their parents.

E: Eddie’s “seat at the table” speech killed me, so proto-political.

K: Even the little things like Jessica asking Evan to “help mommy” when she’s getting into the house on her rollerblades.

E: It’s a real act of love to spend good $$ on a lunchable when the mom was calculating the cost of napkins.

K: It’s nuanced but so well-constructed.

B: Ah, so true! With the Lunchable. Those things are not cheap haha. And the pepper… oh man.

E: I hope they explore the parents’ dynamic more. That whole “I love you” thing was played for laughs but not really explored.

K: Yes, but to be fair to them, it worked well and was totally relatable.

E: Yeah for sure, I just want to hear more about it. Like I got the sense that the different attitudes on running the restaurant can also be read as different attitudes toward ‘integrating’ into white society.

B: Ahh, totally agree about their methodology with running the restaurant.

K: Yes. I don’t think one parent is necessarily more right than the other but it’s really touching at the end of the second episode when they try to compromise with each other. It folds family dynamics into racial dynamics.

B: Louis just seems much more assimilated than Jessica overall.

E: Or more eager to be.  It’s so funny that the restaurant is in Orlando though, rather than Texas, because then it’s less about being “authentic” American and more about performing Americanness. Orlando just strikes me as a really artificial place, like overdetermined by all the theme parks and entertainment industry.

B: Yeah, that’s a good point. Their comments about this being the “west” (like the theme of the restaurant) but how it’s really the “south” and they can’t afford California.

E: True, because the West…California…that would be more Asian,

B: The whole restaurant is a metaphor potentially… it’s like this contrived Western feel. Nothing authentic about it.

K: The restaurant commercial at the end of episode one…

B: OMG

K: …was probably my favorite moment from both episodes. I really appreciate how unafraid this show is of parodying white culture

E: My favorite moment was…”enjoy your stick, white friends.” I mean I think they handled that pretty well because it didn’t come across as like, “look at the Asian way of doing things, it’s so much better and will lead to more success.” It’s totally not a Tiger Mom mentality.

B: Yes, truly! That’s bold. And like Esther said, it’s playing off of the fact that white people see Asians a certain way and that they’re misguided in their views and THAT being the humor.

K: Yes, exactly, Belinda.

E: Misguided perceptions of all kinds are the joke. Like when Eddie was so surprised that the white kid knew who Biggie was…Although I hope that will come back later in a satirical/unsympathetic way.

K: I agree. I do want the show to examine more closely the potential white appropriations of black culture, and perhaps Asian culture as well, although that may be too heavy for a sitcom.

E: Yeah. Well they’re kind of getting into that already, in very subtle ways. The whole lunchroom dynamic was a total “we are all oppressors” moment.

B: “A white dude and an Asian dude bonding over a black dude. This cafeteria’s ridiculous.”
E: Like, we are all complicit in white norms at times no matter how much we strive not to be.

K: Very true.

E: Hopefully we’ll meet his family or something? Though I do think the Orlando setting kind of precludes any comprehensive representation.

B: True… that’s probably the point. So you think Eddie and the white kids liking Biggie is appropriation of black culture in a sense? Did the black kid not even like hip-hop or identify with it?

E: Idk, we didn’t see enough of him to say, but yeah I think it’s definitely pointing us toward the idea of appropriation. Like, Eddie doesn’t just espouse the ideas/philosophy of a certain kind of black masculinity–he literally wears it over his body.

B: Eddie made a comment about how if you’re an outsider, hip hop is the way to fit in.

K: Yes, and I loved the boombox scenes with the grandma!

B: Those were so funny. I like that she only speaks Chinese.

E: I hope they will do more with her character.

B: Maybe at this point it shows the generation gap there…like look how far removed Eddie is from her. He basically uses her as a prop and there is no relationship dynamic between them thus far.

E: Yeah, although the mention of their practicing together for Eddie’s entrances was really sweet.

K: I loved when she said to the taxidermied rabbit, “You were too slow.”

B: YES! The you were too slow comment had me in tears.

K: Yeah, Belinda, I agree about the generation gap thing. Right now the grandma is kind of a bit part. We don’t even know whose mother she is. But other than that aspect, I think that so far, the family dynamics between the Huangs are playing out nicely.

E: Yeah, I’m excited to see the rest of it. I was almost giddy with relief that I don’t have to schill this show JUST because it’s about Asian Americans, haha. Like, it’s actually funny enough that I would watch it even if I didn’t care about APIA [Asian/Pacific Islander American] representation.

K: Right. I hope it does get more attention beyond the APIA community, because it’s a genuinely funny show.

B: I completely agree! I would watch this regardless, but it’s nice to be like, “Oh, that reminds me of my own experiences.”

E: The fact that it’s a 90s nostalgia show might also help it along. Like, even if you don’t necessarily identify with the particular Asian American aspects of the experience, I think it’s effective as nostalgia

K: Yeah. Also, these two episodes made me belly laugh more than any recent sitcom.

B: Agreed! The ending of the second episode with the sticker system…

How did you guys feel about this quote: “We showed our love through criticism and micromanagement.” –Eddie

K: Again, not to whittle it down to personal experience, but that expression of “love” almost exactly echoes something my mom said to me once. So in that respect, I appreciated that quote.

E: Haha I mean I think it highlights an important element to keep in mind with this show: it’s easy to forget that this is still a particular story about a single family, and despite all our identifications with the show, it’s not claiming to represent all of Asian America. I know some people are mad because they think it’s very narrow in its representations, but to ask one show to represent all of Asian America would be impossible. So like, I identify with that quote in some ways but if other viewers don’t…that should be totally fine.

K: Yeah. I think back to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about the danger of a single story…Since this is the only representation of an Asian American family on network TV, people might take it to be THE representation.

B: Yeah, so that pertains to the Huang’s family dynamic — which is evident — but not necessarily all Asian Americans. And I think viewers do know that… if they know it’s based off of an actual memoir and real family.

E: I mean, you don’t see white audiences picking apart every episode of Friends being like, “it didn’t happen for me EXACTLY like that.” Yeah, most viewers know it’s based on an individual memoir but I think there’s still this impulse to put so much crushing weight of representation on it. Just reading the twitter feed about it, some viewers were like, “this show is racist, my family didn’t make us go to CLC and not all Asians do that”…which is besides the point, I think.


As a whole, we’re excited to see where this show goes and what’s in store for the Huang family as they navigate the humidity and microagressions of lily-white Orlando.

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Authors: BC | KH | EY
Photos property of ABC