“Following the misfire that was Margaret Cho’s 1994 sitcom All-American Girl, it took 20 years before ABC — or any other network — would take a chance on a series led by an Asian-American cast. As Viola Davis noted in her history-making Emmys speech on Sunday, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Finally, women of color are being afforded some space — and even making space for themselves — in network television, and this more diverse landscape has made for undeniably richer, more informative storytelling.
When EW spoke to Fresh Off the Boat showrunner Nahnatchka Khanin advance of the ABC comedy’s first season, she said that a focus-test of the original pilot left white people in the audience feeling “persecuted.” Now, as season 2 goes into full-swing — Fresh returned Tuesday — we caught up with Khan and star Constance Wu to talk representation, stereotyping, strong women, and what’s next for the Huang family.
After years of being relegated to token and supporting roles, Fresh Off the Boat can boast the largest Asian-American-led cast on television, which exerts a unique and not insignificant amount of pressure. “We sort of have the burden of an entire group’s representation,” says Khan of having to answer to criticisms from the Asian-American community. “You can’t please everybody.” Indeed, even Eddie Huang — the author of the memoir that inspired the show — has openly derided the series for being too safe and not adequately representative of his experiences. He narrated the series for season 1, but was absent from the season 2 premiere and seems unlikely to return.
Khan’s priority, however, is to the characters. “It’s like, ‘Would Jessica do this? Would Louis do this?’ That’s what we try to stay true to, just making sure the characters behave in ways that feel authentic to them and their story,” she explains. “In doing so, I think people see themselves or their families or their growing-up experience in [Fresh Off the Boat] and that makes us happy. But if people don’t see that, that’s okay too. Not everybody can see every moment of their life displayed by one set of people. It’s just not going to happen…”