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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.
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
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
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
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.
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!