There’s understandable excitement as Mindy Kaling will join Maggie Q as the only Asian Pacifics to solely lead a network television show next season. Kristin Kreuk also returns to television after her co-starring role on Smallville to share the lead in the CW’s Beauty and the Beast. Lucy Liu also co-leads Elementary for CBS.
On cable, Ryan Potter is the main protagonist on Supah Ninjas on Nickelodeon while David Strathairn is first-listed for Alphas on Syfy. Steve Byrne will star in a new show, Sullivan and Sons, for TBS, coming mid July. Mark-Paul Gosselaar shares the lead in Franklin and Bash.
There have been few people of color to hold top billing in a network television show, let alone those of API descent.
Margaret Cho starred in All American Girl, [and The Cho Show, on VH-1] Sammo Hung was lead in Martial Law, Russell Wong was lead in the syndicated Vanishing Son, Tia Carrere starred in Relic Hunter, and Dean Cain was co-lead as the man from Krypton in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Previously Liu was one of a quartet of leads in Cashmere Mafia, with similar billings for Lindsay Price in Eastwick and Lipstick Jungle. And Irene Ng was the titular character on The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo for Nickelodeon.
Kal Penn’s comedy was not picked up, and there’s been no news of the development of Showtime’s Chew based on the cibopathic Tony Chu comic book series.
What’s left to look back on other than the failed Mr. T and Tina with Pat Morita and cartoon shows, like Jackie Chan Adventures, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, and Avatar: The Last Airbender? Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and Hong Kong Phooey?
While some people like to think of Hawaii Five-0 or even America’s Best Dance Crew as the show that has the most APIs on TV, that honor probably goes to Dog, the Bounty Hounter. That’s unfortunate.
But the coming season may bring another first for a network TV show: two API leads.
If last week’s 2-hour Glee airing was any indication, Jenna Ushkowitz’s Tina might be elevated to lead singer of the choir. And while Darren Criss (Blaine) solos were scaled down — he simultaneously starred in a Broadway musical — there’s little doubt he’ll be a prime focus next season.
But does that mean they’ll be leads on the show?
Show creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy have hinted that the show will follow the New York lives, presumably, of Rachel, Kurt, and Finn as well as of the Lima high school students. Falchuk also is quoted as saying that the graduating seniors will have a home on the show, if the actors are interested. The parameters of that are very vague. Does that mean occasional guest spots or continued participation?
Shifting focus away from the high school means less screen time for Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch. That’d be a mistake: Both anchor the show. Short of a wormhole, there’d be no logical way to keep all the graduates at the school. And are the struggles of post-high school of interest to anyone?
Gosselar’s high schooler show transitioned to following post-graduate lives, but without much success. Saved by the Bell: The College Years lasted one season.
Will Glee refer less to the club and more of the exultant emotion?
Kreuk’s Smallville referred less to the town and more to the small-town embodiment of Clark Kent as a young man venturing into adulthood and a new city. That show lasted five seasons after high school graduation.
The most compelling stories would be the long-distance relationships of Tina and Blaine. Harry Shum Jr. plays Tina’s love interest, the graduating Mike Chang. And while the age of consent is 16 in Ohio, I’m sure more than one set of parents would have something to say about these evolving relationships.
While it’s doubtful that Blaine’s heritage would reflect Criss’s Filipino background, Tina’s parents have yet to be referred to. With her hyphenated surname Cohen-Chang, Tina may be adopted, of mixed-race, or of another modern-family iteration — who knows. We do know that her parents have been supportive of her performing aspirations. More opportunity for API actors to play parents?
All of which is not to say that college can’t be exciting. I made out with my professor in public, sung in the Black Student Union Gospel Choir with a long pinky nail painted pink, and was robbed by my roommates. But I’m not sure I want to watch that on TV. I’m equally indifferent to the cast additions this season. I just want Glee as it was. I sense that the viewing public shares my sentiments. That would mean the elevation of Criss and Ushkowitz to leads.
Ushkowitz killed Celine Dion’s Because You Love Me, and Criss can sing almost anything. It’s time for their spotlight, and as next season will show, for other APIs as well.
Side note: Dean Cain will appear on the May 23rd episode of Don’t Trust the B—in Apartment 23 as himself in the guise of a Dancing With the Stars contestant. Former “Star Trek: DS9” regular Rosalind Chao also appears along with Jae Jung (who seems to have curried favor from ABC/Disney casting, with her third of the net’s shows) and Christopher Naoki Lee.
photos courtesy of FOX
— Ken Choy