A-pop! Asians in new fall sitcoms

A monthly column about all things Asian in popular culture

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Racial caricatures as an incentive to buy … chips?

In yet another stunt of using racism as humor, actor Ashton Kutcher is the latest celebrity culprit with his recent web advertising campaign for the snack brand popchips. People may best remember Kutcher for his role on the sitcom “That ‘70s Show,” for hosting the practical joke reality series “Punk’d,” or for his previous marriage to actress Demi Moore.

The web videos feature Kutcher portraying an array of characters on a dating reality show. One of the characters, Raj, is an Indian looking for love — and Kutcher not only sports a stereotypical Indian accent to play him, but also rocks the brownface to boot.

To add more insult to injury, the campaign was developed by Kutcher, popchips, and an advertising agency for an estimated $1.5 million. All that money and energy invested, and the best those three parties could come up with was the use of brown makeup and racial stereotypes?

Excellent work, guys. Just fantastic.

I also question why racist parodies were even considered as a means to promote a bag of chips of all things. Although a few promotional videos still exist online, the web clips that specifically focused on just Raj have been removed from the web since the controversy initially exploded. Of course.

Television network upfronts brings new opportunities to Asian Americans

The season finale for all your favorite shows may have aired, but the major television networks have been hard at work picking up promising new pilots that will (hopefully) dazzle audiences in the 2012 to 2013 viewing season!

Many of the new shows that will debut in the fall feature well-known Asian Americans in the biz. Indian American comedian and writer Mindy Kaling will have her new shot debut on FOX this fall. The show — titled “The Mindy Project” — follows the hilarious professional and personal antics of a young OB/GYN played by Kaling.

The show is currently being compared to the British book and film franchise “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” As a result, viewers can expect a healthy dose of charming, yet self-deprecating humor, as well as a slew of romantic comedy storylines. Kaling, who is best known for her acting and writing work on NBC’s sitcom “The Office,” will not be returning to the show in order to focus her efforts on “The Mindy Project.”

Chinese American actress Lucy Liu will be returning to the small screen this fall in a CBS drama titled “Elementary.” The show is a modern twist on the classic mysteries of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Liu will play the sidekick in the series, or rather, the Dr. Watson modern-day (and female!) equivalent.

Liu is known for her role in the dramedy “Ally McBeal,” as well as for her role as a sleuth herself in the action comedy remake of “Charlie’s Angels.” I’m actually quite excited for Liu’s return to television. If there is one thing Liu has always done well, it’s been kicking ass and taking names. This show seems to promise just that!

Speaking of detectives, actress Kristin Kreuk will also make her return to television starring as an investigator herself in the CW drama, “Beauty and the Beast,” which is a modern retelling of the classic fairy tale of the same name. Kreuk, of Chinese descent, is best known for her role in the television drama “Smallville.”

The latest with Asian American reality television stars

Jessica Sanchez, 16, was my favorite to win on the current season of “American Idol.” Sanchez, who is Filipino, has been wowing audiences with her powerful and melodic voice and made it to the top two. Unfortunately, she lost the number one spot to Phillip Phillips. I am devestated.

Even though she didn’t win this season, at her young age, Sanchez has quite a future ahead of her. After all, second place winners often sell more records than first place winners (Adam Lambert, anyone?).

Finally, after much speculation about its potential debut, the reality show “K-Town” will air this summer as a web series. The show, which explores and follows the lives of young Asian Americans living in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, aims to break the Asian “model minority” stereotype by showing Asian Americans involved in all kinds of sin and debauchery.

Even though the current web trailers for “K-Town” claim that no network would pick it up because it is just too crazy for American audiences, it’s actually a smart move on the producers’ part to turn the show into a web series and have it accessible on YouTube. Not only is the future of television headed to the web, but Asian Americans have generally found great professional success with the web video platform. Between the built-in controversy and large Asian American viewing audience on the web, it might be safe to say that this show will be a hit (though, not necessarily a positive one).

As for the show itself, the trailers seem to promise the following: There will be tequila shots. There will be brawls. There will be girl-on-girl action.

And there will undoubtedly be lots and lots of cringing from the Asian American community. I wait with bated breath. (end)

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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