Last night we finally watched the latest episode of Glee, Asian F. Yes, I like Glee. Get over it.
For those who have watched Glee from the beginning, you know that there have been ups and downs in the pace and content of show. In this third season, episode 3 is one of the best episodes in terms of content and entertainment. Leaping above my three favorite song bits, Defying Gravity, Take Me or Leave Me and I'm A Slave 4 U, the full cast rendition of It's All Over from Dreamgirls was genius. And as far as content goes, the episode where Burt Hummel blasts Finn for using the word "faggy" in his home is still my favorite, but in the Asian F episode where we learn more about the character Mike Chang Jr. and his family ranks it a close second.
For those who did not see it or do not watch Glee, the storyline for Mike Chang Jr. is the dominant one mainstream entertainment usually gloms onto when tackling the complexities of Asian American culture. There are plenty of other Asian American narratives to tell, but jumping on the model minority bus seems to be the most common. It goes a little something like this . . .
In this case, Mike Chang Jr., played by Harry Shum Jr -- Elliot Hoo on LXD -- wants to be "an artist" and his father wants him to go to Harvard. Glee Club and his girlfriend, Tina Cohen-Chang, are standing in his way and are seen as distractions. This comes to a head when Mike gets an A-minus on a Chemistry Test. And yes, an A-minus is also known as an "Asian F." In the end, Mike's mom, the amazing Tamlyn Tomita of Karate Kid II and Joy Luck Club fame, gives the "don't give up your dreams like I did" speech and Mike, we assume, gets to keep on dancing!
So yes, this was cliché and everything was tied up in a cute red ribbon at the end of the show, but sue me, I was moved by seeing a new generation get pushed on the realities of some -- NOT ALL -- Asian Americans today. Sure there is always a danger that now every Asian American must now claim Team Tina or Team Mike, but I think there were some great subtleties that were present that deserve notice.
These three observations are, at some level, universal truths that cross many communities, but I am glad to see this story line being played out through the experience of an Asian American. There are so few Asian American characters on television right now -- Maulik Pancholy, Grace Park and Shelley Conn are a few -- that it's good to see some of these areas explored on a mainstream show.
And yes, while the character that Harry Shum plays is trying to get out of the "only a dancer" bubble, make no mistake that Harry can bring it on the dance floor. You can see a compilation of his work through 2008 on Youtube, but if you want to see a great example of his style, click on over and watch John Chu's League of extraordinary Dancers, "Elliot's Shoes."
If you plan on trying any of his moves at home, be sure to stretch first ;-)
This post originally appeared on www.reyes-chow.com.
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