Yesterday I watched the first two episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, a sitcom loosely based on the childhood of Eddie Huang. It's the first network show in 20 years starring an Asian-American family. The previous one, Margaret Cho's All-American Girl, didn't do too well, so anticipation and expectations were high for Fresh Off the Boat.
Last year when the first teasers came out for the show, viewers' reactions included some concern about the accents of the parents, played by Constance Wu and Randall Park. To me, the accents did indeed sound off-key, but based on everything else I saw, I reserved judgment. I figured maybe I wasn't familiar enough with Taiwanese accents, since I'm more used to the Hong Kong accents in my own family.
Mainly I wanted to take the attitude that I take with Apple product announcements. Whatever optimism or doubts I may have, I always reserve final judgment until I've had hands-on experience. I learned my lesson about that in 2007, when Apple shipped the first iPhone. I was excited about it but thought I could hold off on getting one. I figured I'd wait for other people to find the bugs and for Apple to work out any manufacturing glitches. But then a friend let me play with his iPhone, and I was immediately hooked. The hands-on experience far exceeded my expectations. Minutes later, my friend walked me to the Apple Store and I bought my own iPhone.
This week ABC "shipped" the first two episodes of Fresh Off the Boat and I finally got to go "hands-on". And you know what? I loved the show so much I watched both episodes twice. The show is honest about race — there's a scene in the pilot episode that I think people will be talking about for a long time — but at heart it's a funny show with some poignant moments and some moments of dark humor (though not too dark; remember, this is ABC, not HBO). The narration by the real Eddie Huang adds great depth to the flavor of the show.
I found that the more I watched, the less I cared about the accents. They might be pitch-perfect, or they might be as questionable as James Doohan's impression of a Scot. I'm still not sure, but I don't care any more because I like the characters, and I like them just as they are. I doubt most of non-Asian America will care either.
Put it this way: I find Jackie Chan's genuine accent way more distracting than I ever found Wu's and Park's simulated ones, and I still love Jackie Chan movies.