When Fresh Off the Boat makes its midseason return Tuesday night, it’s bringing something completely new to network TV: Chinese Lunar New Year.
It’s the first time the holiday will be depicted on a network show — and what better way to celebrate than with the Huangs?
“The history of television, every year you have Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day,” showrunner Nahnatchka Khan tells EW. “To have a new holiday that you can do that’s not been done before, it’s all fresh territory. … It’s so important to so many people, but also inherent in the DNA of this show; it would be really important to these characters. They would celebrate every year.”
The fish-out-water series, which is inspired by the formative years of real-life restaurateur Eddie Huang, follows a Chinese-American family who relocate from Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown to the more homogeneous landscape of suburban Orlando in the 1990s. Before the sophomore show received an order for nine more episodes, rounding out a full season, the Chinese Lunar New Year episode was slated to be the show’s finale, Khan tells EW.
In the episode, titled “Year of the Rat,” a plane ticketing snafu sees the Huangs forced to celebrate the New Year away from their family in Washington, D.C.; instead, they’re stuck in Orlando, where their neighbors don’t understand the Chinese tradition and assume the Huangs are bummed because their President’s Day trek to the nation’s capital got canned.
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Fresh Off the Boat‘s writers’ room boasts a diverse group of scribes who bonded over similar experiences involving misunderstandings of tradition. Sheng Wang, who penned “Year of the Rat,” moved from Taiwan to Houston when he was a child in the ’90s — very similar to Eddie and his brothers. Khan, a first-generation Iranian-American, often fielded questions about Persian New Year while growing up.
“The thing that was the consensus was nobody really understood when you would go to school and tell them about New Year,” Khan says. “Sometimes, they would even get made fun of a little bit, because they’d be like, ‘What are you talking about? New Year is in January.’ They didn’t really get it.”
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Though the episode will feature traditions unique to Chinese Lunar New Year — red envelopes, lion dancers, dumplings — there’s a universality that translates to any viewer, Khan asserts.
“These kids want presents — you understand that, no matter what culture you come from,” she continues. “Jessica and Louis miss their family — they want to be around people who they’ve spent their whole lives with, who understand and share in their culture. When they can’t do that, I think people relate to that.”
“After this episode airs, kids on the playground will have a better understanding of holidays that aren’t necessarily traditional American holidays,” Khan says.
Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.