'Boat' a funny sitcom about Asian-Americans.

AuthorMoore, Frazier

Byline: Frazier Moore

NEW YORK -- Diversity on TV takes a step forward with ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat,'' which boosts Asians' scant presence in prime time with a sitcom about an Asian-American family pursuing the American dream while holding onto their own ethnicity.

It previews at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

But, first, a couple of caveats:

The title overstates the premise. Yes, Louis Huang and his family (wife Jessica and their three sons) have moved from Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown to Orlando, where Louis, "full of big plans,'' has opened a new restaurant. But the title suggests refugees paralyzed by culture shock. Most of the show's humor comes, instead, from the sometimes perplexed, sometimes delighted, reactions of its strangers-in-a-strange land to the quirks of Orlando and suburbia in general.

The format of "Fresh'' is a bit less than fresh. The show takes place in 1995 and is narrated by the adult version of the oldest son, 11-year-old Eddie. Shades of "Everybody Hates Chris,'' another single-camera comedy whose narrator, Chris Rock, told of his 1980s boyhood in an African-American community, and ABC's current "The Goldbergs,'' whose all-grown-up Adam Goldberg narrates tales of his 1980s boyhood in a Jewish family.

"This is the story of my family,'' begins the offscreen, real-life Eddie Huang (on whose memoir the series is based), and you could be forgiven for emitting a weary sigh.

But here's the good news: This is a funny show with likable characters portrayed by a cast of winning actors, all of which gives this "Boat'' sufficient comic buoyancy.

As Louis, Randall Park radiates charm and optimism, even as his counterintuitively themed restaurant -- Cattleman's Ranch Steakhouse -- is struggling for life.

"I need to hire a white host,'' he reasons. "Instead of people coming in and seeing a Chinese face and saying, 'Huh? I thought this was an Old West steakhouse,' they see a white face and say, 'Ahhh! Hello, white friend! I am comfortable.' ''

Constance Wu plays his supportive but no-nonsense wife, who is full of understandable misgivings about her new home.

For one thing, she misses the boisterous Chinatown marketplace: "This is not how I like to shop,'' she laments on...

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