by GARY YAMASAKI As I sit down to write about ABC’s new sit-com “Fresh Off the Boat,” there are many facets of this outstanding show I would like to address. But I will stick with the script and focus on the point-of-view dynamics arising in its premiere episode.
This series is based on the memoirs of Chinese-American master chef Eddie Huang, and follows his childhood experience of moving with his family from the Chinatown of Washington, DC to a white suburban neighborhood of Orlando. A major point-of-view factor in the series is the use of voice-over narration with which Eddie provides commentary for the viewers, and the use of this cinematic technique may suggest the viewers are intended to experience the exploits of the Huang family through this character’s point of view. This is only partial correct.
First, over a shot focusing on the eleven-year-old Eddie in a van with his family, the voice-over says, “That’s me. . .your boy Eddie Huang. . .” but the voice is different from Eddie’s voice heard in an earlier scene, for it is the voice of an adult. Second, the voice-over continues, “We were moving from Washington, DC to Orlando, FA. I was eleven years old, and it was 1995.” Note the use of past-tense verbs here, indicating the speaker is commenting retrospectively on these events from some point in the future. How much into the future? As the voice-over continues, it provides an introduction to the members of Eddie’s family, and on his mother, it says, “Moms was always hard on me. . .way before all that ‘tiger mom’ stuff. . . .” The introduction of the term “tiger mom” is generally attributable to the 2011 release of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir focusing on Chua’s experience with strict Asian parenting; therefore, the voice-over narration must be post-2011. Taking all of this together leads to the conclusion that the events of the series are being filtered not through the point of view of the eleven-year-old Eddie, but through the point of view of Eddie after he has grown up (note: it is the real-life Eddie Huang who is doing the voice-over).
The fact that the viewers are receiving the commentary of the adult Eddie as opposed to the boy Eddie is significant to the analysis of the point-of-view dynamics of this episode. If the producers had decided to go with voice-over narration of the eleven-year-old Eddie, the content of the narration would have been severely limited, just covering things like what Eddie was thinking or feeling at any given moment. However, the decision to go with the narration of the adult Eddie provides much more latitude in what can be shared through the comments.
For example, in the closing scene of the episode, the voice-over says, “When you live in a ‘Lunchables’ world, it’s not always easy bringing home-made Chinese food. But it’s also what makes you special. My family was going to create their place in Orlando, and we’re going to do it our way. Because you don’t need to pretend to be someone else in order to belong.” These comments relate to trials faced by Eddie during this first episode, and he clearly experiences growth through his struggle with them. However, it would be a stretch to conclude that these comments accurately reflect his state of mind by the end of the episode. Rather, these comments more likely represent the adult Eddie’s state of mind as he thinks back on these childhood experiences with the benefit of two decades of further reflection.
The choice to have the voice-over narration provide thoughts that have had the chance to mature over decades of time provides the series with the opportunity to present more sophisticated reflections on the issues Eddie faces than would have been possible if the voice-over narration had been limited just to the mind of an eleven-year-old boy.