Set in 1995, the Huang family moves from Chinatown, D.C. to Orlando Florida to pursue a new life.
The show centers around Eddie (Hudson Yang), a typical pre-teen kid who feels like he doesn’t fit in his school or his family. His feelings of marginalization ironically lead him to find solace in 90’s Rap music. “If you’re an outsider, Hip Hop was your anthem,” he states in the pilot episode. Unlike Eddie, his more likable and less complicated younger brothers Emery and Evan (Forest Wheeler & Ian Chen) find themselves fitting in perfectly to their new surroundings further frustrating his inability to adapt. Eddie’s parents Louis and Jessica Huang (Randall Park & Constance Wu) are Taiwanese immigrants who simply want a better life for their family. They wrestle with attaining the American dream and the often troubling assimilation that goes along with it.
“Be polite, respectful and don’t make waves,” Eddie’s over the top strict mother tells him on his first day of school.
Assimilation into white culture is a dominant theme on FOTB and a large part of its particular comedic charm. To some it can be a bit startling at first to hear so many joke references towards “whites” but I think it’s because we’re just not used to hearing them. In a typical sitcom comedy starring a white cast, characters of different ethnicity often appear and quickly play into some stereotypical caricature of themselves or those same characters are used as racial props meant to point out some comedic inadequacy in the main cast. This trend in television is so pervasive that when reversed it can surprisingly make you feel a little uncomfortable, but that’s our problem not the show's.
In a recent article for Time Magazine, Constance Wu describes this in more detail:
“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. The fact that this is the first show in 20 years that has Asian leads— carrying a story instead of supporting a white person’s story — takes away that burden of stereotypes. What makes a stereotype harmful is when it’s a one-dimensional person.”
FOTB is extraordinarily relatable and remarkably hilarious.
It’s a fresh perspective on the American family seen through the lens of an Asian-American perspective. Whether or not you are familiar with Asian culture doesn’t matter, their story is universal and built around the desire to make a better life for family. "Fresh Off The Boat" comes at a time when the actualization of the American dream seems further away and harder to attain, yet gently reminding us over and over that the dream is still possible.