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5 Shows like Fresh Off the Boat: Culture Clashes

Roxanne_Sancto_itcher_contributorThe process of integrating into a new country is not always easy, but if you embrace the experience with an open mind and a good sense of humour, it will be totally worth it. TV shows like ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ give us a little taste of what it’s like to start a new life in a strange environment and trust me – it’s not always pretty. But characters like ‘Cristela’ and Sean and Beverly in ‘Episodes’ teach us that if you try hard enough, you can make it anywhere. ~ Roxanne Sancto

I need white people lunch.

Having grown up in Washington’s Chinatown, Eddie’s (Hudson Yang) lunch choices never really drew too much attention. But when the Huang family decides to move to Orlando in pursuit of Louis’ own version of the American Dream – a cowboy-themed steak restaurant – things change for Eddie.

Although the show is said to be loosely based on Eddie Huang’s ‘Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir’, the renowned chef and ‘Cheap Bites’ host has stated that he was not happy with ABC’s “artificial representation of Asian American lives”.

TV series like ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and ‘Cristela’ provide good-natured insight into the cultural clashes often experienced by people growing up in bi-racial families, or those who have recently immigrated to a new country. Though negative experiences like racist comments and exclusion present themselves, these shows maintain a breezy attitude and do not dwell on hardships.

Let’s check out how different characters experience the pros and cons of two different cultures!


Shows Similar to ‘Fresh Off the Boat’…

‘Black-ish’ (ABC, 2014)

Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) is a successful advertising manager who has it all: his beautiful wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), his kids Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner), Jack (Miles Brown), Diane (Marsai Martin) and Zoey (Yara Shahidi), a big house, and a nice ride.

But he feels like he’s missing something important: his roots. Raising his kids in a predominantly white neighbourhood, he’s appalled to hear his kid is playing field hockey. He feels that it’s his duty to remind them of their cultural identity and the pre-Obama era.

He often attempts to do so in quirky ways like performing an “African rites of passage ceremony”, in reaction to Andre Jr. requesting a bar mitzvah. 

Similarity Match: 80%
Dre and Eddie’s mum Jessica (Constance Wu) both feel strongly about their children staying in touch with their heritage. The Huangs are still chasing the American Dream whereas the Johnsons seem to have achieved it.

‘Episodes’ (Showtime/BBC Two, 2011)

Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) are BAFTA Award-winning writers for the British sitcom Lyman’s Boys. Everything was going well for them until they were asked to go to Hollywood to work on the American remake of the show.

They have a hard time adapting to the ‘plastic fantastic’ Hollywood ways but get through it by sticking together and having a laugh about it all. But when Matt LeBlanc gets between them…Well, I mean, how does a man recover from his wife sleeping with Matt freaking LeBlanc?

Similarity Match: 65%
This show doesn’t deal with cultural heritage as much as it does with integration into another country. But both shows paint a largely humorous picture of cultural clashing.

‘All American Girl’ (ABC, 1994)

Not only do ‘Fresh off the Boat’ and ‘All American Girl’ share similarities in terms of plot lines, but both shows are based on the lives of real-life TV personalities: Margaret Cho and Eddie Huang respectively. Just as Eddie felt the Asian American community was misrepresented in ‘Fresh Off the Boat’, Cho felt the same was true of ‘All-American Girl’.

The series follows the Korean-American Kim family and their daily lives in San Francisco. The focus of the show is on Margaret (Cho), who regularly clashes with her strict “tiger mom” Katherine (Jodi Long) and her insistence on Margaret dating a successful Korean man.

The best part of the show is Margaret’s grandma Yung-hee, a die-hard TV junkie with a strong admiration for Oprah Winfrey and strange stories of grandpas dying on toilets in the “old country”.

Similarity Match: 55%
Both shows struggled with criticism for very much the same reason, but ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ clearly came out on top. Margaret’s grandma Yung-hee (Amy Hill) is what makes this show worth watching.


If You Like ‘Fresh Off the Boat’, You Will Like…

Many of us dream of moving to another country and embracing another culture, but we don’t always think of the many challenges the integration process can bring. Similarly, it can be difficult to stay true to your families’ traditional values, when you are fully immersed in the cultural norms of a country with an entirely different background.  If you liked learning more about families growing up between two worlds, you’ll probably enjoy ‘Cristela’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’.

‘Cristela’ (ABC, 2015)

‘Cristela’ was created and written by Cristela Alonzo, who also plays the main role. Alonzo, who is known for her dirty laugh and trademark sarcasm, brings her own sassiness to her character Cristela, the aspiring lawyer.

The bubbly latina is working as an unpaid intern but aims to work herself up in her law firm, in spite of her boss regularly confusing her for the cleaning lady. Although they support her, her family all have different opinions about her aspirations.

Although she’s lived in the US practically all her life, Cristela still has to put up with racist comments and ignorance, much like Eddie. ‘Cristela’ feels as though it’s aimed at a female-audience as opposed to being a whole-family experience.

‘Gilmore Girls’ (WB, 2000)

One of the best examples of a TV character desperate to break from the bonds of her severely strict Christian/Korean mother to fully embrace the American, rock ’n’ roll ways, is Lane Hyng-kyung Kim (Keiko Agena). Now she’s a real (but respectful) bad ass: eternal damnation is what she’s risking for her rock and roll.

In the first few seasons of ‘Gilmore Girls’, Lane leads a double-life: her friends know her as a dedicated drummer and music aficionado with funky clothes and platform shoes but her mother knows her as a church-going, rule-abiding vegan.

Eddie has a lot more freedom than Lane, but both Mrs. Kim and Jessica want their children to follow their families’ traditional values.


It’s Not Easy Being the “Weird” Kid

The characters on series similar to the ones we discussed above all share one thing in common: they’re all considered others starting afresh in a new environment or are struggling to balance the cultural norms and expectations of two very different societies.

Whether ABC is doing its best to paint a realistic picture of different cultural backgrounds is still open to a lot of discussion – so let’s join in.

Do you think these shows offer a realistic depiction of integration and cultural differences?

My name is Roxanne Sancto and I’ll be writing all things music, book and movie related for itcher mag. I also write for New Heroes & Pioneers’ upcoming Festival and Culture magazines, to be launched in the spring of 2014. I am the co-author of The Pink Boots and am currently working on two new novels. I love music, literature, cinema, crafting, yoga and animals.
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