You are not going to get a review of Fresh Off The Boat in this post.
Whether you were looking for one or not, sorry you aren't getting one. I'm still processing the two episodes that screened last night at the Japanese American National Museum as a community watch party in partnership with Angry Asian Man, dis/orient/ed Comedy, and Visual Communications.
Doors were due to open by 7:45, and by 7:25 the line already looked like this:
There were 200 seats. There were way more than 200 people lined up.
In the past 48 hours I've been mostly interested in what the conversation would be during and after the show, and what better way to check that out than by hanging with 199 other people (plus staff and panelists) to watch, Tweet, and talk. The screening, hosted by a panel featuring Phil Yu, Jenny Yang, Milton Liu, Jen Wang, and Oliver Wang, would prove to be the perfect place to do that.
Entering the Tateuchi Democracy Center, we pushed our way into the plush black seats as quickly as possible. The room had never looked so small, but the room had also never given me such pause. Sitting in a crowd of Asian Americans at an Asian American museum listening to Asian American music (Far East Movement, natch) waiting to see Asian Americans on TV while 100+ more Asian Americans were hoping to get in kicked me back to being that kid making a list of Asian Americans in his head. We're a long way from 1994.
Jenny got on the mic to ask us all to move in. She called out one person for having a bag on the chair next to them, the person then explaining that it was the seat of someone in the bathroom. Jenny joked that we should shame them when they returned. I'm not sure if she was kidding.
The build up was swift. Twitter exploded with countdowns to airtime and lingering thoughts from the East Coast screening. The buzz in the room was palpable as folks in the standing area scrambled to find a good vantage point. After half an episode of Wheel of Fortune and full episode of The Middle (featuring a weird quasi-fake Hawaiian thing going on at the end), the TV age rating appeared in a top corner and there was Hudson Yang posing in chains and oversized threads. The show was here.
Phil encouraged us to Tweet, and tweet we did. At certain moments there were 10+ Tweets happening in one second from up and down the west coast. The theater boomed with laughter as Constance Wu delivered perfectly-timed one-liners and Randall Park smiled nervously. There was a weird local TV spot for Rose Hills Cemetery featuring a bizarre Peking Opera character that brought everyone together in incredulity. It was nice.
And with that episode one was over and it was time for the panel discussion. With half an hour until the next episode (they would be airing two) there was plenty of time for the conversation to derail. That's pretty much what happens when you have a huge audience with lots of feelings. But instead we got an insightful conversation around general thoughts (mostly positive), mainstream acceptance, and what Phil and Jenny dubbed "Rep Sweats" ("Hashtag that!" chimed Jenny.) #RepSweats is the feeling any member of a community gets when they worry about what their media representation will look like despite, as Phil put it, the fact that "...it's ridiculous that any one show should bear the burden of [being] one sole example of Asians in mass media."
There were notes around the actors' (almost weirdly non-existent) accents and how one commentator was five when All American Girl came out and felt that FOTB could be doing better promotion (though their media campaign honestly looked pretty expensive), but overall the room was positive. People were excited to see this show happen and felt that at least one episode in, it seemed sound and was the most we could ask for in this time and place of mainstream development.
Another episode came and went. The conversation post-show was largely similar to the halftime one. There were questions around the importance of mainstream representation and what this show looks like to a White audience (outside the context of ratings I personally don't feel like it matters what this show looks like to a White audience, but to each their own). The night ended. We converged on Far Bar. It was nice.
What struck me, however, was that the reaction from the internet was exactly what I'd hoped it would be. We were not only nitpicking and offering criticism. We were not only asserting knowledge and experience by tearing down what we could work to build off of and evolve. Instead my networks lit up with folks relating to the show by telling stories. There was so much joy, nostalgia, reflection, and pride in these moments that many if not most Asian Americans were seeing represented on screen for the first time.
In seeing our stories in such concrete, specific ways, I believe that we have a unique opportunity to celebrate who we are en masse. While celebration of Asian American history and experience has existed since we first immigrated, this show appearing at this moment in time structured by social media and immediately accessible communication tools allowed us to eventize what we could only fumble at developing in the past. The fact that this show focuses on one Taiwanese American family in Florida gives the rest of Asian America an opportunity to layer our collective experiences by talking about our own journeys in relation or non-relation to the show. There are so many ways that this could change the mainstream conversation and hopefully route conversation to the counter-culture language that has been building since long before Yuji Ichioka even posited the term "Asian American."
Simple AzN pRyDe is long gone. With a show as experiencially-specific but anecdotally-relatable as Fresh Off The Boat, perhaps we are slowly building a more nuanced relationship to the term "Asian American" on a macro level.
There will be no huge screening party next week, but I've already seen invites to apartment gatherings around LA. Whether in celebration or critique, this show is bringing people together in physical and digital space.
I think that's a win.