All-American Girl (1994 TV series)

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All-American Girl
Created by Margaret Cho
Gary Jacobs
Starring Margaret Cho
Amy Hill
Jodi Long
Clyde Kusatsu
Maddie Corman
Ashley Johnson
Judy Gold
J.B. Quon
Andrew Lowery
Diedrich Bader
with Sam Seder
and B.D. Wong
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 19
Production
Running time 22–24 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Original run September 14, 1994 (1994-09-14) – March 15, 1995 (1995-03-15)

All-American Girl is a 1994 American sitcom featuring Margaret Cho as the rebellious teenage daughter of a traditional Korean-American family. The main cast that plays the part of Cho's family includes Jodi Long, Clyde Kusatsu, B.D. Wong, J.B. Quon, and Amy Hill. [1]

Supposedly based upon the comedy material of Cho, the show premiered on September 14, 1994 and was cancelled on March 15, 1995 after only one season, following an attempt by the network to reboot the series.

Cho directly states that although the ending credits say Based on the stand-up of Margaret Cho, the show did not in fact incorporate her comedy. Producers used this idea more as a plug for the program, which underwent nearly constant changes in an attempt to gain better viewership ratings.

With conflict regarding Cho's Asian American identity and the production goals of ABC, this translated into unoriginal plotlines, objectified character portrayals, and poor audience reception.

"When you're the first person to cross over this racial barrier, you're scrutinized for all these other things that have nothing to do with race, but they have everything to do with race—its’ a very strange thing",[2] says Cho. Margaret Cho received heavy criticism for All-American Girl from the general public, critics, and from Asian American viewers.

Plot summary[edit]

In the pilot episode of All-American Girl, “Mom, Dad, This is Kyle”, Margaret’s mother, Katherine Kim, strongly disapproves of Margaret’s boyfriend Kyle, and constantly tries to set her up with successful, intelligent Korean men, a recurring conflict between Margaret and her mother. Margaret, tired of her mother’s constant matchmaking, convinces her to have Kyle over for dinner. At the dinner, Katherine makes no effort to accept Kyle, and a frustrated Margaret makes the rash decision to announce to everyone that she and Kyle are moving in together, simply to irritate her mother. Margaret realizes that she does not want to move out of the house and decides to stay in the end.

The pilot episode already exhibited problems with the series that would continue with subsequent episodes. Margaret’s mother is portrayed as a stereotypical “tiger mom” who only approves of her daughter dating Korean men from prestigious universities and who is unwilling to see things from her daughter’s perspective. Even by the end of the episode, Katherine continues to be set in her own ways. Margaret’s brother Stuart, appears throughout the episode, as a stereotypical, nerdy, perfectly obedient, model minority.

All-American Girl takes place in San Francisco, where Margaret tries to navigate life with her family, friends, and romantic partners. In the Kim family household, Margaret has many squabbles with her very traditional mother who wants nothing more than for her to settle down with a Korean boy and be successful. Her father plays more of the middle-man in these touchy debates, and prefers to spend time working in their family-owned bookstore. Also in the house are Margaret’s brothers, and her eccentric grandmother, played by Amy Hill, who garnered popular reviews from the public. Outside of home, Margaret spends a good deal of time working the cosmetics counter in a department store with her friends Ruthie and Gloria. In one of many attempts to redesign the show, the producers decided to change the setting, having Margaret move into the basement of her parent’s house in episode 15 (Notes From the Underground), and then move out altogether with only her grandmother in episode 19. The last show, “Young Americans” was designed as somewhat of a trial version “to give ABC an additional option when it [came] time to decide whether to renew the series for the fall” of 1995. Ultimately, that option did not come to pass, and the show suffered from its inconsistency and lack of direction.

All-American Girl was heavily criticized for portraying Asian Americans extremely stereotypically. Stereotypes including the “tiger mother”, the expectation for Korean women to be proper and demure, the overachieving nerdy Asian, and the obedient Asian child are prominent throughout the series. There was a lack of character development, allowing no chance for the characters to have depth beyond their stereotyped identities, aside from Margaret.

While the show focused on a Korean American family, Cho was the only Korean American actor/actress casted, which perpetuated the idea that all Asians are the same. Asian Americans did not appreciate the assumption that they should identify with the characters simply based on the fact that they were Asian.[3]

Furthermore, critics lambasted the “butchered Korean language”.[4] Clearly, with the majority of the cast not being Korean American, their ability to speak Korean was limited. Critics also pointed out that “the very fact that the show is called All-American Girl implies that it’s still peculiar for a young woman with Asian features to be considered a ‘true’ American.”[5]

Production[edit]

All-American Girl first aired on September 14, 1994 on the ABC network. Cho stated that the idea for the show came about at the time because “TV networks were giving development deals to stand-up comedians”.[6] Margaret was among a trend of female comediennes becoming network stars at the time, such as Brett Butler, Ellen Degeneres, and Roseanne Barr.[7] However, Cho was the only minority of this group and the only one who had no creative control over the process.[8]

She also stated that during the development process of the show, her weight was never mentioned as an issue, but when it was almost time to shoot, the criticisms about her weight started.[9] Cho believes that the real reason that she was criticized was not because of her weight, but because they “didn’t know how to photograph Asian faces” and “didn’t know what to do with people who were different”.[10] As a result, she lost 30 pounds in the span of 2 weeks, causing severe medical problems.[11]

None of All-American Girl’s directors, writers, or producers were Korean American,[12] which is a problem because it is nearly impossible to portray a Korean American family accurately when there are no Korean Americans involved in creating and producing the show. The show’s creators suggested other titles for the series such as East Meets West and Wok on the Wild Side. W-O-K., before deciding on All-American Girl.[13] All-American Girl was marketed as being based on Cho’s stand-up comedy routines, “but that was mostly just a gloss”.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

Although anticipations were high for the first prime time sitcom featuring an Asian American cast, All-American Girl failed to appeal to critics and audiences alike. In an Op-Ed from the Los Angeles Times in March of 1995, the creator and producer of All-American Girl, Gary Jacobs, specifies that “more than 20 million people [had watched] All-American Girl every week". [15]

The show particularly disappointed Korean American viewers, who found that the briefly spoken Korean phrases were so flawed they were essentially unintelligible,[16] and the only ethnically Korean actor on the show was Cho herself. In a wider perspective, Asian American viewers “were especially galled by the assumption that they should identify with the Kim’s simply because they were Asian”,[17] and non-Asian audiences were equally unable to identify with “yet another example of Hollywood's ignorance and indifference when it comes to depicting an ethnic group about which it knows so little”. [18]

Martha Southgate of the New York Times claims that the problems inherent in All-American Girl are very clear—the show struggles “to find its groove, a not-uncommon occurrence for a sitcom built around a stand-up comedian” [19] However, those who are familiar with Cho’s comedic work argue that “the show failed because it had no sense of Margaret Cho, or maybe, because she had no sense of it…She was smarter than any box the producers wanted to put her in, but that’s precisely what they tried to do”. [20]

Themes[edit]

Femininity In All-American Girl, Margaret Kim comes across as a typical college-age girl with somewhat of a rebellious streak, much to the chagrin of her very no-nonsense mother. She has an edgy sense of style, wearing short dresses, leather outfits, and following the trends of the average American girl from the 90s. She wears different clothes, speaks in a higher register, laughs daintily behind her hand, and comes across as very polite—a significant contrast from her typically brash character. She manipulates her femininity to get what she wants, but this inevitably backfires when she is rejected for not maintaining this desired trait.

This issue of desirable female traits unfortunately played a part in the production decisions behind the show. Producers told Cho to lose weight, resulting in her drastic weight loss of 30 pounds in 2 weeks, which had major health implications that still follow her today. Furthermore, because of the environment of the network, Cho states: “I didn’t have these attributes that they think of when they think of like a female star of a show. You know, I wasn’t thin [and] I wasn’t white”. [21]

Romantic Relationships Throughout All-American Girl, Margaret Kim flutters around multiple male characters and maintains about 7 short-lived relationships, all of which last for only one episode. The first episode “Mom, Dad, This is Kyle”, centers on Margaret Kim and her American boyfriend Kyle, whom her mother constantly claims is a “loser” and that he is not right for her. Margaret then counters that her mother only disapproves of Kyle because he’s not Korean, and a fight ensues. Margaret does not in fact have strong feelings for Kyle, she simply refuses to back down to her mother, who appears to be equally as stubborn. In this sense, Margaret’s romantic relationship is downplayed in favor of highlighting the conflicting, but loving, relationship between Margaret and her mother. In the second episode, the opposite situation occurs and Margaret finds herself dating a Korean boy that her mother has set her up with. Margaret’s mother is ecstatic, but Margaret finds herself slowly altering her behavior to suit the desires of her Korean suitor—by the end of the episode, she ends the charade by coming clean about her true personality and their relationship ends. Unfortunately, because Margaret was honest and true to herself, she ends up losing a relationship due to the discrepancy between her “American” self and her “Korean” self. In following episodes, Margaret finds herself dating a variety of male characters, including a Professor, a repairman, and a criminal.

Margaret’s love life through the show appears to be whimsical, inconsistent, and insubstantial. Her suitors come across as short-term vehicles used to push the show along--these romantic encounters do not aid in developing Margaret’s character, nor do they serve a larger purpose within the scope and plot of the show. Most notably, famous actor and director Quentin Tarantino guest stars as one of Margaret’s love interests in “Pulp Sitcom”.

Asian American Family The Kim family is intended to be portrayed as a typical Asian American family. Some values they exhibit that the show classifies as Asian American include waiting for everyone to be seated at meals before beginning to eat, placing high value on education and success, children being obedient to their parents, and placing the most importance on the eldest son.

In the episode “Malpractice makes Perfect”, Stuart is excessively worried about being a disappointment to his parents when he makes a grave error at the hospital, putting his promotion in jeopardy. Margaret’s mother is portrayed as not very assimilated due to presumably having been raised in Korea. This plays into the dynamic of the relationship between the unassimilated mother and the westernized daughter.

Orientalism The Kim family has come under a lot of flak from viewers for contributing to an extremely Orientalized portrayal of an Asian American family. One of the most obvious examples is the voice of Margaret’s mother, Katherine Kim. Jodi Long, the actress who plays Mrs. Kim, has no accent of her own, and yet in the show her “Asian” accent is exaggerated to the point of coming across as a farce. Furthermore, there were several brief instances weaved into All-American Girl that furthered this stereotypical view of Asian Americans. For example, Jung cites instances such as “Grandma Kim’s (Amy Hill) pet cricket, the family’s favorite restaurant, the “Happy Lucky Golden Dragon,” and lines like “May you have the joy that comes from serving your husband” and “[We are] bound together by the vine of community” in the dialogue”.[22] These instances of Orientalism are especially highlighted when pointed out by Casey, one of Eric’s White friends, who has a recurring role in the series. Odd antics, such as Grandma Kim’s attachment to her pet cricket, perpetuate this image of Asians as outsiders in an American community.

Additionally, the stereotype of the Asian American model minority is perpetuated in Margaret’s older brother, Stuart, who is going through his residency in a hospital after leading a very successful academic career. However, in “Malpractice Makes Perfect”, Stuart makes a small mistake after being overworked at the hospital, and his life comes crumbling down as he anticipates the disappointment he has caused his parents after his blunder.

Intergenerational Conflict The main intergenerational conflict in this sitcom stems from Margaret’s relationship with her mother. While Margaret’s mother believes strongly in traditional Korean values, Margaret is more connected to American culture and is more westernized than her other family members. This is presumably because of differences between older and younger generations. In the second episode “Submission Impossible”, Margaret’s mother attempts to teach Margaret how to behave like a proper Korean lady to prepare her for her dates with a very traditional Korean man. Margaret’s mother also frequently disapproves of Margaret’s fashion choices because they are too revealing.

The intergenerational conflict intersects with an issue of clashing American versus Korean cultures. The intergenerational conflict highlights the show’s problematic perpetuation of hegemonic gender roles and stereotypical portrayals of “Korean culture”. Margaret is taught to be submissive, demure, proper, and conservative according to the traditional values commonly held by her mother’s generation.

Cast[edit]

Main Cast

Margaret Cho plays Margaret Kim, the main character of the series and the daughter in the Kim family. She is much more Americanized than the other members of her family, which often a source of misunderstandings between her and her family.

Amy Hill plays Yung-hee Kim, Margaret’s eccentric grandmother who keeps Margaret from moving out in the first episode through unconventional methods. Her grandmother is unassimilated and often refers to the “Old Country”.[23] She is nearly addicted to watching TV and is extremely excited to see The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Oprah guest stars.

Jodi Long plays Katherine Kim, Margaret’s mother. She is portrayed as a “tiger mom”, imposing strict rules on Margaret and her siblings and setting extremely high expectations for them, especially for Margaret’s older brother, Stuart. She runs a bookstore with her husband, Benny Kim.

Clyde Kusatsu plays Benny Kim, Margaret’s father. While also a strict parent, he is also more understanding of Margaret and sometimes assists in mediating disagreements between Margaret and her mother.

Maddie Corman plays Ruthie Latham, one of Margaret’s best friends, who works with Margaret in a department store.

Judy Gold plays Gloria Schechter, another one of Margaret’s friends who works at the department store.

J.B. Quon plays Eric Kim, Margaret’s younger brother who looks up to Margaret.

BD Wong plays Dr. Stuart Kim, Margaret’s older brother who is a successful doctor, and constantly under extreme pressure from himself and his parents to achieve more. He is considered the obedient and well-behaved son.

Ashley Johnson plays Casey Emerson, one of Eric Kim’s friends who spend a lot of time at the Kims’ house.

Notable Guest Stars

Oprah Winfrey plays herself as a guest star in the episode “A Night at the Oprah”.

Quentin Tarantino plays Desmond who asks Margaret on a date. While she is impressed with him, she later finds out that he sells bootlegged videotapes.[24]

Jack Black guest stars on “A Night at the Oprah” as Tommy.

Ming-Na guest stars on the episode “Redesigning Women” as Amy

Ratings[edit]

  • 1994-1995: #51 10.6

DVD release[edit]

The complete series was released on DVD in a four disc set from Shout! Factory/Sony BMG Music Entertainment on January 31, 2006, featuring commentary by Cho, joined twice by Hill, on one episode per disc and a new retrospective featurette featuring new interviews with Cho and Hill.[25]

Episode list[edit]

  1. “Mom, Dad, This is Kyle” (originally aired on September 14, 1994) (Commentary by Cho included on DVD)
  2. “Submission: Impossible” (originally aired on September 21, 1994)
  3. “Who's the Boss?” (originally aired on September 28, 1994)
  4. “Yung At Heart” (originally aired on October 5, 1994)
  5. “Redesigning Women” (originally aired on October 12, 1994)
  6. “Booktopus” (originally aired on October 19, 1994)
  7. “Mommie Nearest” (originally aired on October 26, 1994)
  8. “Take My Family, Please” (originally aired on November 2, 1994) (Commentary by Cho and Hill included on DVD)
  9. “Exile On Market Street” (originally aired on November 16, 1994)
  10. “Ratting On Ruthie” (originally aired on November 23, 1994)
  11. “Educating Margaret” (originally aired on November 30, 1994)
  12. “Loveless in San Francisco” (originally aired on December 7, 1994)
  13. “Malpractice Makes Perfect” (originally aired on December 14, 1994)
  14. “The Apartment” (originally aired on January 11, 1995) (Commentary by Cho and Hill included on DVD)
  15. “Notes from the Underground” (originally aired on January 18, 1995)
  16. “Venus de Margaret” (originally aired on January 25, 1995)
  17. “A Night at the Oprah” (originally aired on February 14, 1995)
  18. “Pulp Sitcom” (originally aired on February 22, 1995) (Commentary by Cho included on DVD)
  19. “Young Americans” (originally aired on March 15, 1995)

References[edit]

External links[edit]