It’s a lot easier to fail on primetime television than it is to be successful. However, being successful is a lot more rewarding. Shows get cancelled all the time for a variety of reasons, but one very big reason is by having a show that does not relate to a large audience. This often happens with in group/ out group television, for example; Comedy Central’s Mind of Mencia (IMDb 3.1), Comedy Central’s Chocolate News (IMDb 5.4), or Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time (IMDb 6.1).* All of these shows had a strong in group and out group humor that you either “got it” or you didn’t. These shows ran from 1 to 4 seasons, with the longer the seasons go, the lower their overall rating became. These shows faced opposite problems than that of All American Girl. The in group/out group humor was obviously there, but All American Girl seemed too hard to give America something to relate to and in that attempt, seemed to over-generalize Asian America and often made Asians the butt of the joke. In many ways this created a novelty type of humor that I believe America was unable to relate to because it fell too far to the other side of the spectrum and could not find it’s sweet spot that current shows like Fresh off the Boat might have gotten right the first time around.
*They are all from Comedy Central because they seem to test and fail plenty of shows. I also have the experience of watching all of these shows. The IMBd rating is included to give a general idea of audience reception. For reference, Fresh off the Boat IMDb is currently rated 8.3 out of 10.
One main reason I would like to address is the over-generalized accents. To specify, I will just speak to Amy Hill’s character. Amy Hill is of Japanese-Finnish descent and as an actor in this role, is playing Margaret Cho’s Korean grandmother. When performing this role, Amy Hill does a fully stereotyped Asian accent. I would like to narrow it down to just one East Asian accent, but this would be very difficult. To give a brief overview, she blends her /r/’s and /l/’s together much like a Native Japanese speaker speaking English would (she doesn’t even remain faithful to this, for example, the clip below “free your willy” all /r/’s and /l/’s pronounced fine). This could be because of her Japanese Heritage, so she could be imitating one of her relatives. However, she is not playing a Japanese character, she is playing a Korean character. In this situation, it would be better to have no accent or lessen it greatly to avoid being the butt of the joke.
In Fresh off the Boat, Constance Wu was faced with the decision to use an accent or not. She decided that she would, but she would use actual recordings in attempt to do it right. In this attempt, she received criticism from Eddie Huang himself saying that it does not sound like his mother does. She responded to this by saying that “maybe he doesn’t think it helped, or maybe he thinks it hurt, but the awareness and the concern to get it right was there.” Which I believe is the key to her successful adaptation of how she heard his mother and not how Eddie hears his mother. This is a crucial move made by the actor and a great decision by Fresh off the Boat in my opinion because “It’s choosing authenticity over safety” and I believe that helps the audience relate to the cast when they put more care into their work. She also notes that this character is her attempt at reenacting the living, breathing mother of Eddie Huang. So in the ultimate defense, any criticism of her accent should not be made saying that she’s representing Asian Americans poorly, it should be a criticism of her specifically as an actor, because she does not represent all of Asian America. She is giving her adaptation to the best of her ability.
**All quotes from Constance Wu are from http://time.com/3696111/fresh-off-the-boat-constance-wu/
All American Girl would have benefitted greatly from making these attempts and representing a specific family instead of generalizing and selling the family as a stereotype to mainstream America. By generalizing the Asian accent, they sort of blended the family into one generic Asian American family leaving it hard for anyone to easily identify the community they are from (until explicitly pointing it out by speaking rough Korean), and making it hard for anyone from the in group/ out group to relate to. America was sort of welcomed to laugh at Asian Americans in this context and not laugh with them.