Fresh Off the Boat vs Dr Ken


After seeing Randall Park in The Interview it is understood that this performer knows the nuances of comedy and comic performances. His “President Kim” was brilliant and a perfect counterpoint to James Franco and Seth Rogen as Skylark and his producer.  Watching the new season of Fresh Off the Boat, Park proves that he can deliver  comedy on the small screen as well.

However, the series seems a little flat compared to Dr Ken. Whether this is a case of “Taiwanese” fish out of water humor not working as well as Ken Jeong’s US (with a “Korean” cast) gags or just the disjointed performances of the youth heavy cast from “Boat”  is not clear.  Curiously enough, on IMDb, the Park show is highly rated at 8.1 percent and Dr. Ken is only 5.3.  This disparity is interesting and raises the question of why one is deemed more popular than the other.

On the face of it, Park himself could be the main draw , what with his recent high profile appearance in the Rogen/Franco film (that the real life President Kim tried to stop from being shown). Ken Jeong’s last big film was Hangover III where he reprised his role as Mr. Chow. Although the actor did voice Short Fuse in the 2014 animated feature Penguins of Madagascar.

Fresh Off the Boat is funny. Although one does have to remember to “go back to the 1990s.” Otherwise the show feels odd rather than humorous.  Watching the “Halloween special” of Park’s show,  the gags work much better than in the first four episodes.  While Fresh Off the Boat does offer some insight into the Asian family unit, episode 204 reveals the tradition of looking after one’s parents as they get older, Dr Ken focuses more on humor that relates more to the funny bones located within the US borders.

Keeping to the Halloween theme, Dr Ken’s upcoming episode, “Halloween-Aversary” focuses on Ken’s botched marriage proposal 20 years previously to his wife.  It also deals with the office and a prank on Pat. The two shows, each with Asian casts, approach the holiday as differently as their shows approach the business of sitcom laughs and giggles.  The two sitcoms differ in other ways, Dr. Ken is filmed before an audience, whose reactions to the comedy “on screen” is heard during the show and Park’s sitcom is deathly quiet in comparison.


Regardless of whether the laughs are “heard” or not the shows cannot be seen as “competition” as the humor is not the same at all. While the two sitcoms could be seen as having a common denominator of Asian casts, although from completely different areas, Taiwan vs Korea, the comedy is delivered from two polar opposite avenues. Of course the biggest difference between the two shows is that “Boat” is inspired by a “true story.”

Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang in the series) wrote the memoirs that inspired the show, although the restaurateur has publicly denounced the show. After hearing Huang’s complaint it does seem odd that his upbringing story would be made a comedy…

Fresh Off the Boat is a “fish out of water” scenario which could be filled with any “nationality” as the tale is a variation of  fitting into the new country along with the move from a urban environment to a suburban one.  Add to this mix the  focus on a family where the wife is a bit cold (who also has an anger management problem)  and the husband a little overly sentimental and both being from another country…The show is a little hit and miss.

It has to be said that the Halloween show is funny, and both Park and Constance Wu (as Jessica Huang) have some stand out moments.  The writing feels tighter in this episode and the gags more consistent.  Although, the whole premise is based upon Eddie Huang’s “life” the delivery does feel like an almost stereotypical sitcom template. 

Dr Ken, as seen from the press release plot description, could really fit any nationality and, like the rest of the show thus far, is much more American in humor despite its Korean stars.  Ken Jeong, who co-created the show, sees things differently than the creators of “Boat” and in his world, the fact of his heritage is not the highlight but is instead the nuance of his characters.

Last week’s episode of Dr Ken, where Pat decides to win his wife back by shooting his little toe with an airgun,  was genuinely funny and did not rely upon any Asian themes to sell it, just as the rest of the sitcom does not.

Both shows are funny in their own ways, although truth be told this viewer finds Dr Ken consistently hysterical (and would do so without the live audience reactions) and Fresh Off the Boat feels uneven, even without Eddie Huang’s vitriolic response to “his” show.

Dr Ken airs Fridays and Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in and catch both of these very different sitcoms.


Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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