The failure of “All-American Girl”—a sitcom revolving around an Asian American family—in 1994 raised the stakes for the survival of “Fresh Off the Boat,” both as a faithful representation of the Asian American experience and as a watchable sitcom. “Fresh Off the Boat,” however, just aired its fourth season premiere, proving that it continues to stand its ground as a generic sitcom, while still highlighting issues that have often been neglected by mainstream television. That said, the sitcom appears to have exhausted the “relatable Asian family” moments that made it so successful in the past (i.e. using the dishwasher solely for storage) and now relies on the same lazy humor and cliché lines that support other unspectacular sitcoms.
The season premiere opens with the premise that the Huang family is trying to move back into their old house after briefly living in a larger, fancier one to help get their youngest son a spot in a local prestigious prep school. They move in with Jessica’s friend Honey, but run into conflicts almost immediately. To show the extent to which the families are unable to share the space, Honey’s teenage daughter, who needs the bathroom, yells, “Mr. Huang’s been using the blowdryer for four hours! You’re a man! You always look the same!” All the show’s jokes are similarly unnatural and unclever. Louis tells his son that he used to dream of starting his own construction company. He pauses as if to say, “I’m about to deliver a joke … Just you wait…” and says, “I had a name picked out and everything: ‘Huang Construction.’” The other jokes in the show are similarly stale.
Along with unoriginal jokes, the show is also filled with unoriginal lines. Conflicts are ungracefully packed in, presented in a way that couldn’t be more obtuse. They are solved with lines that have most likely been featured, verbatim, in countless other works, like “The hardest thing about figuring out who you are is letting go of who you used to be,” and, when talking about the nature of family, “You know they’ll always have your back, no matter how hard things get.”
The show also tries to engage with modern issues. Honey’s teenage daughter comes out to Eddie Huang, the oldest son, as a lesbian, and Eddie barrages her with affectionately uninformed questions, such as, “When do you turn gay?” Honey and Jessica navigate their cultural differences after Jessica overstays her welcome and accidentally takes advantage of Honey’s Southern hospitality. “We’re very nice liars. You’re supposed to know that. It’s an unspoken understanding,” says Honey. “Where I come from, it’s an unspoken understanding that you don’t say thank you to your family because you don’t need to,” Jessica clarifies. The two then make up.
It’s refreshing to see the Huangs’ Asian American cultural customs on the television screen, even if they are not front and center. And while a lot of the show is objectively very silly and corny and cliché, it’s still very heartwarming. "Fresh Off the Boat" is a good place to leave problems behind after a long day, as any sitcom should be.