Since AARP’s last roundup of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)-related shows, Asian Americans scored a record number of Oscars — you might say they were Everything Everywhere All at Once — and hopes are high for 2023’s Sundance Film Festival breakout films Past Lives, Celine Song's dreamy romantic drama, and Randall Park's irreverent comedy Shortcomings. On the small screen, AAPI-starring shows are also on a winning streak, including Netflix’s instant No. 1 hit Beef. Here are the shows most worthy of some sofa time this month. Or indeed, any month.
Why to watch: The original, offbeat and scabrously compulsive story of a minor road rage incident that escalates beyond all reckoning, Beef is a remarkably astute commentary on class, race and model-minority expectations among the older millennial cohort. But it’s also a landmark for Asian American representation, in being both entirely about the specificity of that experience, and also not about it at all — in pursuit of their own second-generation American dreams, these toweringly petty characters are spiteful, often hateful, but always very human.
Whom to watch: The performances, from a virtually all-Asian cast, are across-the-board excellent, but it’s the incredible interplay between stars Steven Yeun (Minari, Burning) and Ali Wong (Always Be My Maybe) that, along with the crackling writing, really elevates Beef to the status of must-watch.
Watch it: Beef, on Netflix
What to watch next: If the powerhouse performances leave you jonesing for more from its leads, there are not one, not two but three Netflix comedy specials featuring Ali Wong doing her salty brand of stand-up, while Steven Yeun’s TV breakout, The Walking Dead (in which he appears in a whopping 66 episodes over the first seven seasons), is available to stream through AMC+ or to buy from Amazon’s Prime Video.
Ms. Marvel (2022)
Why to watch: Ms. Marvel breathes new life into this exhausted genre, by making Muslim Pakistani American high-schooler Kamala Khan’s (Iman Vellani) coming of age, and her home life with her first-generation immigrant parents, just as important as the discovery of her latent superpowers. If you’re searching for a family-friendly show that is bright-eyed, fresh-faced and wittily invested in its heroine’s cultural and ethnic heritage (as insightfully investigated by British Pakistani series creator Bisha K. Ali), search no further.
Whom to watch: The appealing Iman Vellani is obviously the focus, but older viewers will be equally beguiled by the story of Kamala’s parents (superbly played by Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) and her grandmother (Samina Ahmad), whose Karachi backgrounds are revealed to be such a crucial part of Kamala’s own origin story.
Watch it: Ms. Marvel, on Disney+
The Chair (2021–)
Why to watch: The trials and triumphs of the new Korean American chair of the English department at an Ivy League university may not seem like the most exciting outline on paper, but add in Sandra Oh, some sparky chemistry with costar Jay Duplass and a script that bursts with inside-baseball wit about the politics and perils of academia, and you have a tasty little snack of a Season 1 (it runs only around three hours in total).
Whom to watch: It’s strange that it has taken the TV world this long to realize that Korean Canadian Oh, after years of endless Emmy nominations for her supporting work in Grey’s Anatomy, has actually been a lead all along. But now, after Killing Eve, she anchors this comedy-drama hybrid, carrying the tricky tone effortlessly with her trademark mixture of piercing relatability and note-perfect comic timing.
Watch it: The Chair, on Netflix
What to watch next: If the short six-episode season leaves you wanting more characterful, amiable comedy, though one in a more familiar mode, the whole five-season box set of the lovable, sadly-now-ended Kim’s Convenience is on Netflix.
Never Have I Ever (2020–2023)
Why to watch: Since we last recommended it in May 2021, the second season of Mindy Kaling’s good-natured coming-of-age comedy has been and gone, a third is slated for release in summer, and a fourth and final season is already green-lit. It’s the perfect time, then, to catch up with the tender and tempestuous Devi, an Indian American Tamil teenager grappling with hormones, high school politics and how to be a good daughter to a loving but combative Indian mother.
Whom to watch: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is the show’s breakout as Devi, but equally important is Poorna Jagannathan, who plays Devi’s mother, Nalini, and whose face should be familiar from excellent 2015 HBO miniseries The Night Of (see “dramas” below).
Watch it: Never Have I Ever on Netflix
What to watch next: With Kaling becoming something of a one-woman TV juggernaut, you can either check back through all six seasons of her old show The Mindy Project on Hulu, or you can check out her new one, coming right up below …
The Sex Lives of College Girls (2021–)
Why to watch: Despite a salacious title that sounds like that of a campus-set 1970s blue movie, Mindy Kaling’s newest project delivers more sweetness than sleaze. Focusing on four college freshmen experiencing the new freedoms of life outside the family nest for the first time, its young-adult friendliness makes it a natural progression from the high school shenanigans of Never Have I Ever. And once again the more autobiographical elements, which revolve around Bela, the show’s Indian American character — an aspiring comedy writer battling sexism on the college-comedy circuit — emerge as the strongest.