Network Comedies Are Finally Embracing Diversity


full When you watch so much television that it warrants having a long and extensive schedule saved on your desktop, you eventually begin to notice a few trending patterns in casting and the overall content that’s available to you. Sitcoms begin to run together and questions are slowly raised. Mostly: Why is everyone a vaguely attractive white person all the time? But, thanks to hit shows like the CW’s Jane the Virgin and ABC’s Blackish, it’s clear that some of that is finally starting to change.

While fiction’s greatest families, like the infallible Dunphys and the almighty Belchers, are untouchable in their own right, popular programming tends to drop the ball when there isn’t a white protagonist at the heart of the plot. Programs that place people of color (P0C) at the center of the narrative are thought to have very limited appeal and niche. But if several audiences can keep up with the plots, murder, and backstabbing of Game of Thrones, then I don’t see what makes a show about the heightened drama and tropes of telenovelas so incredibly far fetched in an 8 p.m. time slot. Who would watch it? Only everyone. Why? Because it’s fucking funny.

The sparse (and often pigeon-holed) representation of PoC families and characters on TV has, for the most part, been an incredibly minor presence. If they are present at all, these characters are neatly put into one dimensional and archetypal boxes, because we all know the protagonist can only have one sassy black friend. It’s a tired device that many of this season’s comedies could have easily gotten away with. Most shows managed to avoid generic (whitewashed) storylines or relied on offensive tropes and stereotypes. In its series premiere, Blackish introduced an upper middle class black family living in a (mostly) white suburb. In Jane the Virgin, as far fetched as accidental artificial insemination may seem, the cast runs the generational gamut of Spanish speaking characters, many of whom go in and out of both languages. Where bits and pieces have failed in addressing issues of intersectionality and realities of race, these shows prove successful.

The latest in this recent lineup of family comedies is the ABC original Fresh Off The Boat. The series follows a family of Asian immigrants and their three sons who move from Washington DC to ‘90s era Orlando. So far, reviews of the show have been overwhelmingly positive. The pilot alone addresses the show’s title, usually flung as a slur, in an educated and redeeming way. Catch up on the first two episodes of Fresh Off The Boat now, and tune in on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. to watch episodes live.