Rapid Insights: AAPI Heritage Month Focus – Asian Leads in Scripted Content

As May’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month draws to a close, we wanted to take a broader look at some popular scripted series that show the wide-ranging cultural experiences of Asian characters in America, including BeefNever Have I EverFresh Off the BoatThe Mindy ProjectMaster of NoneMs. Marvel, and The Chair. Two new entrants in this category are also poised to steal the spotlight and delve into similar themes: action-comedy American Born Chinese, which premiered last week on Disney+, and spy drama The Sympathizer, releasing on HBO in 2024.

Here’s what you need to know about these series:

Vault AI uses index scores to describe the impact a given story/theme/element will have on specific KPIs: 
≤79 Disappointing  80-89 Challenging  90-109 Average  110-119 Promising  120+ Outstanding

Who’s the typical audience for these series?
It varies. Our sampling of previous shows appeals mainly to women, from Master of None’s 58% skew to Never Have I Ever’s 72%, likely because of female protagonists and family-related themes. However, the two newest entrants switch things up with a lean toward men (56-58%) thanks to elements of action and espionage as well as male leads.

What type of approach do these shows often take?
Focusing on family. Shows featuring main characters with Asian heritage often incorporate multiple generations and lean into themes of Family Life (160)Parenting Problems (142)Family Dysfunction (136), and Family Conflict (127) to illustrate the wide range of Asian experiences and viewpoints within the US. A particularly rich topic is the clash between recent immigrants and their first- and second-generation offspring, illustrating the turmoil of finding one’s place within America while still preserving the family’s own cultural traditions.

What else do these shows have in common?
Using humor to reveal truth. Nearly all of these series lean on elements of comedy–from light sitcom-style laughs (Fresh Off the Boat’s Feel Good Humor (146)American Born Chinese’s Awkward & Funny Moments (113)) to pitch-black dark humor (The Sympathizer and Beef’s Twisted Humor (117))–to get at the heart of their protagonists’ experiences, from funny moments of culture clash to deeper feelings of alienation.

What has set the recent American Born Chinese apart?
Its wide-ranging adventure. Based on a graphic novel, the show takes a unique approach to its storytelling, adding layers of action and mysticism on top of its family-oriented tale of an Asian high schooler struggling to fit in. The boy’s World Is Turned Upside-Down (139) when a new exchange student opens his eyes to an epic battle between mythical Chinese gods (Good vs. Evil, 134); the resulting martial arts fight sequences, magical weapons, and mythological swords (Stylized Action & Violence, 128) keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Why will viewers be tuning into The Sympathizer?
For the suspense. The series strays from the more common family-based narrative of Asian belonging and instead focuses on an individual: a North Vietnamese mole within the South Vietnam army forced to flee to the US after the Vietnam War. This captain must maintain his Secret Identity (123) and obscure his Troubled Past (112) while making his way in America and examining his conflicting loyalties (Secrets & Lies, 135): will he keep spying for the Viet Cong (Espionage, 111), or does he truly want A New Beginning (116)?

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*Publicly released trailers for series are evaluated using Vault AI’s algorithms – utilizing our proprietary 120K+ story element database alongside ratings performance and other datasets – to identify unique combinations of stories, themes, characters, and genre elements that will drive success.

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