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Randall Park and the Creators of FRESH OFF THE BOAT on TV’s Freshest Sitcom

From Modern Family to Black-ish to The Goldbergs, no major TV network has brought as much diversity to comedy as ABC, a mission that’s now continuing with Fresh Off the Boat — the first Asian-American sitcom since Margaret Cho’s now twenty-year-old single season of All American Girl. Loosely adapted from author and chef Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir, set in the ’90s, the show premieres Wednesday, February 4th (tonight!) with two episodes airing at 8:30 PM. It stars The Interview‘s Randall Park and One Life to Live‘s Constance Wu as Huang’s father and mother, who, as the show begins, move their three sons from the Chinatown district of Washington D.C. to suburban Orlando to open a restaurant. Both actors, along with Hudson Yang (who plays the hip-hop-loving young Eddie), writer and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan, executive producer Jake Kasdan, and Huang himself appeared at last month’s TCA winter press tour, where they spoke to us about the universality of Huang’s story — and Park shared a few thoughts on starring in last year’s most talked about movie.

On Huang’s satisfaction with Khan’s adaptation of his memoir…

Eddie Huang: I care the most about the conversation that’s going to happen because of this show. This show to me is historic. This show has a huge place culturally in America. I mean, I don’t think you guys have seen a TCA with this many Asian faces on stage in a long time. [Laughs] It’s important to have a qualified support for the show, make sure the show stays authentic, the show stays responsible to the book and the Asian community and people of color in America in general. I believe the show is doing that, and I believe the show is very strategic and smart in how it’s opening things up. But the first episode… To deal with the word “chink” in the pilot episode of a comedy on network television is borderline genius and insane at the same time.

I understand why the show is doing what it does. Like, you come out with a strong Asian character on network television, people may not understand. They don’t see it that much. My dad is a real outlier. And I think the show is strategic and smart in how it’s easing the viewer into that.

On casting Hudson Yang as young Eddie Huang…

Nahnatchka Khan: That was the toughest role to cast for us when we were going through that process. Eddie’s very distinctive [in] his brand of swagger and style. And every kid that we were seeing was sort of polished and didn’t have that authenticity that we were looking for. Then Hudson put himself on tape from New York. And he was ten years [old], really raw, and he was fantastic. He just sort of just came out [of] the screen with exactly that quality that we wanted and the swagger that we needed, the authenticity, and felt like a real kid. We just loved him from the beginning.

Hudson Yang: It’s been a lot of fun and I love being part of the show. It’s my first big thing.

On why it’s set in the ‘90s…

NK: Well, it did take place in the ’90s in Eddie’s memoir. But for us to keep it set in the ’90s for the show, it was a conscious decision, because that’s the last period of time before the internet exploded and you had to be where you were. So you couldn’t go online and find likeminded kids if you felt isolated, as you can now, and you had to make it work. You had to make it work with the kids around you and the kids at school and the people in your neighborhood. So we really wanted to get that feeling for the kids and for the family, that they had to kind of be where they were and make it work.

On whether the show could “fall into the trap” of Margaret Cho’s All American Girl

EH: It only falls into the trap if you allow it to, and the thing that I’ve really appreciated on the show [is], a lot of us are very aware and there’s a lot of support. I spoke to Randall so much about this stuff. When we were shooting the pilot, we spent a lot of time together. And Randall went out of his way to record my dad’s voice, record it off a voice show I did. He went to sleep listening to my dad’s voice. I talked to Constance about my mother, and we all visited them and Natch came down, and Melvin, he’s been my guy on the whole thing. We hate each other, but it’s been great.

I really genuinely feel when you do something that’s historic that has to do with race relations, there has to be conflict. There has to be debate. Our judicial system is based on adversarial debate and truth comes out of that, sometimes besides Bush v. Gore… Me and Randall, we talk. And me and Constance, we find a silver lining. We’re all fighting for this. It isn’t easy.

Fresh Off the Boat

On the show’s universality…

NK: I related to this. When I read his memoir, the specifics were different to my growing-up experience, being Persian-American, him being Taiwanese-American. But what I really related to was the immigrant experience of this show, and being first generation and having parents who weren’t born here and that, to me, was my access point. I think that when you take something from the source material that is [in] such a strong voice and you try to develop it for a broader audience and make it into an 8 PM family sitcom for broadcast TV, you need a lot of different access points. Mine is that. Feeling like you don’t belong and trying to figure out the rules and trying to help your parents figure out the rules and being almost a scout going out and into the world and reporting back to them what you see, that’s what a lot of people are going to relate to. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong or feel like an outsider for whatever reason, this show is a show that you’re going to be able to relate to.

On the increased diversity of network TV…

Jake Kasdan: It’s also something that people have been talking about for a long time, because it’s really important, and there’s been real difficulty in figuring out how to do it well. It’s really significant what ABC has done in the last few years, because it’s just completely different than what it was like when I started doing this a long time ago and when I started doing it again even pretty recently, in the last five years. It’s just that they truly have put on the most diverse primetime lineup ever. It’s an extraordinary thing, and they’ve done it with great shows, which is the key to it, because it only works if the shows are really good, and the big focus of what we’ve been trying to do here is to contribute to that by making a really good family sitcom that is a part of that programming.

EH: Asians have money. You want their money, make things for them. That, I think, is probably most obvious. But the other thing is that people are really sick of watching things that are just for the middle, like mass consumption. People want specific stories, and that’s what you’re seeing on Amazon, Netflix, all over. People respond to specificity.

NK: That’s what we’re doing here, but in the broadcast version. We’re telling a specific story that has universal appeal, hopefully.

On how Randall’s life has changed since the release of The Interview

Randall Park: It’s been interesting. That definitely was a crazy experience. Right after the movie came out, everything kind of died, died down, and I was kind of trying to — in my head — piece everything together. I still haven’t fully 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. Now I’m headed into this show and I’m just excited to kind of move on from that and…

NK: Nobody wanted to sit next to Randall on set… [Laughs] Because we were like, “No, we don’t want to take any chances.”

On whether he worries about being hacked…

RP: No, no, no. I was never worried for my safety or for getting hacked or any of that during that whole process. I mean, it was just crazy to turn on the news and to see my face on CNN. And they’d be talking about Kim Jong-un, but they’d show my face. [Laughs] I’m like, that’s not Kim Jong-un. That’s me.

Constance Wu: That’s how well you played it, though. You confused the media [with] how good you were.

RP: [Laughs] But, yeah, I am glad that that whole chapter is done and I’m looking forward to what happens with the show.

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  1. Shinn says:

    Yes! We need more shows with Asian protagonists.