The Unsung Supporting Asian American Actors and Actresses of Television

Ravi Patel in "Grandfathered." Photo courtesy John P. Fleenor/FOX.
Here are some talented actors who play minor or recurring characters on TV that we'll be definitely seeing more of in the future.

With the series premieres of shows like Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, Quantico and Into the Badlands, 2015 is a good — no — a great year for Asian Americans on television. All four of the aforementioned shows have either an ensemble cast or leads that are Asian American. Hollywood hasn’t seen such Asian American progress on television since Margaret Cho’s short-lived, yet groundbreaking sitcom All American Girl, which aired over 20 years ago in 1994. That said, a surge of Asian American-centric TV shows is long overdue — but if you look at TV’s current landscape, there are more Asians on television than you think. There are those recurring or minor characters in this season’s batch of new and returning TV shows that we shouldn’t overlook.

Masi Oka has reprised his role in the reboot, Heroes Reborn, and Lost alums Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim have found new TV lives in Hawaii Five-0 and Mistresses respectively. Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet continue to be the only two major Asian characters in the Marvel Universe in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while Kumail Nanjiani will return to HBO’s irreverent tech comedy, Silicon Valley. On the digital front, Mindy Kaling continued The Mindy Project on Hulu after being canceled by Fox, and Aziz Ansari is set to premiere Master of None on Netflix in November.

But of course, everyone has to start somewhere. As an actor, you can’t just walk into Hollywood and magically receive your own TV show. It was a while before Ken Jeong, Randall Park, Constance Wu and Daniel Wu got their own major network show. Jeong had bit roles in film and television and eventually became a series regular on Community. Wu booked roles in everything from One Life to Live to Franklin and Bash, while Park starred in movies and, most recently in HBO’s Veep, before they starred as Mr. and Mrs. Huang.

That said, the old adage of “no role is too small” is 100 percent true because you never know where that role will lead. Now that ABC has set the standard with Fresh Off the Boat, Quantic, and Dr. Ken, Hollywood has opened up a little bit more when it comes to TV shows that tell the stories of the Asian American experience. Here are some talented actors who play minor or recurring characters on TV that we’ll be definitely seeing more of in the future.

Kiki Sukezane in Heroes Reborn (NBC): The reboot of the popular superhero drama not only brings back some favorites (Masi Oka as Hiro, for one), but introduces the world to a whole new batch of ‘heroes” including video game “character,” Miko, played by Japanese native, Kiki Suzekzane. Heroes Reborn marks her first role as a series regular in an American series.

Raza Jaffrey in Code Black: The Indian Brit starred in the NBC Broadway drama Smash and was seen in Homeland, Elementary, and the movie, Sex and the City 2. He has since graduated to become Dr. Neal Hudson alongside Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden in the new L.A.-based emergency room drama, Code Black.

Jadyn Wong in Scorpion: The Asian-Canadian with Hong Kong roots returns for the second season of Scorpion as Happy Quinn, the “mechanical prodigy” of a group of super geniuses that are protecting the world from global threats.

Kimiko Glenn in Orange is the New Black: We first saw Glenn as the talkative, tree-hugging Brook Soso in the second season. Since then, she has made herself at home as a recurring character on the Netflix’s Golden Globe Award-nominated show.

Ki Hong Lee in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Ki Hong Lee has popped up in bit parts on TV shows and is probably best known for his role as Minho in the Maze Runner movies, but it’s his role as the lovable Dong Nguyen in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that has been getting him a lot of attention.

Kelvin Yu in Master of None: He’s had small roles in film and television, but most recently, he can be seen as Brian, in Aziz Ansari’s game-changing sitcom. He’s part of one of the most racially diverse and progressive shows that TV has seen in a long time.

Utkarsh Ambudkar in The Mindy Project: He’s had roles in a handful of movies and TV shows, but you probably remember his aca-awesome singing skills from Pitch Perfect. Most recently, he has popped up as Mindy’s younger brother, Rishi Lahiri, and he couldn’t fit the role any better.

Vincent Rodriguez III in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Born in San Francisco, the Filipino American actor honed his chops in theater in New York City before becoming the object of affection in the quirky, musically inclined comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show has garnered a cult following and it’s growing by the minute.

Ravi Patel in Grandfathered: Ravi Patel has a long list of TV credits including Outsourced, The New Normal, Super Fun Night, and most recently, he made an appearance on Aziz Ansari’s much buzzed about Master of None on Netflix. He also co-directed and starred in the documentary, Meet the Patels. But he has a permanent home on Fox in the solid ensemble cast as fun-loving chef in the John Stamos vehicle, Grandfathered.

Jeanna Han in Scream Queens: In her very first television role, Han plays Sam, an androgynous Asian lesbian, in Ryan Murphy’s slasher comedy starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Lea Michele, Emma Roberts, Keke Palmer, and Abigail Breslin. As her first acting gig, that’s not bad at all.

Conrad Ricamora in How To Get Away With Murder: The Filipino American stage actor has starred in productions of Here Lies Love and The King and I, but is probably most recognizable as Oliver, the resident computer hacker and Conrad’s boyfriend in Shonda Rimes’s wildly addictive soapy law drama. 

Fresh Off The Boat and Dr. Ken are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Asian Americans on TV this season. Those numbers could only go up in 2016.

–Dino-Ray Ramos

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Dino-Ray Ramos is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and host of the Off White podcast. He currently writes for and has contributed to Entertainment Tonight Online, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Oakland Tribune.

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