On the surface, ABC’s new comedy Fresh Off the Boat may seem like the crazy story of a Chinese family leaving its comfortable roots in D.C.’s Chinatown to head down to sunny suburban Orlando. And, well, it is. But that’s actually beside the point. This show is about anyone and everyone who’s ever felt like an Outsider.
“If you’re from any kind of immigrant experience or if you just felt like an Outsider for whatever reason, this is a show that you can relate to,” said Executive Producer Nahnatchka Khan.
“That’s what I think is so neat about the show,” added Co-Executive Producer Kourtney Kang. “Even though it’s this sort of Asian thing, it’s really about this broader sense of not feeling so much like you’re a part of things.”
What I was lucky enough to be a part of was an L.A. Blogging Tour. For the #McFarlandUSAEvent, myself and two dozen bloggers had the privilege of hanging out at the ABC building with some pretty special guests. We screened the next two episodes of Fresh Off the Boat with Khan and Kang, as well as a couple of adorable cast members. I’ll get to them in a second.
First off, if you haven’t seen Fresh Off the Boat, it’s just downright ridiculous fun. Set in the ’90s (the second best decade, next to the amazing ’80s!), it mainly focuses on young Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) as he tries to adjust to the new suburban life, while looking to major hip-hop gurus like Tupac and Old Dirty Bastard for inspiration. He doesn’t just listen to hip hop… he lives it.
Then there’s his two younger brothers Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen) who you absolutely cannot help but crack a smile at. Emery somehow ends up with loads of girlfriends and seems to know more about love than Nicholas Sparks! Evan, a rules stickler, usually ends up getting the neighborhood gossip when his mom sends him to be a family representative at neighborhood meetings.
And speaking of mom, Jessica (played by the amazing Constance Wu), pretty much steals the show for me. She’s strict as can be with her kids and husband, yet painfully tries to fit in with the neighborhood women who spend their days rollerblading and celebrating NASCAR with… uh… milk.
The final character is proud poppa Louis (Randall Park) who moved the entire family down to Orlando to open up Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse, a BBQ-themed restaurant full of more employees than customers on most days.
Based on Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh Off the Boat, the show hones in on the part where Eddie and his family moved to Orlando in 1995 so his dad could own and run a steakhouse. Setting the TV show in the ’90s didn’t just feed off of nostalgia, it also helped push the isolation issue.
“It was really important to keep it 20 years ago because of the references, but also because it was the last time before the Internet sort of exploded,” said Khan. “You know, when you couldn’t just get online and find other people who thought like you or liked music like you. You sort of had to make it work with where you were. You had to befriend kids at school or the neighborhood and if not, then you were alone. And that sort of reinforced their feeling of isolation.”
Jessica’s isolation with the neighborhood moms is a hot topic for the upcoming “The Shunning” episode, where she meets Honey, a potential friend who just happens to love Stephen King as much as she does. Why use King as the lynchpin between two new neighbors on a sitcom?
‘When we were breaking that story in the Writer’s Room, we were trying to figure what bonds these two have,” revealed Khan. “And there’s something really interesting about the idea that Stephen King sets a lot of stories in places that should feel safe but aren’t. I liked the idea that Jessica feels that way about Suburbia. You know, that it is familiar but she doesn’t know what’s coming around every corner.”
Along with some great conversation and a pair of hilarious new episodes (“The Shunning” and “Success Perm”), our blogging group was treated to a dinner that easily could’ve come right from Cattleman’s Ranch itself! Corn on the cob. Corn bread. BBQ chicken. Green beans. American potato salad. Baked bean. Apple cobbler. Drooool….
The best part of the night, however, was meeting the two youngest stars of the show. When Forrest and Ian stepped out of the car with their mothers at their sides, I was nearly deafened by a monstrous, “AWWWWWWWWWW!” emanating from nearly every blogger’s lips. To be fair, these kids really were insanely cute.
The boys handed out Cattleman’s Ranch keychains to everyone and then took the time to get photographed with every single one of us.
I decided to get a little silly with the boys because, well, that’s just how I roll.
While this entire blogging adventure was full of fantastic interviews (including Kevin Costner!), I think the short time we spent with these two boys was my favorite. Super polite and respectful, Forrest and Ian clearly love hanging out with each other, and love being actors.
They even sat down for a good 10 or 15 minutes with our crew to answer some questions. Pull up a chair and take a listen!
Question: What’s the most exciting part about being on TV?
Forrest: I think it’s just seeing yourself on TV and really can’t believing that it’s you. [LAUGHS] Because when I watch it, is that really me or is that just some other person that they edited?
What did you guys do with your first paycheck?
Forrest: College fund. At least that’s what I did.
Ian: Oh yeah, yeah, me too, me too. I did, yeah.
Have you done any acting before this?
Ian: Yes. I did lots of commercials, and after I got the job, I was on Grey’s Anatomy.
Forrest: I’ve done a few commercials, and a couple other series like New Girl and Community.
Do you think your characters are a lot like you in real life?
Forrest: Yes. The only difference between Emery and me is that I don’t have girlfriends yet. Maybe in a couple of years.
Ian: Maybe like, a tiny bit. Uh, some of the reasons are really tiny but, uh, … first of all, I do not tattletale.
What do you like most about acting?
Forrest: I like meeting all the new people and learning different things, like learning how the camera works, how the art department works…
Ian: I really like the acting part. I like trying new things out. The sound and camera people, they let me try the cameras and the boom [mics].
What do you wanna be when you grow up?
Forrest: I wanna be an entrepreneur. Maybe a pilot or a captain of a cruise ship. Or own a cruise ship company. Or a hotel owner. I wanna be a CEO… So basically an entrepreneur.
What do your friends think about you being on the show?
Forrest: They think it’s really cool.
Ian: They think it’s really cool, too. One of my friends actually gave me an Oreo. Like, two Oreos. And he goes, like, I love your show.
Catch Fresh Off the Boat Tuesday Nights at 8pm on ABC