U.S. network television has been criticized for years for its lack of racial diversity, especially in prime-time comedies. That perception changed last season with the introduction of Black-ish and another new show, Fresh off the Boat.
Set in the mid-’90s, the latter follows a Taiwanese family who move from Washington to Orlando, Fla., where they open a cowboy-themed restaurant. Father Louis (played by Randall Park), embraces everything to do with the “American Dream.” Mom Jessica (Constance Wu) struggles to hold on to her Asian roots.
The series is told from the perspective of Eddie (Hudson Yang), the oldest of the family’s three children and a big fan of hip hop and basketball. The real Eddie Huang, a 33-year-old chef and food personality, created the series and narrates as his grown-up self.
Fresh off the Boat returns for a second season Sept. 22 on ABC. In Canada, it’s one of the most popular offerings this summer on the streaming service shomi.
The series is the first American television sitcom starring an Asian-American family in 21 years. Comedian Margaret Cho headlined the last such sitcom – All American Girl – which aired in 1994.
“For me, it’s a triumph even though it’s not my television show,” Cho said last month in Montreal during the annual Just for Laughs comedy festival.
“I’m not sure why it took 21 years,” she says. “It just happened that way and I take a lot of personal pride in the fact that it’s on.”
Park figures there are many reasons why it took two decades for a second Asian-American series.
“There’s long been a perception that people aren’t ready for something like this,” he said last week from the set in L.A.
But he feels viewers are much more open to seeing a broader range of cultures and nationalities on TV today compared to 21 years ago – a mix more reflective of their own changing neighbourhoods.
Besides, says Park, “the TV landscape has changed. There are so many options and networks and channels and (streaming sites) online. It makes business sense to tell stories that are a little different now.”
The 41-year-old actor was born in Los Angeles, the son of Korean emigrant parents. He says there are similarities between his own father and the restaurant-owner dad he plays on the series.
“My father was a small business owner. When I was growing up he ran a one-hour photo store – back when there were one-hour photo stores.”
Park says he would help his dad out on weekends.
“People really liked my dad,” he says, and while his parents held onto their Korean culture, “he definitely believed in the American dream.”
The busy actor is living that dream now. Besides Fresh off the Boat and a recurring role on The Mindy Project, he made an impression as Minnesota Gov. Danny Chung in Veep. He singles out that HBO series as “a big turning point for me because the show is just so respected.”
Just in 2015 alone, besides his own series, he’s also played a co-worker of Amy Schumer’s character in Trainwreck, Jeff in the Netflix prequel Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and snuck into the music video for Eminem’s single “Phenomenal.”
Perhaps his most notorious role was one he shot in Vancouver. Park played North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un in the 2014 comedy The Interview. The Seth Rogen-James Franco flick angered the North Korean government and sparked a storm of controversy that completely took Park and the others by surprise.
“It was really insane, the whole experience,” says Park. “None of us were expecting anything like that.”
– Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.