Super powers and high school drama collide in American Born Chinese

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American Born Chinese ★★★½

A big-hearted young adult adventure that’s steeped in cultural counter-programming and also serves as an unofficial encore to Academy Award winner Everything Everywhere All at Once, this American series is deeply satisfying to its titular target audience but has few boundaries. A mix of high school melodrama, supernatural action, and coming-of-age friction, American Born Chinese addresses pertinent questions with an often-playful tone. The show’s celestial characters take a different form on Earth, and the themes do likewise.

Jim Liu and Michelle Yeoh in American Born Chinese.Credit: Disney/Carlos Lopez-Calleja

As with a previous Disney+ series, Ms Marvel, super powers butt up against everyday struggles for the teenage protagonist. Jin Wang (Ben Wang) is the child of Chinese immigrants, hoping to make the move from nerd to sports guy at school, even if that means sidestepping his old friends, and trying to navigate American mores while his parents, Simon (China Han) and Christine (Yeo Yann Yann) struggle to stay together. Jin’s ambitions career into embarrassment, with Wang’s performance sympathetic but never obvious.

Working from Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, American Born Chinese creator Kelvin Yu (Bob’s Burgers) excels at highlighting tropes then turning them upside down. Jin is annoyed when he’s told to mind the new kid from Taiwan, the cheerfully confident Wei-Chen (Jim Liu), but he soon learns that the transfer student hails from the celestial realm and is on a quest to retrieve an ancient scroll that can avert a heavenly revolt. Whether by the petty or the magical, both teenagers are tested.

Shapeshifting is the norm: Wei-Chen’s guardian on Earth is secretly the deity Guanyin, who is played with graceful comic guile by Michelle Yeoh. The Malaysian superstar dispenses wisdom and wins every battle, except when it comes to assembling IKEA furniture. The vibrant fight scenes update wuxia martial arts movies – imagine Stephen Chow circa Kung Fu Hustle– and as is often the case, here the welcome ambition mostly outweighs flaws in the execution.

There’s a flashback episode shot like a 1980s Hong Kong fantasy flick and reams of Monkey King lore from Chinese literary history, but the show is ultimately concerned with the idea of understanding who you are and embracing self-acceptance.

Yeoh’s Everything Everywhere co-star, Ke Huy Quan, plays an actor who’s never forgotten the crude Asian stereotypes that gave him fame in a 1990s Hollywood sitcom, a trade-off he eventually has to reckon with. Like much of this welcome fillip to screen representation, it’s handled with genuine thoughtfulness.

Monologue ★★★
YouTube, Facebook,

Emily Taheny in Monologue.

A claws-out comedy set in the chaotic offices of Australia’s “sixth most-read public affairs publication”, this web series is a promising showcase of satirical talent and an on-brand swipe at digital publishing’s thirsty click culture. Like a Millennial Utopia, these half-dozen micro episodes spotlight the point where the best of intentions are subverted by self-interest. Like an ill-judged hashtag, the show’s dual meanings can sting.

Strongly sketched, the characters sit either side of the divide between journalism and profits: editor Monique (Emily Taheny) pursues the former to advance her profile, publisher Max (Mike Mcleish) schemes for the latter. The subjects are timely, from AI-generated content to a kinky celebrity death hoax that no one verifies before publishing because it invokes the holy trinity of “death, sex, and nostalgia”.

The outcomes are farcical, as when Monique takes over the site’s TikTok account, but Nick Melin’s series has a sharply accurate take on the content – there should be some ears burning. Thankfully we’re past the point where a web series such as Monologue is judged on whether it could be scaled up to a half-hour on the ABC. Like a catchy headline, the show is succinct and successful. It deserves a like.

Nat Faxon, Chrissy Teigen and Daniel Radcliffe add their voices to Mulligan.Credit: Netflix


Tina Fey is an executive producer and voices a supporting role in this middling adult animated comedy about the mishap-laden reconstruction of the planet after an alien invasion is thwarted, but it was created by her 30 Rock collaborator Robert Carlock and Daily Show writer Sam Means. Equal parts infrastructure absurdism and daft character sketch – the odd alien is still hanging around – the show has a less-than-stellar visual aesthetic and plenty of pleasing gags that don’t add up to much, despite the voice talents of Nat Faxon, Sam Richardson and Dana Carvey.

Ghosts of Beirut

A documentary-drama from Fauda co-creators Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, this limited series recounts the rise and eventual fall of Imad Mughniyeh, a Lebanese activist who in the 1980s helped form Hezbollah and plotted the group’s prominence in the Middle East’s myriad conflicts. The four episodes mix dramatic strands and documentary testimony from those who studied or hunted Mughniyeh, a tactician who pioneered the use of suicide bombers, and while it is intriguing in parts it suffers from fleeting storylines and intermittent glimpses of the characters. There’s no core to grasp onto.

Chase Sui Wonders and Wyatt Oleff in City on Fire.Credit: Apple TV+

City on Fire
Apple TV+

In a notable miss for Apple TV+, Garth Risk Hallberg’s acclaimed murder-mystery novel, a sprawling, atmospheric tale that moved through the sometimes ruins of mid-1970s New York, was adapted by Josh Schwartz (The O.C.) and Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl). Unsurprisingly, and unfortunately, the pair moved the setting to 2003, and while that’s their cultural sweet spot, the resulting series lacks a sense of place, a hodgepodge of characters seemingly inspired by different decades, and even a notable era-friendly soundtrack. The book’s page-turning pull is gone.

Welcome to Flatch

The transatlantic success of The Office and more recently Ghosts means that there will always be remakes of hit British comedies by American networks. This one has an unlikely source, siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper’s This Country, a piercing and deeply specific mockumentary about life in a dead-end English rural town. Transposed to Ohio, the remake by Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City) works reasonably well on its own terms as cousins Kelly (comedian Holmes) and “Shrub” Mallet (Sam Straley) keep busy essentially doing nothing. It plays better if you haven’t seen the original.

Sam Straley and Holmes in Welcome to Flatch.

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