All right, it’s late September, and after all the networks have bombarded us with promos for their fall series, we finally get to see episodes in their entirety, judge them on their merits, and see how well they do with the public. One of the shows I was looking forward to seeing again was ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” whose second season began this Tuesday.
For once, I wasn’t worried about its rating because instead of having to start primetime off at 8 p.m., it was going to have a lead-in, the beloved “Muppets,” this time done in “The Office” style where regular characters talk to an unseen interviewer who’s apparently doing a documentary on the cast. I was expecting the Jim Henson creations to get an 18-49 rating (the age group that advertisers prefer, which therefore determines how long a series continues on or not) in the 3’s. It came in with 2.8 and 9 million overall viewers, but that still helped “FOTB” get a 1.9 rating and a total audience of over 6 million.
If those numbers hold, that’s the highest Tuesday 18-49 rating it’s ever received and the second-highest Tuesday in total viewership. As usual, it came in third to “NCIS” and “The Voice” but beat Fox’s heavily promoted new sorority thriller “Scream Queens” (1.7), which somehow has no Asian American regulars. So bachi ga ataru! So far, so good.
Unfortunately, I found myself getting increasingly annoyed with the Jessica Huang character played by Constance Wu. We’d seen her “penny-pinching” ways in the past, but it just didn’t seem to end this time ’round. It’s summer and Louis (Randall Park) is preparing to go on a “business trip,” which just happens to be next to the Gatorworld amusement park. Jessica’s suspicious, so in order to verify it’s really not a vacation (which is a no-no because God knows Chinese people can’t take time off from working or something terrible’s gonna happen), she and her three boys tag along (a “family business trip,” she calls it).
While checking into their hotel, the clerk offers the family an upgrade to an “executive suite” for $20. Jessica quickly rejects it, not wanting to fall for an additional expense. When the bellboy arrives to take their luggage up to their rooms, she dismisses him, knowing he’s going to expect a tip (later at the pool when a hotel staffer offers her towels, she says no thanks for the same reason). Because the room is only supposed to hold two adults and two children, Jessica pretends their third child is only visiting and not staying with them.
When they get to the entrance for the amusement park, she scoffs at the $55 adult fee and tries to get the children’s discount rate by passing off her three kids as being under 5 years old.
Later on, Jessica catches Louis playing cards with business associates in a restaurant, and he finally has to admit that yes, this was supposed to be a two-day vacation. He’d pretended to go on business trips every year because he needed the time to rejuvenate so he could remain the positive person he is.
Louis tries convincing his wife that she can “loosen the reins” a bit and everything will still be fine. He books a massage session for her, but she won’t let go of her purse, not trusting the masseuse. She won’t take off her clothes because she’s paranoid the masseuse will go through her pockets for change.
At last, she seems to see the light. We catch her catching some rays at the pool telling Louis how much she’s enjoying her vacation. But then Louis sees the hotel charges, which have become astronomical because of the additional comforts he encouraged his sons to go for (room service, etc.) and hidden fees. Jessica goes into action, telling the hotel clerk she’s not paying the additional costs.
With her youngest son Evan serving as witness, she points out that he was running around the pool, fell, and lost his tooth (and there were no warning signs around). So she’s charging the hotel a “child disfigurement fee” to counter the extra charges.
In the car, Evan tells brother Emery that Mom pulled his tooth out herself. Ugh.
The moral, Louis learns, is that Jessica needs to be the expense watchdog so he can maintain his cheerful disposition. Therefore, don’t try to make her relax.
Does this mean we’ll get to see her continue on this level from here on out? Major tune-out. It’s a stereotype that Chinese people are cheap and tight with money, and I know that comes from cultural beliefs, but this episode was very hard to get through.
Apparently, the real-life Eddie Huang, whose book this show was based upon, can no longer stand the deviation from his life story because for once, he didn’t narrate the opening of the episode. It fell to youngest child Evan.
Yay, But…Department: Debuting Sunday night is another ABC show that stars an Asian actor: “Quantico” with Priyanka Chopra. While this is a breakthrough role and the network should be commended, I’m personally not comfortable with the conduct of main character Alex Parrish. She meets a white man on the plane. They strike up a flirty conversation, and the next thing you know, they’re on the ground in a van having sex. When they’re putting their clothes back on, he asks for her contact info, but she refuses, saying, “You’re not my type” and doesn’t even give him her name.
Hours later, they both wind up at FBI headquarters (turns out they’re training to be agents). With at least half a dozen trainees around them, he introduces himself to her (pretending they’ve never met). She says she knows who he is: “We just had sex six hours ago.” Startled, he says, “Oh, I didn’t think you’d want everyone to know that!” To which she asks, blankly, “Why not?”
To me, she comes off just as unsympathetic (and a cold slut) as Meredith Grey did in the pilot of “Grey’s Anatomy,” where she had a one-night stand with a guy she’d just met, kicked him out of bed, then went to her new job only to realize he was a co-worker (actually, superior; “Dr. McDreamy”).
Chopra said she wanted to represent her country, India, in a positive way and break stereotypes about Indians (what, that Indian women are sexually repressed?), but I can see many categorizing Parrish as the stereotypical easy Asian woman. There’s some hint that some childhood trauma may’ve contributed to her coldness/disconnect between intimacy and sex, so hopefully she’ll be less off-putting in the future. But why is she made Hapa (white father/Indian mother?).
In the pilot, which ABC sent me weeks ago, Chopra’s character is accused of being behind the biggest domestic terrorist attack since 9/11. It’s a well-done episode with some surprise twists (some agents you think are going to be regulars either leave or are killed before the 60 minutes are up).
And if that’s not enough… Next week on Friday, Oct. 2, look for the second Asian American family sitcom — “Dr. Ken” starring Ken Jeong (“The Hangover,” “Community”). ABC sent me the pilot for this as well. It’s funny and has potential as we bounce between Jeong’s home life with his wife (Suzy Nakamura), teenage daughter and young son and his medical practice, where he treats his patients bluntly.
Historic Emmy/Backlash Department: Hard to believe, but after Teresa Graves starred in 1974’s “Get Christy Love,” no network aired a drama with a black woman as lead actress until 2012’s “Scandal” with Kerry Washington. Last year, Viola Davis toplined ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” and this past Sunday, she became the first black woman ever to win the “Best Actress” drama Emmy. And she gave a moving speech about how difficult it’s been for women of color to get this point.
Of course, she got the expected white backlash, particularly from soap opera star Nancy Lee Grahn, whose tweets made light of the win. When met with angry responses telling her she had “white privilege” and didn’t know how difficult it is for minorities, she argued back, asserting Davis “has never been discriminated against.” (This infuriated me, and I had to get into the act, later tweeting, “How would you know? About any of us?”)
She later apologized, but an hour later, got defensive again, offering, “I honestly didn’t even care that much. I was cooking and heard it and went oh Lord ur a great actress just accept it and I heard ‘Harriet y Tubman’ and I thought ‘Its [sic] a f—king emmy for God’s sake. She wasn’t digging thru a tunnel.”
Oh, but for people of color, it HAS often felt like digging a tunnel. And of course, Grahn’s response was so typical of many white people who “don’t even care that much” about a victory like this. That’s why progress has been so slow.
As of now, the actress is wisely shutting up. White privilege. Is it a disease that can be cured?
’Til 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.