ABC's 'Fresh Off the Boat': What the Critics Are Saying

The fish-out-of-water series on ABC follows the young Eddie Huang and his family in 1995 as they move from Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown to suburban Orlando.
ABC/Kevin Foley
'Fresh Off the Boat'

Fresh Off the Boat, follows the young Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) and his family in 1995 as they move from Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown to suburban Orlando. The fish-out-of-water series focuses on the Taiwanese family's misadventures, as eternally optimistic father Louis (Randall Park) uproots his family so that he can buy the Cattleman's Ranch Steakhouse in Orlando and dream bigger than he ever could back in Washington, working for the family of his suspicious and cynical wife, Jessica (Constance Wu). The cast also includes Forrest Wheeler, Ian Chen and Paul Scheer.

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Written by executive producer Nahnatchka Khan (Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23), Fresh Off the Boat is based on Huang's best-selling memoir of the same name. It's the first series to feature a predominantly Asian cast on the broadcast networks in 20 years (since Margaret Cho's All American Girl), yet producer Huang detailed in a New York essay his frustrations with the first episode not capturing his childhood experiences and the pushback he received from producers, who, as he says, get it "85 percent" right and should feature a domestic violence arc at some point.

The new series premieres Wednesday on ABC at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. before moving to its regular Tuesday at 8 p.m. time slot.

See what critics are saying about Fresh Off the Boat:

The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman says it's "one of the better freshman broadcast sitcoms in a while. Now, if the show could just get out of its own way — or, more accurately, if the people surrounding it could — then maybe it can find the audience it richly deserves. ... Like Black-ish before it, the series scores not just for being diverse or effectively studied in talking about and spoofing race, but by being genuinely funny despite how people might initially pigeonhole it. It's funny because it's funny. ... On a number of issues, Khan and company have shown a deftness for call-back jokes that work better every time they are readdressed. That's the kind of expanded reach that Fresh Off the Boat (like Black-ish and The Goldbergs) has and needs."

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The New York Times' Neil Genzlinger writes, "It’s disappointing that two of the first three episodes are little more than familiar reworkings of overused formulas and plots. But Episode 2 — showing on Wednesday along with the premiere — indicates the concept’s promise; the show stops trying to be too many things and, for a half-hour at least, finds a groove." However, "Fresh Off the Boat might really have belonged on a cable outlet like FX, where it could speak its mind more bluntly. ... In addition to veering toward formulaic, the show has some point-of-view collisions that confuse the comic tone. Since it’s a child’s reminiscences, Dad of course has to be a doofus. (This one and the dad on black-ish, another recent attempt to broaden the TV spectrum, should form a support group.) But since it’s an Asian-American family’s story, practically every Caucasian also has to be a doofus: the neighborhood women, the principal, the employees at the restaurant. That’s a lot of doofuses, and it makes for unfocused comedy."

The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert notes, "The show relies on a more honest and less white-centric point of view than the last Asian-American sitcom on network TV, Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, back in 1994. In time, Fresh Off the Boat ... could evolve into a more naturalistic comedy that involves racial issues but that is also a family story about particular characters. Modern Family has done that, and black-ish is well on its way. We live in a nation of immigrants, and there is plenty of awkwardness to make light of. But without well-drawn characters, it’s all a bunch of one-liners."

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The Washington Post's Hank Stuever says, "The first few episodes of Fresh Off the Boat are largely devoted to predictably blunt examples of pop-culture absorption and actual cultural dissonance. ... [It] seems determined to play up its most obvious jokes, terrified that viewers might get bored once the kid stops swaggering around to Notorious B.I.G. and Ol’ Dirty Bastard songs. (In fact, Wu’s character — with her Tiger Mom instincts and Stephen King fixation — has much more potential for laughs.) Fresh Off the Boat wants to be both Black-ish and The Goldbergs — and it works fairly okay as a companion piece to either — but it’s a lot better show when it occasionally stops going for just the easy jokes and aims for a subtler, sharper line of comment."

USA Today's Robert Bianco gives it 2½ stars out of four. "There are some very funny moments in the first of tonight's two episodes, most of them provided by Wu and Park, and fleeting indications that Fresh could be a better, deeper show than the one we're seeing. ... But there's also signs of a show that could become worse. ... Still, the show's largest problem is Eddie himself. Building a show around your most abrasive character could be a workable choice, but Fresh hasn't yet figured out how to present him: Is he a poseur whose shallow appropriation of hip-hop style is meant to be mocked, or is his love of the music and culture meant to tell us something deeper about who he is and who he will become? That's a flaw the show needs to fix, because as amusing and well-played as the parents are, they reflect types we've seen before. For better or worse, Eddie is the distinctive character: If he doesn't ring true, neither will the show."

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