New YouTube Series "Yappie" Sets Sights On Dismantling Asian-American Stereotypes
Lately, racial tensions in America have been strenuous, with the mishandling of two thousand immigrant children from Central America and the shooting of unarmed black teenager Antwon Rose last month in Pittsburgh. But unfortunately, the strife of racial inequality does not solely belong to these two groups of people. Asian-Americans are often overlooked in the debate over immigration policy and, along with Pacific Islanders, accounted for nearly 13 percent of those immediately eligible for DACA in 2012. Even after a story last month on how the Harvard admission system is biased against Asian applicants, discrimination against Asians often goes unnoticed. Asian actors also see considerably fewer leading roles than their white counterparts and are often paid less than them as well. However, Wong Fu Productions is fighting to give the Asian community a voice in entertainment with the premiere of the new YouTube series, Yappie.
The pilot premiered June 20, with a new episode releasing every Wednesday for the next four weeks. According to the writers, “yappie” is an ethnic slang used to describe a young Asian professional who acts like a yuppie. The series starts off when the show’s main character, Andrew, is referred to as a yappie before being dumped by his girlfriend, “because all [he's] worried about is getting a nice salary and having a nice car and settling down in the suburbs… it’s not wrong, it's just safe." Andrew is summed up by an Asian slam-poet by three of his interests: basketball, Boys 2 Men and BMWs. Now that we know what a yappie is, let’s find out what Yappie is.
The episodes range from 12 to 21 minutes, with the pilot clocking in at 12:55, so they’re digestible but also fairly congested with messages and plot lines. The pilot opens with the aforementioned Asian slam poet, who delivers a soapbox sociology lesson on why Asians have been branded the “model minority” by a country that has historically and still actively discriminates against them. The routine includes the apt metaphor of the “sampler platter of racism” wherein Asian people get to try out all of the different systemic disadvantages usually afforded to one ethnicity at a time. He points out that Asians have been feared as communists, segregated into camps, and have now been awarded white privilege through accusations of gentrification.
Coming in hot with an opening scene like this gave me high hopes for what this series could become. Is it going to be another brutally honest portrait of a marginalized society like Atlanta or Transparent? However, the pilot uses the most of the short run time to quickly build the foundation of a story, and thus cannot kill ten minutes waxing poetically. The introductory syllabus crash course on the plight of modern Asian Americans set it up to be something with a profound social message. But then the next scene is the development of what is, by default, the main plotline of Andrew getting dumped by a woman we don’t know for being a yappie. Then there’s a scene in the club where we meet the pilot’s only white character who is a waspy, unfunny version of Larry David as he accidentally shouts the ethnic slur namesake of the show. Plus he is a ginger with a beard; you know, white people.
But then the show takes another hard turn as we see Andrew at his engineering job, which is not that outlandish as Asians make up 15 percent of STEM workers. But he is perturbed by being branded a yappie. His other friends can also be labeled as yappies and don’t seem to care, why should he? The turning point comes when Andrew is called in to speak with his boss who informs him that his request for a change in department and relocation was denied. There’s not much detail given to Andrew’s aspirations, and it doesn’t quite add up that he wanted to change departments (presumably from the quintessential yappie job of engineer) before he was enlightened to the fact that he’s “the basic bitch of white people,” at least according to the super-deep slam poet in all black. But if you disregard the timeline lapse, this scene is actually crucial to not only the development of Andrew’s character but the fate of the entire show.
When Andrew is told he is not getting his transfer or relocation, he takes the news with good nature, but his face carries the look of bewilderment. His boss, seemingly shocked by Andrew’s civility in the face of bad news, then asks if he is comfortable where he is now. Then we get a close up of Andrew as he ponders that word, “comfortable.” Does he want to have the comfortable life in the suburbs with his BMW and yappie wife? Is there something wrong with playing it safe? But he is pulled from his contemplation by his boss who wants to know if he is comfortable, to which he gives a sedated reply of “yes, comfortable.” Roll credits. This scene’s dialogue is nothing bold or daring, but it is the silent expression on Andrew’s face that gives this scene its power and shows off Philip Wang’s acting skills which, as a YouTube star, I had serious doubts of coming into the series.
But the possibilities are endless for Yappie as the show has placed itself at a pivotal crossroads for the character and has managed a successful pilot that avoided pigeonholing the series. Coming into Yappie, I was worried it would just be another sitcom using race as a gimmick to pander to a wider audience like Fresh off the Boat, The Real O’Neals, and whatever else ABC is plugging on weeknights. It’s not possible yet to brand it as revolutionary and real as Atlanta or Transparent, but the story surely has potential to become something unique of its own, and even become a YouTube series success story.