Eddie Huang Is Not Very Happy With “Fresh Off The Boat”

“Fresh Off The Boat” is a bonafide critical success. Audiences love it for the wonder that is Constance Wu and the representation of a culture so rarely seen on network TV. There’s one person who doesn’t love it, and that is Eddie Huang, author of the book that inspired the show. Before the show’s release, he published a lengthy piece in New York magazine, detailing his discomfort with the show, and now, as the first season winds its way to a close, he’s taken to Twitter to let us all know what he really thinks.

I am a fan of “Fresh Off The Boat”, even though I recognize the fact that it’s a slightly watered-down version of what really happened in Huang’s memoir. I understand also how that would sting to someone who’s worked so very hard to bring the story of their childhood to life on national television. There’s great pressure in presenting your story for public consumption, and I imagine it’s hard not to feel cheated or angry when the story you see with your name attached to it varies greatly from what actually happened.

Huang’s anger is warranted, but it’s also to be expected. The show is on ABC, a network responsible for the blandest of all family sitcoms, “Modern Family,” a show that centers around lukewarm jokes about Sofia Vergara’s accent. It’s true that “Fresh Off The Boat” is the Asian-American experience toned down, unspicy, served with a side of fried rice and an egg roll. It’s the Chinese food you get from the place around the corner, not the stuff your mom makes for you when she comes to visit. It’s authentic enough to recognize larger shared experiences, but not authentic enough to reproduce everything unique to Huang’s life.

The message is truly in the medium, here. Huang’s memoir is peppered with stories of domestic violence, suffered at the hands of his father, a mercurial man with a temper. But a network like ABC isn’t going to show one of their characters kneeling on an asphalt driveway for hours as punishment.  If this show had been picked up by Netflix or HBO, things might have turned out differently. What Huang is saying is understandable, but at this point, there’s nothing he can do.