The Journal Gazette
Thursday, February 20, 2020 1:00 am

Groundbreaking 'Boat' sets off on final season

TERRY TANG | Associated Press

Even before “Fresh Off the Boat” hit the airwaves on ABC in February 2015, the show was facing pressure that other new shows weren't.

It was set to be the first network TV comedy with an all-Asian cast since Margaret Cho's “All-American Girl” premiered 20 years earlier. ABC canceled that series after one season, and some wondered how long this show would last too.

Randall Park, who portrays patriarch Louis, never even thought the pilot – inspired by restaurateur and TV personality Eddie Huang's childhood memoir – would be picked up.

“The odds of a show getting picked up are tiny. On top of that, being an Asian-American family at the center of a show just made it kind of seem impossible in my head,” Park told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Atlanta, where he is filming the Marvel/Disney+ series “WandaVision.”

Now, after six seasons, “Fresh Off the Boat” will make its final voyage Friday.

Without question, the sitcom, centered on a Taiwanese-Chinese American family in the 1990s living in predominantly white Orlando, Florida – will be immortalized in the canon of Asian-American representation. It accomplished some unique firsts, like being the first American TV show to film on location in Taiwan and having a majority of dialogue in one episode be in Mandarin. It paved the path for movie stardom for Park (“Always Be My Maybe”) and on-screen wife Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Hustlers”). And having passed 100 episodes, the Huangs will live on in syndication for years to come.

Hudson Yang, 16, was 9 years old when he won the role of Eddie. Thanks to his father, journalist Jeff Yang, he had an inkling this wasn't just any TV gig.

“My Dad would definitely talk about how important it was to have this kind of show. We talked about how previously 'All-American Girl' tried to do the same thing,” Yang said. “I knew a little bit about how important it was but I didn't really know the full scale until a little bit later on.”

The series used culturally specific humor while trying to universally appeal to a broadcast network audience.

“What was smart was having a writers' room, showrunner and actors that felt more empowered like they were part of the process,” said Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media. “They take that stereotype-based joke and turn it on its head a little bit more. That's where the in-community joke gets funnier.”

Park credits “Fresh Off the Boat” fame for allowing him to be choosier about work. The actor, who co-wrote “Always Be My Maybe” with friends including Ali Wong recently formed his own production company.

“I'm in more of a position to create things now which is really exciting,” Park said. “It's been a focus of mine tell more stories from an Asian American perspective.”

Park also recently was in a position to direct. He helmed the series finale, which will include flashes of the Huang family's future. Pulling double duty distracted him from getting overwhelmed with emotions.

“While a lot of people were crying, I was thinking about the next step,” Park said.

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