The hit ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” based off the best-selling memoir by Eddie Huang, began its sixth season on Sept. 27. Although Season 5 lacked the same spark as the first few seasons, it has finally returned in the sixth season. The show centers around Eddie and his family’s experience as Chinese Americans in suburban Florida. While the show contains the same characters as the memoir, many of the stories told on screen drastically differ from what Eddie wrote in his memoir.
In the pilot episode of “Fresh Off the Boat,” 12-year-old Eddie (Hudson Yang) and his younger brothers, Emory (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen), move from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida. The family moved to Florida so Eddie’s father, Louis Huang (Randall Park), could open a restaurant called Cattleman’s Ranch. All these facts line up with Eddie’s real life as told in his memoir.
The memoir’s darker plot points are kept out of the show, most likely to make the series more appealing for families. While Eddie and his brothers’ characters remain true to who the Huang brothers were as children, Louis and Jessica (Constance Wu) are portrayed in total contrast to who they are in real life. In the show, Louis is a carefree optimist who never raises his voice. While he is arguably the most entertaining character on the show, the real Louis Huang is believed to have been much more uptight and violent toward his three children. Jessica is portrayed as a “tiger mom” on the show. While that may have been a part of her role as a mother in real life, there are many other sides to her not shown on screen.
Even though the show might not be an exact replica of the book, it is still worth watching. Its lighter tone makes room for great humor and fun. The show is essential to our culture because it addresses what it is like to be an Asian American in a white suburb. Prior to the premiere of “Fresh Off the Boat” in 2015, not many shows had touched on this premise.
“Fresh Off the Boat” does an exceptional job of portraying how immigrants adapt to a new culture. The various generations represented allows for each one to have a unique experience separate from the last. In both the memoir and the television series, Eddie’s grandma, Jenny (Lucille Soong), lived most of her life in China and has the most trouble adapting to American life of anyone in the Huang clan. During the series, Grandma Huang takes a class to learn English in secret so she can fit in better and interact with other people her own age. She ends up meeting another Chinese man and connects with him over their shared experience. He ultimately becomes her new boyfriend and joins them at Thanksgiving dinner.
Louis and Jessica both moved to the U.S. as young adults and have mostly embraced American culture, but at times struggle to balance the two. Jessica is always worried that she is not doing a good enough job at teaching her boys Chinese culture. In Episode 13 of the first season, Jessica has a breakdown and enrolls the boys in an after-school Chinese school in Tampa.
Meanwhile, Eddie and his brothers were all born in the United States and seem to be the most integrated into the American lifestyle. Eddie listens to American rap music and loves basketball. His diet is mostly Lunchables, doughnuts and cereal. He doesn’t speak any Chinese and refuses to eat his mother’s favorite dish to make, Stinky Tofu. Eddie’s character is the most successful in breaking Asian American stereotypes.
While the first three seasons of “Fresh Off the Boat” were more focused on the cultural elements of the family and their adjustments to a new life, that storyline couldn’t go on forever. During the fourth and fifth season, there was a sense of complication in the plot as the Huang’s were finally settled in Orlando and the show needed to take on new angles to keep it going. The sixth season appears to have found that new rhythm it was searching for.
The first example of this new arc is found in the first episode of Season 6 titled, “Help Unwanted.” In the episode, Evan begins to show signs that he is going through puberty and feeling physical attraction for the first time. Since Evan is the youngest and the sweet one, Eddie and Louis struggle to figure out how to talk to him about sex. The episode is hilarious, relatable and sets a positive new tone for the show.
Next, in Episode 2, Louis and Jessica take Eddie on his first college tour to UCLA. In true Eddie fashion, he skips the tour and attempts to discover what college is all about on his own. Instead of his parents worrying about him, they take a trip down memory lane and relive their glory days of college. This episode uses the new arc to dive deeper into Jessica’s character and portray her as more than just an uptight mother obsessed with success.
Finally, in Episode 5, “Hall-Lou-ween” the boys attempt to dress up as each other for Halloween. After getting to know each of their personalities for the past five seasons, I really enjoyed seeing each of the boys attempt to take on each other’s quirks.
“Fresh Off the Boat” is both refreshing and amusing. The Huangs are a family you will grow attached to after watching only a few episodes. What makes it better than other shows is the fact that it is based on the lives of a real family. The Huangs are relatable in their desire to simultaneously fit in and stand out just like the rest of us are. Their story is certainly worthy of being used as a canvas for primetime television. “Fresh Off the Boat” is currently airing its sixth season Friday nights at 8/7 central. You can also catch up on Hulu.