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Margaret Cho's long-defunct All American Girl featured the usual sitcom blather, stereotyping and barely developed plotlines. Nevertheless, it remains the only show on television to ever feature an Asian ensemble cast. APA looks back at a flawed milestone.
DVD sets have become the phenomena of the past few years as shows that have been huge hits (24) and those that are vaguely memorable (Popular, American Dreams) have all been captured conveniently for our everyday viewing. Sadly, I'd have to place Margaret Cho's All-American Girl series in the latter category. I am sure most people don’t even remember the series, save for Margaret Cho’s die-hard fans and a select few who watch certain programs/sports/films solely because a fellow Asian is in it (in which I would be included).
For those who don’t remember or aren’t familiar with the show at all, All-American Girl was a sitcom on ABC from 1994-95, about a Korean-American 21-year-old girl named Margaret Kim (what a stretch…) and her family living a suburban life in California as they try to somehow balance their American settings with their Korean traditions. The only thing I truly recall from the show back then was that the whole cast, besides Margaret of course, wasn’t Korean (in true Memoirs of a Geisha fashion), and watching the show ten years later, I've noticed that they speak a rather indefinable Korean, each of them touting accents that include Chinese, Japanese, and English. Aside from that peeve, All-American Girl made quite an effort to include every Korean-American stereotype they could think of, like the blatant generation gap problems between the overly pushy, transitional parents and the American-born kids. For instance, Margaret’s mother Mrs. Kim is constantly trying to play matchmaker in Margaret’s love life by introducing her to stable but square Korean pre-meds, while Margaret chooses to date wild rocker types, most of whom are Caucasian. Of course the show has its non-conventional portrayal of Koreans as well. Coming from a Korean-American family background, I have never seen such sickeningly affectionate parents as Mr. and Mrs. Kim, and my father would never, if his life depended on it, join a barbershop quartet called “Seoul Daddies.” Seeing as how the sitcoms at the time consisted of such corny and lighthearted fluff such as Step by Step, Boy Meets World, and Family Matters, I guess they felt the need to add a great deal of cheese for comedic purposes.
Often times, “ethnic” shows or films receive the harshest backlash from their own kind. I guess, in a way, we are expecting the respective work to represent us comprehensively so we are inevitably let down when we see that the characterization shoots too far or not far enough. After watching Better Luck Tomorrow, many Asian-Americans scoffed at the critical success of the film, in essence saying: “That’s not how all Asians really are” or that the film was too Asian. However, in the case of African-American sitcoms, the earlier shows that came out in the '70s featured Black families in an exaggerated and often derogatory manner, i.e. Sanford and Son and Good Times. But in the '80s, there was the emergence of The Cosby Show, which featured a highly educated and successful African-American family, stripping away some of the stereotypes seen in those earlier sitcoms.
Point being that although All-American Girl did showcase the stereotypical, small business-owning, Kimchi-munching family, maybe that’s the type of show that Asian-Americans need to use as the push-off point to a wider range of content and characters. Because of the lack of viewership and support All-American Girl received from the community, the show ended up getting cancelled, and now the only considerably prominent Korean characters I see on television are Rori’s sidekick and her annoying mother on Gilmore Girls. The representation of Asian-Americans on television really has been pretty scarce through the past decade, and it's pretty disconcerting to see how little progress has been made. Hopefully, one day we will once again see an “All-American” television show about Asians. And this time, I’ll try my best to be nicer.
Date Posted: 2/9/2006