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Review Round-Up: ABC's Eddie Huang Sitcom 'Fresh Off the Boat'

"One of the most polished and promising new comedies in a long-ass time."

Courtesy ABC

ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, the long-stewing series based on chef Eddie Huang's similarly titled memoir, debuted last night to high ratings (perhaps in spite of, or thanks to, Huang's outspoken criticisms of the "Hollywood process" in the press). But hearteningly, reviews of the show — noteworthy particularly because it's the first sitcom in more than 20 years to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast — have been overwhelmingly positive. In the first round of early reviews, TV critics acknowledge Fresh Off the Boat's groundbreaking diversity (most reviews, in some way, nod to the fact that the show "has the burden of representation," as TIME's James Poniewozik writes).

More critically, people are finding it genuinely funny. Hudson Yang (as Eddie Huang) and Constance Wu (as Jessica, Huang's mother) are frequently singled out for their comedic timing and charm. And some critics, like Vulture's Margaret Lyons, are heaping on truly high praise: Lyons called the show "one of the most polished and promising new comedies in a long-ass time." (If you missed the episode, watch a preview of the pilot here.) Now, critics weigh in:

The A-Star-Is-Born-In-Constance-Wu News: "Demanding, acerbic, ranging from passive-aggressive to aggressive-aggressive, Jessica would be an easy character to play as a simple "Tiger Mom" (a concept the voiceover references). But the comically agile Wu puts such spin on her line readings that she conveys much more about the character–her sense of humor, her vulnerability, her protectiveness." — James Poniewozik, TIME

The Slightly Squeamish News: "Fresh Off The Boat does not talk its way around race. Several scenes per episode might have you watching though your fingers, due to secondhand embarrassment for the oblivious white suburbanites surrounding the Huangs. Some of these situations are more heavy-handed than others, but the actors behind the family deftly play the confusion, humiliation, and anger that arises when encountering racism." — Caroline Framke, The AV Club

The Unlikeable Eddie Huang News: "The show's largest problem is Eddie himself. Building a show around your most abrasive character could be a workable choice, but Fresh hasn't yet figured out how to present him... That's a flaw the show needs to fix, because as amusing and well-played as the parents are, they reflect types we've seen before." — Robert Bianco, USA Today

The LOL News: "It's funny because it's funny." — Tim Goodman, the Hollywood Reporter

The Thank-God-for-More-Edge-on-TV News: "A TV series with a point of view will almost always be better than the latest mushball with a high-concept tagline, especially given that even the sharpest show will get worn down by the grindstone that is the network TV pilot process. There is no better proof of this than ABC's Fresh Off the Boat... [which] remains funny, charming, sweet, and subtly provocative despite — according to no less an expert than the subject of the show itself — having had some of its edge sanded off." — Willa Paskin, Slate

The This-Show-Could-Be-Edgier News: "It's certainly not a great show; Eddie Huang is right that they're taking a pretty safe, not very provocative approach to putting this family in front of the viewers of ABC. He's right that a lot of the feel-good lessons aren't exactly daring... But he's also right that there are bracing moments in which this show is pushing on dynamics that don't come up all that often." — Linda Holmes, NPR

The Everyone-Can-Relate News: "The total number of people whose prerequisite for TV viewership is, 'Is it important?' is nil. The total number of people whose prerequisite for TV viewership is, 'Is it relatable?' is somewhat higher, so be reassured: Yes." — Daniel Fienberg, HitFix

The Balancing Stereotypes News: "Critics might wince at some of the stereotypes inherent in the characters, and Huang himself wrote an extensive, rambling first-person account regarding the painful and awkward aspects of bringing his life to the screen. Nevertheless, the show has to be viewed through the prism of Eddie's memories, and the way kids tend to exaggerate views of their parents and childhood." — Brian Lowry, Variety

The Race-Jokes-Get-Old News: "Putting a knock on white suburbia is hardly the most innovative comedic idea. Having established the exaggerated and predictable weirdness of all white people, Fresh Off the Boat seems to have run through its one topic — and one joke." — Robert Rorke, New York Post

The "Most Promising New Comedy" News: "I'm interested in the whole show in general because it's funny and savvy and well done. Fresh's silly non-sequiturs are dispatched just often enough, and it strikes the right balance of making kid characters funny without seeming phony and hammy. The show is perfectly cast, and it certainly seems like there's plenty of story to be had. If Huang ultimately isn't satisfied with the sitcom-ification of his story, that's of course his right. But there's plenty here to like, and a lot to be proud of." — Margaret Lyons, Vulture.com

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