By GUY AOKI
When CBS’s “2 Broke Girls” debuted in September 2011, there were a lot of negative reactions from the Asian American community around the backward Han Lee (Matthew Moy), the owner of the New York diner where the titular characters work. He spoke with a thick Asian accent that didn’t even sound like a real one (the actor later admitted it wasn’t; doing a Korean accent, in his estimation, would be too hard for most audiences to understand).
Initially, in the pilot episode, Max (Kat Dennings) made fun of the way Han talked. He made it worse by saying he had adopted the name Brice. After a series of “comic” exchanges, Max claimed she couldn’t pronounce “B’s,” so she was going to call him Rice Lee.
Thankfully, although shot, that scene was edited out for broadcast, and the idea was never raised again.
Since then, I’ve monitored the show and week after week, been subjected to Max and fellow waitress Caroline (Beth Behrs) putting down Han over his short stature and, sometimes, sexual identity that creator Michael Patrick King seems to be obsessed with.
As Entertainment Weekly put it, the show began with a series of vagina jokes that became predictable and boring.
In the Feb. 11 episode, Han announces to his two waitresses: “I’ve made a big decision!”
Max: “You’re having a sex change? I totally support you, but be careful, Han, female-to-male is very tricky!”
Han: “Well… you would know!” (A rare good comeback from our beaten-up restaurant owner).
Caroline: “Meow! He must’ve already started on the hormones!”
Turns out the big announcement is he’s converting the diner’s glass ketchup bottles to squeezable ones.
Max: “Wow, that is some fresh, outside-the-box thinking!”
Caroline: “It’s like being an intern at Apple during the summer of ’76!”
Han: “That’s right! Call me Han Jobs!”
Max: “Oh, I will ONLY call you Han Jobs!”
By contrast, the show’s older black character, Earl (Garrett Morris), is always treated sweetly by everyone, almost with reverence. And the horny Russian cook just dishes out variations of “I want to get in your pants” cracks.
In that same episode, after Max makes a sexual joke involving the television show “Downton Abbey,” Earl says: “Hold up! No spoilers! I haven’t started Season 3 yet.”
Caroline: “Earl, you watch that show?”
Earl: “Yeah, I do. I enjoy any show where the help is white!”
So he gets to address issues of race, and ones that are sympathetic to the African American community, while another regular, the Polish immigrant Sophie (Jennifer Coolidge), calls Han Lee “a woman” and “a well-behaved boy.”
Lighten up? The show’s an equal-opportunity offender? Fine. Then let her call Earl “a well-behaved boy” too, and we’ll observe the reaction.
The following week, the girls were fretting over being sued. Han offered to look at the papers: “I started law school in Korea, but I never made it through graduation. I realized it wasn’t my passion. And I pulled out.”
Max: “Did they know it was in?”
Han (after reading the document): “Yeah, you’re being sued!”
Caroline: “What law school did you go to? Cal State the Obvious?!”
Max: “Did you graduate magna cum rarely?”
Han: “I told you… I pulled out!”
So, given that the show is drenched in sexual humor, are the insults lodged against Han Lee week after week still cause for outrage? Let me know what you think at email@example.com and I’ll print some of the responses.
Open Season On Asians Department: For some strange reason, Asian Americans have been the initial victims of several serial killers. It began with the Feb. 3 shooting of Monica Quan and her fiancée Keith Lawrence in Irvine. We eventually learned ex-policeman Christopher Dorner targeted Quan because he felt her father, retired LAPD Capt. Randal Quan, hadn’t adequately defended him for making false charges against his partner, which led to him being fired from the force (Dorner wanted Quan’s family to suffer).
Dorner went on to kill two police offers before committing suicide after a shoot-out with sheriff’s deputies.On Feb. 12 in Guam, a crazed motorist plowed his car into a convenience store, then began stabbing everyone around him. Three Japanese nationals died, one from the car crash and two from the stabbings.
If that wasn’t enough, on Feb. 19, Courtney Aoki (as far as I know, no relation to me) was killed by Ali Syed, who then tried to carjack a number of cars, murdering two more strangers along the way before killing himself.
Makes you wonder if we’ll eventually learn that Elisa Lam, the woman who was found in the water tank of the Cecil Hotel on the same day, was the first victim of yet another crazed killer. Strange and sad times.
Bachi ga Ataru! Department: When “Cloud Atlas” came out in October, several reviewers predicted the film would get an Academy Award nomination for best make-up since several actors played different characters (and sometimes different races and sexes) through six different time periods.
Of course, I was upset that there was a double standard: bad yellowface (non-Asians with make-up to look Asian) but not one example of blackface (non-blacks donning make-up to look black). And once again, those “fake Asian” men got large roles while “real Asian” men got none. If that wasn’t bad enough, most of the Maori slaves were played by blacks. Except for a couple of Asian actresses, real Asians/Pacific Islanders were invisible.
So while watching the Oscars Sunday night, I smirked when the “Best Make-Up” category came up, assuming the film would win. I was surprised the movie wasn’t even nominated. I did more research, and it turns out “Cloud Atlas” only got nominated in the make-up category by the Critic’s Choice Awards (it won). All the other major academies passed on it.
Hmm… could the attention MANAA’s press release got in The Hollywood Reporter have made a difference? It ran in late October (and was the fifth most read article for two straight days) and nominations for the Academy Awards began in late December…
Channel Surfing Department: A few weeks ago, on CBS’s “Elementary,” Sherlock Holmes’ father — who’d been paying Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) to watch over his son to make sure he didn’t relapse from drug addiction — decided to terminate her services. She decided not to tell Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), meaning she continued to live with him at his apartment and accompany him on the cases that he helped the New York Police Department with, for free. A few weeks later, Holmes revealed that he knew of the situation.
After initially treating her like a mosquito he couldn’t get rid of, he offered to pay Watson a salary at least comparable to what his father had paid her because Holmes realized with her around, he was a better detective. He even offered to help teach her his techniques. And now, we see him testing her instincts on new cases, asking for her opinion. Interesting and positive development.
Ellen Wong played a frisky medic/soldier on ABC’s 2011 summer series “Combat Hospital.” So I was surprised to see her playing a 16-year-old high school student —one of the best friends of Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City” fame when she was a teenager in the ’80s — on the new CW series “The Carrie Diaries.”
Nice to see the fifth network is keeping diversity in mind without the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition pressuring it to (the network has not one but two hapa actresses starring in its series: Maggie Q in “Nikita” and Kristen Kreuk in “Beauty and the Beast”).
Coming Attractions: The Aratani Theatre reopens with Hawaii’s Wille K kicking things off on Tuesday, March 12. Tickets are $25 general, $22 for JACCC members. Call (213) 680-3700 for more info.
Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.