We are a mess over here.
Crying. Laughing…too loud for our neighbors probably pero, bueno.
When you live in the throes of the entertainment industry it’s hard to be hopeful about the future of television. And let me tell you, we radiate “hope.” We are hoping day and night, we hope in the morning, for lunch and dinner. When we pray we say “Amen and Hope”… and “si Dios quiere” or “Primero Dios.” When we sleep we have little hope dreams and when we eat we digest hope in hopes that hope runs through our bloodstream and pumps through our hope filled hearts and continues to give us the oxygen to breathe and keep on truckin’.
Television is a powerful tool. It helps us associate with other cultures outside of our own boundaries. It brings them into our living rooms and into our homes. We eat dinner with them and we laugh and cry with them. We become familiar. The “hope,” is that while everyone is making money, making television, it will also organically lead us down a path of creating kinships with different cultures, races, opinions and lifestyles. So things don’t have to be so “different” than what you already know. Television helped establish a conscious path to considering the rights of the working woman living on her own when it introduced us to “That Girl.” That was kinda weird once, remember?
What about Diahann Carroll as the lead in “Julia?” The first show with a middle-class African American woman as the lead. That was 1968-1971, only 46 years ago, people!
And let’s not forget Carol Burnett who has since been unmatched. Never again has there been a female comedian lead in a sketch show of that magnitude. Tracy Ulmann came very close.
Then our friend (a Latina) started her journey in Hollywood as a television writer. She is a killer writer and a motivator. She says “the work is coming.” Like a chant, like a prophecy.
“I think a great era is dawning.”
Let us introduce you to CRISTELA.
We have been watching her journey and are in love with her story. The tenacity of Cristela is a testament to how the hard working Latina is raised and what happens to EVERYONE who has a dream and a vision.
When ABC decides to pass on your written pilot, they pay you a fee. It’s a stipend of sorts, “Thank you very much for a year of your work but we’re moving on, hope this money helps. It’s totally NOT personal, it’s business.” While most of us would have taken that check and bought our family a good dinner and buy ourselves a good bottle of scotch to drink down the sorrows, Cristela Alonzo did not. She asked ABC if she could take that money and produce her own “proof of concept” to prove her pilot (her story) would work. She filmed it on a borrowed stage, with a borrowed crew and rehearsed it in a small room with metal chairs and paper plates as props. We cannot stress enough how RENEGADE this is for this type of process. That she kept putting one foot in front of the other makes her a GLADIATOR and a NINJA. We’re sure Cristela wasn’t even thinking about that, we’re sure she was just thanking her lucky stars that her cast was on board and that by the grace of the universe things kept moving forward. She was thinking about getting it done. Making her own. Blind Faith. Hope.
CRISTELA premiered on ABC last Friday night. It was the number 1 scripted show of the night amongst adults 18-49 according to deadline.com
Not “Latino” adults. Everyone.
The show opens up into a classic old-school sitcom format. Big reactions, solid punch lines and character establishment. The family, we feel is archetypical but not stereotypical. Head explodes. Novel concept, verdad? Usually Latina mothers are portrayed as doting and affectionate, Cristela’s mother is not. The family life is boisterous and charming and delights in drawing parallels between the old country and the new one. The real edge comes in the portrayal of her office life. Believe us, we’ve worked in a law office in Chicago for several years and it’s like that in ways you will never believe. While we’ve heard some banter about those jokes being predictable we would argue, just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place on television. Here’s something that’s still pretty predictable in life as a working Latina, people asking us if we speak Mexican. #truth
The middle of the show really hits its stride and you begin to see the potential of the arc of the series. A real moment is shared between mother and daughter, expressing the fear that her now working daughter will become too important one day and will feel shame about her mother from “the country.” Cristela doesn’t let that tear stream down your face without giving you a hearty punchline “Oh Mom, I’m already embarrassed by you”, for that, is a true sitcom moment.
Some may argue that she could have told her story in an edgier way, maybe via a cable network that would allow her to be darker in her point of view and creative outlet. Cristela had a pretty straight up response to that:
“Well, this story is about a working-class family, so I wanted to be on a channel that working-class families can get. If they have to, they can get an antenna and watch the show. I can’t tell the story of a poor family on a premium channel that you have to pay $20 a month to watch.”
Cristela is sharing her experiences, some you may relate to and some you may find entertaining or down-right hysterical, but we wouldn’t get too upset that her family is exactly like yours or not. It doesn’t seem we pay too much mind when American mainstream sitcoms are all quirky and different and layered and awesome. How about we apply the same rules here? Funny is funny and this is funny and funny is not easy to do.
Let us tell you all the reasons why we don’t love it.
We don’t love it because it’s arguably one of the best cold openings we’ve seen since Scandal premiered. We don’t love it because it’s well written, well acted, well cast, well shot and outrageous. We don’t love it because we laughed out loud and screamed at the plot twists.
We love it because we can’t wait to see another episode, because we might have to DVR a few episodes in a row so we can binge watch to our hearts content. We love it because it’s undeniably good in the way we have to be, in order to be great at television.
When we first read about this show we couldn’t wrap our heads around it. We watched the previews online, a dangerous thing to do when watching Latino-lead shows due to the sometimes overt and unsettling use of Latino theme music or chacha promo, but we were…hopeful.
We sat down to watch JTV right after CRISTELA and it became a magical day of television catch up. Within the first 60 seconds of the show we were hooked with the pacing and story, gotta love a good story. While the plot seemed far fetched to us at first, we quickly settled into it with the help of grounded characters. It’s based on a telenovela and the show creator Jennie Snyder Urman, uses a telenovela type playfulness without hitting it too hard over the head. We never thought we’d say this but we longed for more telenovela pop outs and fantasy sequences because they were so epic and fun in nature. A huge shout out to Andrea Navedo and Ivonne Coll, first time we’ve ever seen a Latina grandmother and tarot card reading “señora” mom played with rich, honest textures on American television.
JTV has writers that do their due diligence to keep you hooked at each commercial break and every time you come back the characters are layered even more. It was refreshing to experience some of the themes of the show that dealt with Jane deciding whether she was going to keep her baby or not. And the often unspoken truth between mothers and daughters when things are said in an effort to protect you from a harsh reality. Talk about hitting close to home, JTV crashed through our living room window.
The acting by Gina Rodriguez was at once funny and touching. A Chicago native, the community in Chicago is ecstatic about one of their own leading a series of this successful magnitude. We suspect this is not the only vehicle we will see Gina thrive in. She’s really very good and you know what else is mind blowing, every beautiful actor on the show is equally fantastic. Another hard feat.
We won’t get on a soap box and beg that you watch these shows to forward a movement. We don’t have to, they are so excellent that it will happen on its own.
Dominizuelan (Lorena Díaz and Wendy Mateo) is a comedy duo from Chicago. The Chicago Tribune wrote that the group “contains the kind of sharply honed humor that isn’t afraid to stare down cultural stereotypes–even stereotypes other than their own.” Follow them @Dominizuelan.