The First Prime Time Asian Sitcom – Q Theatre, Nov. 6, 2022

The First Prime Time Asian Sitcom is a bold attempt to break through culture barriers and racial stereotypes by gestating like an Alien in the body of comfort food television sitcoms. What breaks out may be part-angel and part-demon.

Writer: Nahyeon Lee   
Director: Ahi Karunaharan                                                                                                              Cast: Ariadne Baltazar, Dawn Cheong, Unyoung Choi, Jehangir Homavazir, Jess Hong

Prime Time is constructed in a multi-layered perspective. The audience are captured immediately into complicity. We are told that we are the studio audience for the first episode of this new sitcom. We clap on cue. There is a recorded laugh track, and spontaneous laughter from us. The Creator is sitting in front, with her screens and microphone.

Four characters are introduced. Perky Filipino Baltazar. Handsome, tall and smooth-talking Korean med student Choi. Verbose and slightly hyper-active Indian Homavazir. Sheltered Chinese princess Hong. The fifth is Cheong, who plays the writer and orchestrator.

There is no title to the show we are given. Clearly, they are the Asian Friends.

With deft choreography they move effortlessly through familiar set-pieces of a sitcom. The script quickly sets out to nail each into their stereotype behaviours. Well-paced and funny.

Those profiles are accurate. Three bananas and a coconut. Yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

This reviewer is a coconut. Being a late Boomer, it was Bewitched and… watching Get Smart on TV. Thank you, Ramones. To be captivated by those shows growing up in New Zealand, had a profound effect on how you related to the world around you. It’s not so much about finding yourself, as creating yourself. New Zealand is essentially an egalitarian society. There are no rigid class systems, but they’re present in a shadow sense.

Human nature is tribal, and that is just another way of expressing culture.

The set piece of the living room couch moves to the karaoke bar. Pop songs and performers acting as performers. Acute observations written seamlessly into the familiar scenario.

Subtly, the tone has a shift towards the uneasiness of a David Lynch Mulholland Drive drama. We go behind the masks and the confectionary surface.

A panel discussion follows, about the role of Art, culture and stereotypes. Racism is but one of the elephants galloping around the room at times. It’s rapid-fire dialogue and hard to keep a handle on the ideas and arguments being fired out. The women get trampled over by the men, without the guys seeing it.

The unofficial third act gets close to the heart of the matter. The players are now themselves. Sitting in a boardroom and discussing the premise of the sitcom. How they want to portray their characters means working on self-realisation. Uncomfortable and cathartic.

What is the nature of the alien that bursts out? In America, all foreigners are referred to as aliens.

The production is maybe innovative in using a predominantly Asian production crew. Movies from Korea, China and the East are common now. Bollywood has a global presence. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it is culture of a sort. World music has taken off from its origin in the Eighties.

In this country, we are the infants of the New World. USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa. People were already living there, but they got populated by the outflow of Old Europe and vast Asia. The two most populous nations were also the biggest colonisers.

This country apes America far more than people care to admit.

The First Prime Time Asian Sitcom is a fine Trojan horse for ideas confronting race, tribalism and culture. Gender is in there also. It can spray bullets a little haphazardly at times. There are no easy or hard answers, but there is always Art.

Rev Orange Peel

Playing thru November 27th. Click here for tickets

Photos courtesy Michael Smith