Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Immigrant chef cooks up US sitcom

Staff writer, with CNA, NEW YORK

A billboard advertising the launch of the TV sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, based on restaurateur Eddie Huang’s book of the same name, is displayed by a street in New York on Jan. 16.

Photo: CNA

“I expected I could change things,” Eddie Huang (黃頤銘) tells the New York Times Magazine on what he expected when his story of growing up as a Taiwanese immigrant in Florida was made into a sitcom set to debut tomorrow in the US.

In the magazine piece, Huang expresses what appears to be his tortured ambivalence toward the sitcom, both lamenting the choice he made to sell his life rights to a major network and praising the show as a milestone in the history of television and the history of the US.

Fresh Off the Boat is to be the first network sitcom to focus on the story of a Taiwanese immigrant family and just the third attempt by any major US network to launch an Asian-American situation comedy.

Huang told the New York Times that he chose to sign with ABC in deference to the residual power of network television to alter mass perceptions about race and had hoped to portray the Asian immigrant experience without equivocation or compromise.

“I thought that people in network television had their own conscience about things,” Huang was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

He said that he believed that his story was powerful enough for the network to allow him to tell it his way.

Huang later said that he was naive about the realities of the TV business, and felt that by “adulterating the specificity of his childhood in the pursuit of universal appeal, the show was performing a kind of ‘reverse yellowface’ — telling white American stories with Chinese faces,” the report said.

He said he did not want to compromise his experiences by “going mainstream,” but he was aware of how acutely Asian-Americans hunger for any kind of cultural recognition.

“Culturally, we are in an ice age,” he was quoted as saying. “We don’t even have fire. We don’t even have the wheel. If this can be the first wheel, maybe others can make three more.”

Huang recounted that his success in the media at the time came as an unlikely surprise, much like the success of his other ventures, such as Baohaus, the Taiwanese sandwich shop he opened in New York City.

The restaurant propelled Huang to the forefront of a new generation of hip young New York chefs.

“I had never worked in a New York City restaurant. I came out of nowhere. And I did it,” Huang said.

Meanwhile, previews of the first two episodes of Fresh Off the Boat have garnered more than 7.93 million and 7.56 million views respectively.

Fresh Off the Boat is the first Asian-American comedy to be launched by a mainstream US network since 1994’s All-American Girl, which starred Margaret Cho, a US comedian of Korean ancestry.

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