10.04.2011

jeff yang's "tao jones" and "the asian f"

For those eagerly anticipating tonight's "Asian F" episode of Glee, Jeff Yang's got the scoop! As you might know, Jeff's "Asian Pop" column for SF Gate was recently canceled. But it's all good, because Jeff picked up a gig writing a new Asian pop/culture column, "Tao Jones," for the Wall Street Journal.

For his inaugural column, Jeff's got an early look at tonight's Mike Chang-centric edition of Glee, which puts Harry Shum Jr. in the spotlight, along with Tamlyn Tomita and Keong Sim as his parents. (I'm still not over the fact that Tamlyn -- my lifelong crush -- is playing the mother of a high school senior.)

As advertised, the episode apparently wades knee-deep in stereotypical Tiger Mother territory... but also offers a lot more. [SPOILER ALERT! Don't read Jeff's column (or the rest of this post) prior to watching the episode if you want to be completely surprised by the plot.] Check it: 'Glee' Roars Into the World of Tiger Moms, Dads and Cubs.
That's why the previews for tonight's episode raised both hopes and hackles. Yes, this looked like an opportunity for Mike to finally stand at center stage. But the clips also made it clear that his subplot would drape Our Man Chang in lame clich├ęs of model minority whiz-kids and High Expectation Asian Parents. So which would it be: A much-needed Shum showcase or a perfect storm of Asian stereotypes?

The answer is: Both … sort of. The setup isn't promising: Chang, juggling football, show choir, dance practice and his relationship with Tina, shockingly gets an A-minus in Chemistry — e.g., an “Asian F,” per the episode's title. This leads his father, Mike Chang, Sr. ("Last Airbender's" Keong Sim) to descend upon Principal Figgins with a series of ultimatums, ranging from subjecting Mike to mandatory daily drug testing to booting Tina from the school as an unacceptable distraction. (Hilariously, the last demand is the only one that Figgins is willing to entertain, given ex-goth Cohen-Chang's apparent continued abuse of the principal's vampirophobia as a means to excuse herself from gym class.)

But if Chang Sr. is a problem, Mrs. Chang (Tamlyn Tomita) ends up being the solution. Instead of going full tiger, Mama Chang surprisingly ends up being sympathetic to Mike's dreams, not least because she's a thwarted terpsichorean herself. Which leads to a touching moment, in which Mike leads his mom in a waltz around the dance studio, the two sharing their mutual love of tripping the light fantastic. The only awkwardness in this otherwise sweet scene? Accepting that Tomita, forever frozen in the Eighties among those of us who crushed on her in the era of "Karate Kid II," is actually old enough to be a high school senior's mom. Kumikooooo!
What I'm actually most looking forward to seeing/hearing is Harry Shum Jr. solo performance of "Cool" from West Side Story. Yes. Mike Chang sings! We know he can dance, but can he carry a tune? We'll know soon enough.

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