ABC is not shy to bringing great, shockingly funny comedy to television, especially when it comes to TV families. With the theme more heavily weighed on the family unit with shows like Modern Family, The Goldbergs, The Middle, and black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat is such a great addition to some already fantastic multicultural, American TV families.
Fresh Off The Boat is set in the ’90s and centered around 12 year old, hip-hop loving Eddie (Hudson Yang) who just moved to suburban Orlando from DC’s Chinatown along with his parents (Randall Park and Constance Wu) and two younger brothers, Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen). The culture shock for his immigrant family is what makes this comedy about pursuing the American Dream very funny. And, well, it’s set in the late 90’s, so this is the age of the pager, dial-up internet, and other little moments that bring on the nostalgia.
Having a comedy with the focus on an Asian-American family is something that hasn’t been done like this before. Yes, it’s about an Asian-American family, but really the stories are true to any culture. Chatting with Nahnatchka Khan, Writer/Executive Producer and Kourtney Kang, Writer/Co-Executive Producer, I got an understanding on where the basic storyline came from and how the stories in the episodes are made.
Where did the idea for Fresh Off the Boat come from?
Nahnatchka: Melvin Mar who is one of the other Exec Producers sent me a Memoir that Eddie Huang wrote and I read it, I thought it was fantastic and it was. There was a section of it that focused on his Family moving to Orlando in 1995 so his dad could own and operate a Steak House and I just thought, what a great setting that would be for a TV Show. So that’s what I sort of pitched to Melvin and Jake Kasden, who’s his producing partner. We pitched it to multiple networks and Paul Lee and Samie Falvey, who’s the President and the Head of Development at ABC [respectively], were like here’s why it belongs at ABC and here’s our commitment to diversity.
So, with the characters from the real Eddie Huang’s book, Fresh Off The Boat, where are you pulling the stories from?
Nahnatchka: Once the show got Greenlit, we put together a writing staff, then everybody sort of started to contribute, you know, stuff from their lives and even in the pilot for me, it’s really channeling my parents and my brothers and I’s experience and that’s what’s so great about television is it’s like, it’s a collective collaborative medium and for a show to succeed, it’s like you have to have a lot of people’s stories and a lot of people have to be able to relate to it, even if they don’t have that exact same experience. So 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.
Kourtney: That’s what I think is so neat about the show is because even though it’s like this sort of like Asian thing, it’s really about this like broader sense of you know, not feeling so much like you’re a part of things, like I wrote the second episode that aired after the Pilot the other night about when Jessica decides to Home School. I’m half Asian and I grew up in like Philly and you know, I didn’t go to like fancy Private Schools or anything like that and now I live out here. And my daughter goes to like a fancy private school out here and she really does take a class called Animal Encounters after school where they like hold animals. It’s like her favorite thing in the world. It’s like this sort of Hippie School and she, her Teacher’s Carly. Like they just call them by their first names. I went to school on the East Coast so it’s sort of foreign to me this idea of like this is what school is now. So I feel like there’s stories that have nothing to do about like being Asian.
It’s such a relatable show. I think that’s one of the great things that Natch did in developing the show is that there’s so many entry points and it’s all based in something so real that like everybody feels, you know, everybody feels like they don’t fit in at some point for some reason. And so if this was a writer’s room right now, I’m sure we could go around and everyone could tell like 5 stories about something that happened to them and you could use any of those stories in this. I think that’s what people latch onto, hopefully.
I love the ’90s references. How do you pick up which stuff you’re gonna go with?
Nahnatchka: I mean that was a conscious when we were developing it, the first question that always sort of comes up is you know, why set it 20 years ago, like why not make it present day. You could still tell the same story. And for me, 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. When you couldn’t just get online and like find other people who thought like you or liked music like you and you sort of had to make it work with where you were, you know. 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 and feeling like we need to make this work, and we need to, you know, we’re following our dream. There’s no room for failure and so with that like as the sort of general idea of keeping it 20 years ago, we didn’t want that to be like the joke.
It’s nostalgia for people our age.
Nahnatchka: Yeah, I think the first show that’s set in the ’90s right. Obviously, we have Goldbergs in the ’80s and I think there’s been a couple of others. But it’s hard to believe that that was 20 years ago because it really feels like just the other day. It’s crazy. 1995 was 20 years ago. That’s crazy.
Kourtney: The other thing too to think about like story wise, just as you were saying, that like with no Internet or no like… I remember back in the day, like when you had to call like a boy, like the Mom might answer. Like the stakes were like so high. Like now, everybody’s got their own phone. And you’re like Hey, if I got it.
Nahnatchka: Yeah… or like your Mom would pick up and you’re like Oh, I didn’t know you were on the line, and like stay on.
Kourtney: Your brother’s on…like someone’s breathing. You’re like super paranoid. So just for like creating drama, the smallest thing, yeah, that’s been really fun.
Was Eddie Huang involved a lot during the process of starting the show?
Nahnatchka: Yeah, yeah definitely because you know, it’s not like a bio pic or documentary, it’s fictionalized version of his book, which is the inspiration for what’s now the TV family, the Huangs, which all the stories that are coming up are collective stories from all of us and wanting to feel very inclusive, I think is the idea, you know, and being like, I can relate to that, you know, on any sort of level.
Did ABC push for more adversity? Did you have to go looking for “Fresh off the Boat?
Nahnatchka: Yeah, you know, when Melvin sent it to me, I was like this is great. And I really related, you know, being Persian but I related to so many, like the details were different but the experiences of so many of the things that he told in the story were the same. And I was like I would love to tell this immigrant story and I would love to tell it, you know, off, like the way it sort of went down. You can’t tell that kind of story and cast a bunch of white people unless like the boat they came on is the Mayflower. It’s a whole kind of story.
Kourtney: And then fresh off of it, it’s a whole other thing.
Nahnatchka: It’s like old, yeah, old boat. So I was excited and you know, the network and studio were really excited too. I remember growing up when Margaret Cho hit the scene and it was like Oh My God. You know, Margaret Cho, and I was so excited just to see those faces on TV. And when I heard about this, I was so excited and I was like I need to work on this, I need to work on this. And then when I read it and it was good, I was like Oh My God, like it was so exciting, and seeing the Pilot and just like, you just knew it was special. Like it was just something’s there. And so I remember when we sat down, I was like it’s so good and it’s so funny, and it’s exciting.
Playing the younger brothers on the show are Forrest Wheeler as Emery and Ian Chen as Evan. Two very adorable, and very grounded young boys that are loving their job, which seems to be more fun than work, and with goals that may surprise you for the future.
What’s the most exciting part about being on TV?
Forrest: I think it’s just seeing yourself and seeing yourself on TV and really can’t believing that it’s you. (Laughing) Because when I watch it, is that really me or is that just some other person that they edited?
Ian: Like, working on set?
Oh, like, playing after we do the work. (laughing)
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.
Do you think your characters are a lot like you in real life?
Forrest: Yes. The only difference between Emery and me is that, uh, I don’t have girlfriends yet. (Hahaha) Maybe in a couple of years. (we are all laughing)
What do you wanna be when you grow up?
Forrest: I wanna be an entrepreneur. (Whoa, that wasn’t an typical answer!) Well, I maybe wanna be a pilot or a captain of a cruise ship, or own a cruise ship company, or I wanna be a hotel owner. I wanna be a CEO…
So normal, and adorable. With the way things look, Fresh Off The Boat looks like ABC’s newest hit show and if so, they may have to think about staying in the business long enough to pay off college and help make their dreams of being other things in life come true. Having screened the next 2 episodes, I promise you will laugh – watch it and tell me what you think!
Here’s a look at what to expect tonight on Fresh Off The Boat!
FRESH OFF THE BOAT (Debuts 2/10/15 at 8:00pm ET on ABC)
*I attended a special press event covering MCFarland, USA and part of the trip we visited ABC studios to screen upcoming episodes of Fresh Off The Boat and do interviews. Interviews have been edited for the ease of reading. All opinions are my own.
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