Paul Lee vowed when he took over as president of ABC Entertainment Group that he would increase the ethnic diversity of the network. That started with the additions of “black-ish” and “Cristela,” comedies that feature black and Hispanic families.
The diversity trend continues with “Fresh Off the Boat,” a comedy based on the autobiography of restaurateur Eddie Huang. When he was 12, his family moved to Orlando, Florida, from Washington, D.C., so East could meet West as they opened a cowboy-themed restaurant.
Huang is certain this is the right time for the series to air.
“Asians have money. You want their money, make things for them. So that, I think, is probably the most obvious. But the other thing is that people are really sick of watching universe things that are just for the middle, like mass consumption things,” Huang says. “People want specific stories, and that’s what you’re seeing on Amazon, Netflix, all over. People respond to specificity.”
The story follows Louis (Randall Park), who is convinced his restaurant idea will be a big hit. When it doesn’t immediately draw crowds, Eddie’s mother, Jessica (Constance Wu), begins to worry more than usual. Eddie (Hudson Yang) is too fascinated with hip-hop to keep up with the family conflicts.
The one thing the real Eddie Huang remembers about the move was the lack of family around him in Florida.
“For me in general, it was just going from a place where you had a reference group and you had a support system to a place where you were really alone,” Huang says. “And I was trying to understand suburbia, because suburbia doesn’t really make that much sense.”
There have been characters on TV shows played by Asian actors, and there was Margaret Cho’s short-lived “All-American Girl” (1994) that featured a similar family approach to “Fresh Off the Boat.”
The actors are delighted that the network is looking at more ethnic variety, which gives them better acting options.
“I feel like there’s starting to be more opportunities for Asians to be, like, first and second leads,” Wu, who was born in Richmond, Virginia, says. “I feel like it is starting to change, and we are a part of that. If this is a success and it does well, it will encourage people to invest in shows that do have Asians as the first lead, not as the third lead.”
Wu loves her character because she’s a woman who doesn’t care if people like her or not because she has a very strong sense of self. The actress finds it refreshing to be playing a role that’s not catering her personality to other people’s anxieties about her.
Park’s character is a little more laid back — and frightened of his wife. The Los Angeles native also portrayed the aggressive President Kim in the controversial “The Interview.”
Park calls playing the North Korean leader an interesting and “crazy” experience.
“I still haven’t fully kind of pieced everything together as far as what that whole experience meant to me, but I was just really glad that the movie came out and that, in the end, people got the chance to see the movie,” Park says. “And now I’m headed into this show and I’m just excited to kind of move on from that.”