Nahnatchka Khan is the out creator of Fresh Off the Boat, ABC’s series about an Asian-American family (mom, dad and three young boys) based off the Eddie Huang memoir of the same name. Tonight’s episode, “Blind Spot,” is an especially successful one in that it makes Jessica (Constance Wu) and Louis (Randall Park) realize they both miss certain things that are right in front of their faces. For Jessica, she has absolutely no gaydar and had no idea her previous boyfriend was gay. So when he comes to town (played by the hilarious Rex Lee), Jessica wants Louis to be more jealous, and can’t understand why he doesn’t seem to care about his wife spending so much time with an ex.
Natch, who was also behind the series Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23, joked that she wanted to put something gay into the show, “I mean, basically from birth, I feel like. It was like ‘Some day.'”
An early mention of Jessica’s ex, Oscar Chow, was cut for time from the original pilot, but “he’s always sort of been in the ether.”
“We always thought it would be a funny idea that that was Jessica’s blind spot, that she had no idea her ex-boyfriend was gay and everybody else could see it but her,” Natch said. “Especially that character being so strong and so forceful, having this glaring blindspot. And, over the course of the season, with David and the rest of the writers, we developed that into a sort of dual blind spot story, for Louis to have one as well that everyone else could see, and for Jessica to not be able to tell anyone is gay, not just her ex-boyfriend.”
It turns out that Jessica’s favorite place to go and get away is a lesbian bar called Denim Turtle, which Natch joked she and episode writer David Smithyman will franchise if the show doesn’t work out.
“We’re going to have them be the TGI Fridays of lesbian bars, in every city!” Natch said.
The Denim Turtle is like most lesbian dive bars, but certainly heightened for the comic effect in Jessica having no idea she’s hanging out with a bunch of butch women playing pool and working behind the bar.
“I feel like I’ve been in that bar 25,000 times in my life,” Natch said. “It’s an amalgam of different bars. But for the joke to play it had to be extremely obvious to everyone except for Jessica, who goes there because she can drink and not be bothered by the guys, and all the women are very protective of her.”
“For me it was exciting to write a gay character because I haven’t always loved how gay characters have been represented on TV and movies and I think it was exciting to write a three-dimensional person who wasn’t there for a quick laugh, who wasn’t there to be the butt of all the jokes,” says David. “He was a real person with real motivations and history and I think it was fun for me to write because the Huangs are outsiders anyway, in Florida, so I think they’re natural to embrace a different kind of outsider.”
Natch praises David’s take on Oscar and his relationships with both Jessica and Louis as “different, inspired, real,” and David says he based Oscar on his real life growing up and falling in love with his best friend. (Louis’s blind spot: Not being able to tell when people are interested in him.)
“And also what I think is cool about the way we structured the story and the way David wrote the script, is the butt of the joke is the Huangs—it’s really Jessica,” Natch said. “It’s not about Oscar Chow. It’s about her being so blind. To me, that’s what’s so funny about a character who can be so well-rounded and forceful and so smart. To me, blind spots are really funny—the idea there’s just this glaring thing you can’t see. And they support Oscar Chow. They have no problem with him being gay, she just had no idea. It’s not that she doesn’t support his lifestyle or has any judgments. We didn’t go to tropes you’d expect us to go to because it’s not that—it’s just about, she can’t see it. For us that was a funny fresh angle.”
Oftentimes, when Asian television or films have been inclusive of LGBT characters in the past, they are tinged with sadness and shaming from homophobic family members and friends. It is exciting to see that ABC is bringing a new kind of perspective to telling gay stories, and not getting stuck in the negative and often anti-gay depictions of LGBT Asian stories.
“We really didn’t want to go there,” Natch said. “I’m sure those instances have happened, I’m sure they’re real and a lot of people’s stories. But I think for this episode, we didn’t want that to be where they ended up.”
As ridiculous as it is that Fresh Off the Boat is still the only American TV show with an Asian family at its center in the last 20 years, the power it has as a hilarious and successful comedy about being an outsider is truly revolutionary. And the Huangs really are outsiders: Louis owns an American cattle ranch restaurant; the Huang’s oldest son, Eddie, is obsessed with hip-hop; and Jessica is not as familiar with American customs as the blonde suburban moms she’s befriended in Florida.
“I think that was something we always wanted to do in writing the show and the first season, we want everyone who ever felt like an outside for any reason to find something to identify with in this show,” Natch said. “Not necessarily because you’re Asian, but for any reason—the kind of music you listen to, your sexuality, anything that made you feel like you don’t belong or made you feel like a kind of other, that you can have that access point.”
“I’m excited for the gay Asian community to see it,” Natch said of the episode. “It’s unexpected and very nuanced and I hope people laugh.”
Fresh Off the Boat airs tonight at 8/7c.