And the first episode is a must-see, according to the show's executive producer, Melvin Mar. Recently in town for the ContentAsia Summit, a get-together for media professionals, Mar also tells us all about what goes on behind the scenes of the hit Asian-American sitcom, like which actor needed the most help with his Mandarin.
8 DAYS: The fourth season of Fresh Off the Boat premieres this week. What’s your favourite highlight so far?
MELVIN MAR: I have been telling everybody about the first episode where [Constance Wu and Chesley Crisp’s characters] Jessica and Honey are contestants on Wheel of Fortune. We got to shoot on the set with the game show’s hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Growing up, my parents used to watch that show while we were eating dinner, and I suspect my father [who’s from Hongkong] learnt some English while watching it.
Four seasons in, how has the way racial topics are handled on the show changed?
Because we are doing a comedy, our first responsibility is to entertain and make people laugh. My experience is, if people are having a good time, they are more open to listening to what you have to say. The show does that, and I am very proud of it. My team finds the balance between sprinkling bits of important social commentary and having everyone enjoy the show at the same time.
The Huangs are Taiwanese immigrants. How do you get their Mandarin right?
I don’t trust my own standard of Mandarin — I’m horrible! But we have a few people on set to help, like Lily Cheng. She’s the mother of Ian Chen, who plays Evan. She is Taiwanese. She is lovely and sometimes helps us out with the Mandarin when I can’t say it right. We have one language coach on set at all times, sometimes two. I think it’s our responsibility to be as accurate and authentic as possible when making a show about Taiwanese and Chinese culture, even though most of the people in America who watch our show probably don’t speak Mandarin.
Which actor needed the most help with his Mandarin?
Oh, I would say it’s Randall Park, who plays Louis Huang, ’cos he’s Korean (laughs). But he’s amazing. When he practises, he’s great, and he does his best. And Constance [Wu, who plays Jessica Huang] is Taiwanese and a genius, so she’s fine.
Constance Wu is in next year’s Crazy Rich Asians. Has the success of Fresh Off the Boat opened more doors for Asian-American actors?
A lot of people have said that to me. I hesitate to say this is the case, but if it’s true then I am happy about it. With shows like Master of None and Dr Ken, opportunities are starting to come up both in front of and behind the camera. It could have happened faster, but it’s happening, which is nice. About 20 years ago when I started in this industry as an intern, Asian-Americans were seen as a liability. A non-Caucasian actor would not be seen as anything other than niche. But that is changing. There are so many types of audiences now and diversity [in the cast] helps [cater to them].
When British-Malaysian actor Henry Golding was cast as Crazy Rich Asians’ Singaporean lead character Nick Young, some people called that whitewashing.
I think there is a reason for that casting; Jon Chu is a wonderful director. Constance has been very vocal about [casting diversity] and very courageous about it. I think she wouldn’t be involved in the movie if she thought there was something wrong.
Season 4 of Fresh Off the Boat premieres Nov 19 on Fox (Singtel TV Ch 330 & StarHub Ch 505), 9pm. The earlier seasons can be streamed on Fox+.
PHOTOS: FOX, TPG NEWS/CLICK PHOTOS