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The series premiered its first two episodes on ABC in February 2015 to positive critical reception, becoming the first network television sitcom in the U.S. to feature a family of Asian-Americans as main characters in over 20 years. Prior to its second season, the series went through a significant retooling, which included Huang's departure as narrator. Despite this, it has continued to receive positive reviews throughout its six seasons to date. It has also received accolades as well as nominations for major awards, such as Critics' Choice Television Award and NAACP Image Award nominations.
On November 8, 2019, the series was announced to be ending after its sixth season in February 2020.
The series revolves around the Huangs, a Taiwanese-American family comprising parents Louis and Jessica, their children Eddie, Emery, and Evan, and Louis's mother, Jenny, following their relocation from Chinatown of Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida to open a cowboy-themed steak restaurant in 1995. Following the move, the family faces struggles related to the culture clash between their upbringing and a Florida community that does not have a large Asian population, with Louis embracing the "American Dream" of becoming a business owner, and Eddie struggling to assimilate in his school.
Season two chronicles the burgeoning success of the family restaurant, named Cattleman's Ranch, Jessica's partnership with the Huangs' neighbor Honey on a business venture, and Eddie's troublemaking tendencies as well as his relationship with his mother.
Cast and characters
Randall Park as Louis Huang, the father of Eddie, Emery, and Evan, and husband of Jessica. He is nice and mild-mannered and embraces all things American, which is often seen when he recounts his younger days. He owns a Western steakhouse restaurant in Orlando named Cattleman's Ranch.
Constance Wu as Jessica Huang, the wife of Louis and mother of Eddie, Emery, and Evan. She is a no-nonsense, pragmatic and highly competitive woman who believes in tough love. She often pushes her sons and husband to be more successful and also keep in touch with their Taiwanese heritage.
Hudson Yang as Edwyn "Eddie" Huang, a die-hard hip-hop and rap fan, as well as a great fan of basketball. The oldest of three brothers, he eschews Taiwanese culture and is more rebellious than his younger siblings, which makes him a frequent target of his mother Jessica's complaints.
Forrest Wheeler as Emery Huang, the middle son of the Huang family. He is a romantic and lovable kid who is fairly intelligent. He is also depicted as charismatic and mature for his age, and the typical "ladies' man". He is shown to be good at academics as well as athletics, as he thrived in a tennis tournament and was on the school volleyball team in season five. He graduates elementary school at the end of season two and begins high school in season six.
Ian Chen as Evan Huang, Louis and Jessica's youngest son, who is a star student and obeys the rules. This makes him Jessica's blatant favorite child, as she frequently references his future dual career as "Doctor/President". Evan skips fifth grade between seasons three and four and starts middle school in the fourth season.
Lucille Soong as Jenny Huang (main season two-present, recurring season one), Louis's mother, and grandmother of Eddie, Evan, and Emery. Although she clearly understands English, she speaks only in Mandarin (subtitled in English). She rarely interacts with the family's affairs, usually just sitting back and making sarcastic comments for her amusement. In the season four episode "It's a Plastic Pumpkin, Louis Huang", the family discovers she has secretly been taking ESL lessons, and she speaks English for the first time.
Chelsey Crisp as Honey Ellis (main season two-present, recurring season one), the Huangs' next-door neighbor, Marvin's third wife, and Jessica's new best friend. Although she is friendly with Jessica, she is often intimidated by her competitive nature. She delivers her first child, a daughter, in the season five premiere. Later in the season, she has a second child.
Ray Wise as Marvin Ellis (main season three-present, recurring seasons one and two), Honey's much-older husband and Nicole's father. He is a successful dentist who married Honey after his previous wife caught him cheating with Honey on the kitchen floor. He is kind and friendly with the Huang family, though he occasionally gets into a friendly rivalry with Louis.
Development and casting
The Fresh Off the Boat cast at a panel discussion for the show.
Eddie Huang's 2013 autobiography, Fresh Off the Boat, caught the attention of television networks upon its release, with ABC and 20th Century Fox Television ordering a pilot episode for a series based on the memoir in August. Writer Nahnatchka Khan was hired to write and executive produce the pilot, while Huang was brought on as an executive producer. In February 2014, Constance Wu and Randall Park were the first two actors announced to star in the series as its leads. A month later, it was announced that Hudson Yang would be portraying Huang in the series.
After the series was titled Far East Orlando during its development stage, Huang led a Twitter campaign to change the title to that of his autobiography. On May 13, 2014, ABC announced a full season order of the series during the May 2014 upfront to air in 2015 as a mid-season replacement.
Fresh Off the Boat premiered on February 4, 2015. The series became the first U.S. television sitcom starring an Asian-American family to air on network primetime since Margaret Cho's All-American Girl, which aired for one season in 1994.
In a 2015 interview, Wu stated that after the first season, she had become more comfortable asking the show's staff to change particular details, for example changing "generic Asian food [in a scene] ... to a 1,000-year-old black egg with tofu and scallions, [which] will be a little more specific, and specificity is just better for character, and it's more interesting than, say, tofu and rice."
Fresh Off the Boat made significant changes after its first season, such as:
Eddie Huang reduced his involvement with the series, including no longer being the narrator, due to creative differences with ABC, as well as time constraints with other projects. He remains credited as an executive producer, and the show's credits continue to note that the series is based on his memoir.
With Huang's departure, ABC decided not to recast the narrator role, dropping it from the series altogether.
The focus of the series was broadened to encompass the entire Huang family, namely Louis and Jessica, rather than on Eddie only.
Lucille Soong and Chelsey Crisp were both promoted to the main cast.
On May 7, 2015, ABC renewed Fresh off the Boat for a second season of 13 episodes. ABC ordered 9 additional episodes on October 13 and two more on November 17, leading to a total of 24 episodes for the second season. On March 3, 2016, ABC announced that the series has been renewed for a third season, which premiered on October 11, 2016. On May 12, 2017, ABC renewed the series for a fourth season, which premiered on October 3, 2017. On May 11, 2018, ABC renewed the series for a fifth season, which premiered on October 5. On May 10, 2019, ABC renewed the series for a sixth season, which premiered on September 27, 2019.
Wu received backlash in May 2019 after she posted profane tweets in regards to the show being renewed for a sixth season. Following the criticism, Karey Burke, President of ABC Entertainment Group, stated that there were no plans to recast the role of Jessica. Wu later publicly apologized, stating that the series renewal forced her to decline a role in a project she was passionate about, as scheduling would not permit her to do both the series and said project. She further clarified that she loved her castmates and that her tweets had nothing to do with animosity towards them.
On November 8, 2019, it was announced that the series was canceled, with the finale set to air on February 21, 2020.
On November 8, 2014, the world premiere of the pilot episode was hosted by the San Diego Asian Film Festival. The show debuted on ABC with two preview episodes on February 4, 2015. The second episode, which aired after Modern Family, was promoted as a bonus episode, and formally premiered in its primetime slot on February 10, 2015. The first of the two preview episodes garnered 7.94 million viewers, becoming the second-highest rated comedy premiere that season.
In the UK, the first season originally premiered on Amazon Video on February 4, 2015. The second season premiered on September 22, 2015. On November 1, 2017 Fresh Off the Boat received its television premiere on Channel 5's sister channel 5Star starting with the pilot episode. In Israel, it is broadcast by satellite provider yes.
On July 23, 2018, it was announced that Freeform and Up TV have licensed the cable syndication rights to the first five seasons of the series.
On September 29, 2015, the first season of Fresh Off the Boat was released on DVD. The DVD had two discs with all 13 episodes of season-one and special features such as a gag reel, as well a "Fresh Facts Trivia Track". On May 22, 2018, the second and third seasons of Fresh Off the Boat were released on DVD, while the fourth season was released on June 12, 2018.
Fresh Off the Boat has received positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the first season holds a 92% certified fresh approval rating, with an average rating of 6.88/10 based on 50 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Once the cliched gags of Fresh off the Boat are superseded by a grounded truthfulness, the series evolves into a humorously charming family sitcom." It also has earned a 75 out of 100 score on Metacritic, indicating 'generally favorable reviews'.
Reviews cited the show's potential to increase the visibility and accuracy of Asian Americans in arts and entertainment. For writer and poet Jenny Zhang (who interviewed Constance Wu for Lenny Letter), Fresh Off the Boat was a welcome change from the representation of Asian Americans on the TV series she had seen as a child at age 11, where the few people who looked like her were either the subjects of crude jokes or had only minor cameos.
Ester Suh, writing for the Huffington Post, stated that the sitcom had caused "real conversations being had about Asian American identity in addition to acknowledging the lack of inclusivity Asian Americans have had in the nation's cultural and entertainment dialogue." While Suh felt that many characterizations in the show misrepresented the Asian-American experience, she acknowledged that "our experience as Americans, like everyone else's, is varied, and to say that a single show can exemplify all our experiences, would be a disfavor. I see Fresh as a sound board for future shows with Asian American casts, helping make television a more diverse and inclusive cultural platform."
The Harvard Political Review commented that "Fresh Off the Boat captures the essence of why diversity in media matters--we, like young Eddie, all want to see ourselves as worthy of being protagonists, whether in stories or in real life. However, lost in translation are the stories of parents and grandparents, who also have claim to labels like the Asian-American experience."
Conversely, in her review for The New Yorker, television critic Emily Nussbaum compares the memoir and television version of Huang's relationship with his father and with black culture, "Without a cruel bully for a father, Eddie's taste for hip-hop feels more superficial--in the book, it's an abused kid's catharsis and an identification with black history."
Throughout the first season, Eddie Huang expressed frustration over ABC's treatment of the series, saying that it presents "an ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans" that perpetuates "an artificial representation of Asian American lives," opining that the sitcom was adapted to suit a broader American audience. He also tweeted in April 2015, "I understand this is a comedy but the great comics speak from pain: Pryor, Rock, Louis...This show had that opportunity but it fails." Huang said that the all-comedy television show contrasted with his real family where his grandfather killed himself, his grandmother had bound feet, and state family services tried to remove the children from the home. Despite this, Huang deems the series a milestone for Asian-American representation. He further explained in an interview on National Public Radio, "The studio and network are not on a mission to not represent us. They just don't know how to." In a 2016 interview with Constance Wu, regarding whether he watched the series, Huang stated: "I don't watch it, but I'm proud of what it does."