Pretty much every holiday on the calendar has had its own themed sitcom episode — from the classics like Thanksgiving and Christmas to the more inventive Festivus and Chrismukkah.
Except for Chinese New Year.
ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” aims to change all that — and clear up a few misconceptions about the holiday — with the episode titled “Year of the Rat,” airing February 2nd. Louis (Randall Park) and Jessica (Constance Wu) and the kids are planning to fly to Washington, D.C. to spend the holiday with the rest of their family, but a ticket snafu leaves them stuck in Orlando. Their efforts to find other Asians — any other Asians — lead them to the Asian-American Association of Orlando, which is staging a less-than-authentic celebration. Cue frustration.
That “fish out of water” feeling is part of the DNA of the show, says showrunner Nahnatchka Khan. “They can’t go back home, so they have to be in this environment,” she says. “They’re not around people who understand, so they have to educate and bring it forward.”
Khan says she knew she wanted to do the episode when the show was renewed for a second season, since it had never been depicted on TV before: “It was really important to us.”
The only problem, says Sheng Wang, who wrote the episode, is that there are so many different traditions. “So we went with the ones that most people have in common: the dinner, the red envelopes, and a few of the superstitions,” he says.
Adds Khan, “In the writers’ room, people were saying, my family does this, and my family does that. But the one thing that was similar was that everyone gets together.”
At a recent screening of the episode for press, the cast related how they all celebrated the holiday. “I haven’t celebrated in California yet,” said Hudson Yang (Eddie). “But back in New York, I’d go over to my cousins or grandmother’s house and we’d have a big feast with fish.”
Park admitted it was all new to him, since he’s Korean. “But there are similarities,” he said. “We have this tradition where we bow to the elders and they give us envelopes with money and there’s all this food.”
Khan is hopeful that the episode will encourage viewers to learn more about the holiday — and ask questions about what they see depicted. “How cool would it be the day after this episode aired if kids on the playground were like, ‘do you really do that?'” says Khan. “That’s really exciting.”
And if she has her way, this won’t be the last time we see the Huangs celebrating — or trying to, that is. “Knock on wood, if we come back with season three, every year this will be in our canon. We’ll have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Chinese New Year.”