Every week, the cast and crew of ABC’s Taiwanese American family comedy, Fresh Off the Boat, is taking EW behind the scenes. For each episode, one member is recapping, sharing thoughts on what went down, and walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. This week, writer Sanjay Shah brings us into the fourth episode of season three, “Citizen Jessica.”
Hi, I’m Sanjay Shah and I am a writer at Fresh Off The Boat. I love that our show takes place in the 1990s because that’s when I grew up, wearing hella rayon shirts and listening to H-Town’s “Knockin’ Da Boots.”
We try to be pretty strict with the timeline on the show. This episode takes place during a big election in November 1996. Back then, a Clinton was running for president and immigration was a big issue. Today, once again, a Clinton is running for president and immigration is a big issue. Even Hollywood doesn’t wait 20 years to do a sequel.
Nahnatchka Khan (our showrunner) and I felt like we had a cool opportunity to do an episode about the 1996 election that drew parallels to what our country is going through today. I was very excited to write this one. I’ve always been into politics, ever since the 1992 election when Paul Tsongas got robbed by a sweaty saxophone player from the Arsenio Hall Show. But we wanted the episode to be about more than just the election.
I vividly remember how politics in the 1990s took an anti-immigrant tone, thanks to politicians like former California Governor Pete Wilson. He was losing his re-election until he released a political ad that scared people into voting for him to protect California from “illegal immigrants.” Sound familiar? (We spoof the ad in the episode — here’s the original.)
The ad definitely helped get him re-elected. But the anti-immigrant law he proposed in the ad was never implemented. Perhaps the political will was never really there. Everyone (including business leaders and conservative insiders) agreed implementing it was impractical and would mean a gigantic financial hit to California’s economy. And in states where they actually passed laws to go after immigrants, it was a financial disaster. Alabama lost $10 billion when they did so recently, and their politicians are now like, “Hey immigrants! Come back! We like money!”
What was really interesting to me during all the anti-immigrant fervor of the 1990s was that even some immigrants supported anti-immigrant measures. Nobody was immune to the manipulative ads and the over-simplification of a very complex issue. And that was the kernel of the idea behind Jessica’s journey in this episode.
This episode also solves the mystery of Tupac Shakur’s death and reflects on another ’90s controversy very dear to my heart: Getting scorned for being way too into Morrissey.
Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.