A quick word about Chinese Burn, a new BBC3 comedy from the Comedy Slices series; what, back in the day, we’d call a pilot. This is a flatshare comedy about three Asian girls trying to navigate London life. This mainly consists of getting drunk, getting fired, getting into fights and keeping their slightly dodgy activities quiet from their parents back home. All the while they’re raging against stereotypes – “sweet, innocent, submissive Chinese girls. Conservative and virginal – good at maths, ping pong and looking after men. Screw that!” As a white girl from the ‘burbs I have much to learn about the Asian cultural stereotypes, but I can tell you straight-off if it’s funny.
It’s really short, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, but a lot is packed into this episode. Elizabeth (played by co-writer Shin-Fei Chen) is the failed Chinese daughter, filled with guilt for telling her family she’s a sommelier in a Michelin starred restaurant when she really spends her days in a degrading mascot suit hawking bubble tea, and trying to keep away from her grubby little boss who has a (tiny) boner for her. She’s delightfully self-destructive, a lot like Abbi in Broad City, frustrated and embarrassed at every turn. Those girls would get on so well – Elizabeth would bring the wine and Abbi and Ilana the weed. What a party!
Elizabeth lives with Jackie (co-writer Yennis Cheung) the foxy goth. She’s seething with anger at the racist casting she has to put with with at auditions. “If I have to be hooker, a take-away girl or a prostitute again, I’m going to kill somebody”. She looks like she means it! Her repertoire is strong in her niche specialty “Scream like a Thai prostitute, now a Korean prostitute, now do Japanese”. She’s promised a strong female character – the role of a lifetime – and is let down yet again when asked if she can do martial arts. She flips out at the black writer “I don’t ask you to rap do I Denzel?”
Fufu is the out-and-out weirdo, added to the mix. She’s fresh off the plane from Taiwan, extremely rich and extremely culturally unaware. She adopts ‘twat’ as a typical English greeting and get carried away by every sub-culture she encounters. Her character seems less developed than the others, and plays up to kooky cliches instead of flipping them, but her interaction with the bemused landlady is very good. “You’re little dog is so cute I could eat him up!” says Fufu enthusiastically, later seen wielding a massive clever and asking after the lovely little dog, clueless as to the racist landlady’s nervousness. I don’t think she’ll be back asking for rent money for a while.
The music, the bright colours, the use of kawaii stickers and the visuals all remind me of Broad City, which is no bad thing, but does feel like it might bring on a migraine at any moment. I love the use of information cards on screen with definitions of crazy-sounding Chinese phrases, sometimes no less crazy when translated. For example I now know that “zei jai bau” is dead boy bun – a worthless person who should have died at birth and been dumped in a river. Nice!
Time is against it, as previously mentioned, so sadly it feels rushed. They manage to set up the characters fairly well but it’s lacking in detail. I would like to see more from these girls. I’m sure writers Chen and Cheung have plenty of experience to feed the funny and to make us see Asian women in a different light.
Chinese Burn is on iPlayer now – check it out.