Sadly, Debby Wolfe is a rarity.
“I’m only the second Latina in history to have a sitcom on network television. And I think I’m the first Salvadorian to have a network show,” she recently told Latino Rebels.
Making her story even more unusual, Wolfe said the path to getting Lopez vs. Lopez made —with its Latine cast and themes— was “surprisingly easy.”
It was the height of the pandemic, and she was working on the Roseanne spin-off The Conners. Bored at 3 a.m. and scrolling TikTok, she came upon Mayan Lopez’s feed.
“Here was this Gen Z Latina who is unafraid to call out her Boomer father for his bad parenting and mistreatment of his wife. And it was just so honest, raw, and funny—and the vision of the show just kind of all hit me,” she recalled.
She immediately emailed her idea to her boss, Bruce Helford, who happened to have been the original showrunner of The George Lopez Show back in the early aughts. Despite the late hour, he responded right away, and soon the two were pitching Universal and then NBC, who bought the show on the spot.
Wolfe believes the secret to her success is that, “when you have a very real story, it’s an easier path… This was all a very real, raw story, and one that everyone could relate to. It just made sense to everybody. It’s fortunate that we have Latine-specific actors in these roles, but it’s really a universal story about healing and family.”
The healing she’s referencing is between George and Mayan, who were once estranged —in real life and on the show— before moving in together. According to Wolfe, “they’re still in the process of healing their relationship on a network sitcom while shooting a network sitcom. Sometimes on the stage, in the moment, when they’re talking to each other, when they’re saying the dialogue, they’re not really just doing dialogue. They’re really speaking to one another.”
Which is perhaps a little hard to square with Lopez vs. Lopez’s throwback feel. This is a sitcom where the actors pause for the laugh track and everyone learns a lesson every week.
Still, it’s pretty funny, using the texture of Latine culture to form its jokes.
In the Christmas episode, there’s a tamale bit that had me guffawing through my headphones. And the show lands at least one perfect joke every 22 minutes.
Wolfe likes to “tackle the things that we can only do on a show with Latine characters. We have an episode coming up about cultural appropriation where Mayan is making serape dog beds. They get bought by a white entrepreneur who tries to take the idea and put her name on it. And we have an episode coming up that entirely takes place in Ross, in the Latino-Latina haven that is Ross.”
Of course, one of those particularly Latine touchstones in every episode is George Lopez himself. Wolfe calls him her “comedy hero,” saying she was “extremely intimidated” and “very nervous” to meet him.
But this didn’t turn out as one of those don’t-meet-your-heroes cases.
“He is just such a real dude,” she shared. “The first time I met him, I felt like I was talking to one of my tíos.”
Now Wolfe is happy to receive texts from Lopez with old stories that she calls “absolute gold. He’ll just say one line, and I’m like, ‘I can create a whole episode around that.'”
Plus he respects and trusts her to the point where she can say: “He was my hero, but now he’s my hero and also my friend.” Which makes sense for a show about healing.
Wolfe hopes Lopez vs. Lopez delivers lots of laughs and also inspires growth, specifically around “being open to talking about things… In the long run, it will help you live a happier life and also have better relationships with the people around you,” she said.
She’s also hoping to heal some of the harm caused by the continued underrepresentation of Latines on screen. With a writers’ room that is over half Latine, putting their real experiences into the show, audience members are telling Wolfe they “feel seen for the first time.”
And she isn’t stopping with Lopez vs. Lopez. Wolfe has her own production company and other projects in the works. She wants to someday have five shows on air, all with Latine casts. And she wants those shows to be seen by everyone because they should relate.
“We’re all humans,” she said, “and we all have experienced the same emotions.”
Lopez vs. Lopez airs Friday nights on NBC and streams on Peacock. It recently got picked up for a full 22-episode season.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade