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'Fresh Off the Boat' review: It doesn't make waves

Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu appear in

Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu appear in a scene from the new comedy series "Fresh Off the Boat," previewing Wednesday with episodes at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. EST. Credit: AP / Nicole Wilder

WHEN | WHERE Previews Wednesday at 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. before moving to its regular time slot, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC/7

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based on the memoir of the same name by Asian-American restaurateur Eddie Huang, this sitcom roman à clef is about his early life, moving from Washington, D.C., to Orlando, where his father, Louis (Randall Park), opens a steak house, and his mother, Jessica (Constance Wu), tries to navigate the suburgatory they find themselves in. Eddie (Hudson Yang) and his two brothers try to fit in, too, but Eddie just wants to wear Nas-style bling and embrace the hip-hop life.

MY SAY Few show creators ever get the chance to review their own show before the professional reviewers weigh in, but Huang -- in a prolonged bout of truth-telling, now part of TV legend -- did precisely that in a long New York magazine story published early last month.

Some classic outtakes: "Randall was neutered, Constance was exoticized, and Young Eddie was urbanized so that the viewers got their mise en place. People watching these channels have never seen [Asian-Americans], and the network's approach to pacifying them is to say we're all the same."

Or this: " . . . after about 19 minutes of shiny suit-bubble goose bounce, there was real talk."

Or this: "I'll even thank [ABC], because if you're high enough, orange chicken ain't so bad."

I admire Huang for all of this, and for his brilliant essay, and for his Dan Harmon-esque way of biting off the hand that feeds him. Mostly, I admire him for being so right -- and he is. "Fresh Off the Boat" is charming, convivial, even -- gasp -- at times cute. Those words, I suspect, are like hydrochloric acid poured in Huang's ear. Sorry, Eddie -- take praise where you can get it -- but your show really is just another gentle family "fish-out-of-water" sitcom, with nice performances and decent writing.

What's badly needed: more fire, more edge, more punch, more laughs -- the more uncomfortable the better. Huang and "Fresh off The Boat" really are on to something important here - cultural and racial divides, along with all the cultural and racial biases that erect them (then keep them in place). But that's a different show, possibly not even a comedy. Maybe Huang should have shopped the show to Amazon Prime instead of ABC.


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