There is little I love more than a quality television show, except a quality television show with a diverse cast. 2015’s fall TV programming features a rare number of shows with Asian or Asian American leads, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I sat down and suffered my way through these shows (jk I had a bowl of snacks!) to bring you a roundup of some of the most promising shows featuring actors of Asian descent airing this fall.
Fresh Off the Boat is expanding on what it does best (ultra-specific family comedy with a dash of 90s nostalgia) in its second season. The first Asian-led ensemble cast since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl twenty years ago, Fresh off the Boat had high expectations placed upon it last season, including by its creator Eddie Huang. Based on his eponymous, hilarious (and misogynist!) memoir, Fresh Off The Boat follows one Chinese American family's move to Florida. Since Huang publicly trashed the show’s sanitized representation of his childhood, he's been booted from his voiceover position this season. Other changes since season one include Randall Park’s magically disappearing accent, Eddie’s acquisition of a perpetually top-buttoned plaid shirt, and an increase in Mandarin dialogue- I haven't heard this much Chinese on TV since I watched dubbed Korean soaps with my po po two Christmases ago, and I watch a lot of TV. Fresh off the Boat isn't the most daring or innovative show out right now, but it accurately presents Chinese Americans with a loving scrutiny and specificity, and Constance Wu’s constant scenery-chomping makes every episode worth a watch.
Dr. Ken is a new network TV sitcom featuring the considerable talents of Ken Jeong-- in fact, the titular character is based on Jeong’s doctor days, before he became better known as that crazy Asian guy from The Hangover or Community. In contrast to his previous performances, Dr. Ken is safe, tried-and-true American standard format television, complete with an overused laugh track. This isn't to say that Jeong isn't funny, or that seeing an Asian family represented as true leads sans accent on a prime time show isn't refreshing in the best ways. The first few episodes followed all-American plot lines like teens learning to drive and miming to Katy Perry’s Roar, but they lacked specificity, preferring instead to dwell in a generic format split between home and an office. Ultimately, the show seems unsure of what its point of view will be as it continues to develop. There are Asian jokes, sure, but unlike Fresh off the Boat, they seem to be at the expense of actors and viewers (sample joke: Ken Jeong speaks Korean. Cue laugh track.) It smacks slightly of Everybody Loves Raymond, which isn't a bad thing if you're everybody. Jeong and his cast deserve a more hard hitting show, though, and I'm hopeful that Dr. Ken will evolve into something more nuanced than its first episodes.
The Mindy Project recently moved from Fox to Hulu, and it's never been better. (Full disclosure: I tweeted that, The Mindy Project’s account favorited and replied with a gif so I'm basically famous, right!? Anyway.) Headed by accomplished showrunner/imaginary best friend Mindy Kaling, this comedy rarely takes on the Asian American identity in a meaningful way, but it does offer some of the best workplace comedy on television right now-- and in my opinion, ever. Mindy has finally gotten together with longtime paramour Danny Castellano, started her own fertility clinic, and become a mother. The fourth season of this rom com-inspired show (and yes, I'm squealing with glee while writing that phrase) continues the romance past the conventional happy ending, delving into the realities of the fictional Mindy’s life as a working mom. The supporting cast has never been stronger, the writing has never been sharper, and Chris Messina has never been cuter. Not even in Argo. The show is a serious bright spot for me every week, but lately it’s been filling the void Parenthood left: I don't want to give anything away, but the first episode gave me a serious case of the I'm-not-crying-you're-cryings.
Quantico, a new ABC drama starring the impossibly beautiful Priyanka Chopra, follows a group of prospective FBI agents in training. Its pilot opens with the debris of an explosion, a sweaty jog, then a sweaty airplane ride--but alas/hooray, no gritty realism here. Once in training, the agents’ first assignment is to discover each others’ secrets within twenty four hours. Intrigue! Mystery! Car sex! This show has so many elements of a Shonda Rhimes show, it's a few ellipses away from being a Gladiator monologue. Chopra plays biracial Alex Parrish, an FBI agent in training whose secret features guns and dads (told you this show was Rhimes-adjacent.) The first episodes left me with a few burning questions: who can we trust? Who is the mole? How do I artfully construct a messy bun that will stay in place through an explosion like Priyanka’s?! And, perhaps most importantly, what shade of lipstick is she wearing in the pilot?!? I need to keep watching to find out. I'm dead serious. This show is not, though, and I love it anyway.