‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Had a Groundbreaking Lunar New Year Episode

Happy New Year! And I’m not talking about Jan. 1. In 2018, Feb. 16 officially marks the Lunar New Year, a holiday celebrated by many East Asian and Southeast Asian communities all around the world. Recently, the popular American television show, Fresh Off the Boat, which features a Taiwanese American family, aired the episode “Ride the Tiger” to ring in the Lunar New Year.

First off, I’m a big FOTB fan. I enjoy that the series is a comedy and I feel that my culture is, for the most part, represented when watching the show. Seeing people who look like me on screen in media and entertainment is important to me. It shows that our country is progressing, presents a feeling of inclusion to a diverse audience, and inspires young Asian Americans watching to one day become writers, actors or producers.

This latest episode was particularly meaningful and felt more authentic for a couple of reasons:

1. Connie Chung, the first Asian American to anchor an American major network newscast, makes an appearance

In the episode, Chung criticizes the Good Morning Orlando local talk show hosts for not doing a segment on the Lunar New Year. She’s clearly disappointed at the hosts’ insensitivity, and she even un-invites them from her “Kentucky Derby bash.” So not only do we get an appearance from Chung, but we also see her call out lack of cultural representation in media as well. That’s bold.

2. Almost half of the entire episode contains Mandarin dialogue (with subtitles of course).

Immediately when the episode begins, the Huang family is seen sitting at their dining table and everyone is speaking in Mandarin. Apparently, they are playing a game in that whoever speaks English first, loses. Almost everyone loses in this scene, with the exception of Evan and his mom, Jessica. For the entire episode, both Evan and Jessica speak in Mandarin. I was very impressed as this was the first time I have ever watched an American television show where the characters speak so much in the language I grew up speaking.

Show writer Jeff Chiang shares in the Hollywood Reporter his story as a Chinese American growing up in the 1990s, where he “didn't see a whole lot of Chinese people in American pop culture.” Chiang states his reason for writing  an episode in Mandarin, simply “because on a TV show about a Chinese family, we can.”

3. The episode includes cultural references surrounding Lunar New Year

I couldn’t help myself from laughing at Eddie’s quarrel with his “Big Auntie,” who had her reason for not giving Eddie a red envelope (a red envelope is a gift containing money given by elders to young and unmarried family members). The Year of the Tiger is also referenced in the episode, although in reality, 2018 is actually the Year of the Dog. Each Lunar New Year is represented by one of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac.

It’s great to see Fresh Off the Boat broadcast an episode that  represents myself and many others and that keeps us in the spirit for the New Year. Happy Year of the Dog!