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Why We Need 'Fresh Off the Boat' Mom Jessica Huang

FRESH OFF THE BOAT - "Home Sweet Home-School" - Louis and Jessica clash over how to raise the kids and how to run the restaurant. When the boys get straight A's in school, Jessica decides that their school must be too easy and takes it upon herself to give them more homework and tutor them after class. She takes the same strict approach at the restaurant (no extra croutons for anyone!), so it's up to Louis to get her to lighten up on everyone, in a special preview of "Fresh Off the Boat," WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4 (9:31-10:00 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jordin Althaus)
CONSTANCE WU, FORREST WHEELER, HUDSON YANG, IAN CHEN
Photograph by ABC

On the surface, ABC's hit new sitcom "Fresh Off the Boat" is about 11-year-old Eddie Huang, a Taiwanese American kid who moves to the burbs of Orlando. But as a mom, I flip on the TV every Tuesday night to see Constance Wu, who plays smart-talking mom Jessica on the show.

Whether she's chasing down teens who dine-and-dash at the family's restaurant or standing up to the middle school principal, Jessica is anything but a stereotypical docile Asian woman … or even a typical sitcom mom.

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It's should be no surprise then that many of the show's writers are women, led by show runner Nahnatchka Khan. I had a chance to chat with Khan and writer Kourtney Kang about why Jessica's character is so groundbreaking.

"I've always loved strong women characters," says Khan, who is the daughter of Iranian immigrants. "Women who don't apologize for things that they want and for feeling strongly about whatever."

But strong women in TV comedies tend to play the straight man trope to keep the goofball husbands in line. Not Jessica. She is deeply flawed, at times racist ("Why you always wear shirts with Black men on them?") and narcissistic.

I like Jessica best when we get peeks that beneath her brash and ambitious exterior, she just wants the best for those she loves.

"So many times on shows, the guy gets to have all the jokes and do the fun stuff, and the wife character is like, 'Why did you do that?'" says Kang, who is herself the mother of two young kids, with a third on the way. Kang says she often fights for her vision of Jessica's character, describing herself as waddling down the hallway to yell at someone.

Which is not to say that Jessica Huang is a Tiger Mother. Even though she does question the touchy-feely teachers and takes it upon herself to supplement her kids' educations with her own after-school lessons modeled on Chinese Learning Centers, Jessica also reveals a fun side. She channels her inner Whitney Houston in a karaoke battle with the neighborhood women and busts out a pimp walk when she makes her first sale as a realtor.

But Jesssica is funniest when she is oblivious to her own weaknesses, like when she goes to take her real estate licensing test and gives up after being intimidated by the fast-talking champion seller, then hides in her minivan eating ice-cream sandwiches.

"We made a thing early on never to apologize," explains Khan. "She's never going to say sorry, even if she does things that are wrong in the pursuit of something."

But I like Jessica best when we get peeks that beneath her brash and ambitious exterior, she just wants the best for those she loves, like when she befriends the neighborhood Hester Prynne, the young blonde trophy wife of the Silver Fox next door. Jessica stands by her friendship with Honey, even if it means being shunned by the popular moms in the subdivision. Jessica even occasionally loosens up her steel reigns on her kids.

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While the relationship between Jessica and her TV husband, Louis, is not as lovey-dovey as many sitcom couples, they definitely have an onscreen chemistry that if not sizzling, is wry and tender. "They both mess up and they both make mistakes, they're both wrong sometimes," says Kang. "And sometimes they're both right. It's a fair fight."

What's next for Jessica Huang? Well, that depends on whether ABC renews "Fresh Off the Boat" for a second season. Do I want to see more of her? As Jessica would say ... Oh hell, yes!

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