The last time Asian-Americans were portrayed in a non-stereotypical manner on U.S. television happened back in the mid-1990s show "All-American Girl" starring Margaret Cho. Now a new TV show is set to air on ABC this week focusing on the experience of Americans of Asian descent.
The show, entitled "Fresh off the Boat," is based off the memoirs of restaurateur Eddie Huang, who grew up in a Taiwanese-American family in Orlando in the 1990s. Patrick Ryan of USA Today reported that the actor playing Huang's father, Randall Park, starred in the controversial film "The Interview," where he portrayed a North Korean dictator who loved Katy Perry.
"I'm glad it's over," Park said of the international crisis surrounding the film's release. "I knew it was a provocative subject, but I didn't expect it to be world news. I didn't expect to see myself on the news everyday."
Park, who is the son of Korean immigrants, could relate to some of the themes portrayed in the show. According to Ryan, he saw it as a potential opportunity to be part of TV history.
"(I knew) it came from somewhere that was such a good place, that we'd be seeing the world from the family's perspective, as opposed to from the outside world looking at the family," Park said. "It was a chance to be part of a show where the Asian characters weren't the butt of the joke, and where the characters could be more layered."
Alex Dobuzniskis of Reuters reported that 32-year-old Huang narrates the culture-shock comedy and is a producer of that show. In addition to Park, the show stars Constance Wu; both characters moved with their three children from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Fla.
While Park told USA Today that his Los Angeles school was more diverse than the one portrayed on the show, he recalled how his dad struggled to set up a one-hour photo shop in Santa Monica. He also related to Eddie, who was an avid hip-hop fan.
"There were times when I definitely felt like an outsider, and I identify with the show," Park said. "Like when (Eddie) comes to school and brings the lunch his mom made and feels embarrassed by it, because all the other kids are eating Lunchables or what's considered more 'normal.' (I remember) bringing Korean food to school and wanting to have lunch that looked more like other kids'."
Reuters reported that "Fresh off the Boat" doesn't hold back on the Asian-American experience. Its pilot episode even dealt with the thorny issue of racism experienced by Americans of Asian descent.
"To deal with the word 'chink' in the pilot episode of a comedy on network television is borderline genius and insane at the same time," Huang told reporters while promoting the show.
The scene in the pilot episode, which was shown in advanced screenings, resonated with Asian-American audiences according to Reuters.
"There were actually people crying in the theater," executive producer and Chinese-American Melvin Mar said. "It hit them so much because they've been called that as kids, me too, and now we're tackling it."
The most recent census figures indicated that Asian-Americans make up about 5.5 percent of the U.S. population. USA Today reported that Park understood concerns that the show could play into cultural stereotypes of that group.
"I know there is a lot of trepidation about this show because we haven't had something this like this in so long," Park said. "'Is it going to be stereotypical? Is it going to be offensive?' I know those conversations are already happening, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on the show to represent properly."
Park hoped that the conversation leads "to a positive end."
"I hope it helps bring us to a place that we can have more shows that look like this and leads that look like this on different shows," Park said.
"Fresh off the Boat" premieres Wednesday on ABC at 8:30 and 9:31 p.m. ET/PT, and future episodes are scheduled to air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT starting next week. Online viewers can watch the show off its website the day after it airs on ABC.