The creators of A Christmas Story Live!, Fox’s just-aired live musical version of the 1983 film A Christmas Story, had a couple of key tasks at hand. One, they had to avoid stepping all over a holiday film that is loved by many, and two, they had to update that awful, racist Chinese restaurant scene.
For the unfamiliar, the scene in question features the Parker family taking in a Christmas Day meal at a place called Chop Suey Inn, after their own homemade meal falls apart. A few Asian-American servers sing “Deck the Halls” in over-exaggerated accents, pronouncing the refrain as “fa ra ra ra ra.” Mrs. Parker shrieks in horror when a whole roasted duck (which looks delicious, by the way) arrives at the table, and Mr. Parker explains that the problem is, “it’s smiling at me.” It’s a gross two minutes.
Instead of replicating this scene verbatim, director Scott Ellis, producer Marc Platt, and writers Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins updated it so the servers sing the song flawlessly, without any trace of the bad stereotype. The waiters were played by members of the Filharmonic, a Los Angeles-based a capella group. When Chris Diamantopoulos, the actor playing Mr. Parker, declares he “wasn’t expecting that,” Ken Jeong, playing the restaurant owner, coldly asks, “What were you expecting?”
“We wanted to do something that realistically felt like it took place in the 1940s, but also asked, what if this was a progressive town?” Jeong tells Vulture. “So, it wasn’t about transplanting a 2017 Asian-American into the 1940s; it was about creating a new world in which this could all actually happen.”
A Christmas Story Live! has received mostly negative reviews from critics, and it didn’t draw many viewers, but kudos to the cast and crew for taking an ignorant, racist joke and turning it into a joke about ignorant racists.