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ABC first brought race-themed programming to this season’s TV line-up with Black-ish, and now it’s continuing its diversity push with Cristela.
The multi-cam comedy, which stars standup Cristela Alonzo is her television series debut, is based on the comedian’s own life. The show follows the Mexican-American who, in her sixth year of law school, lands an internship at a prestigious law firm. But achieving the American dream is no easy feat amid her family’s concerns: her sister (Maria Canals Barrera) would rather her focus on her dating life, her brother-in-law (Carlos Ponce) wants to kick her out of his house, and her mother (Terry Hoyos) is afraid she’ll forget the arduous upbringing she once had in Mexico.
Alongside series’ producers Becky Clements and Kevin Hench, Alonzo opened up about the story behind Cristela at recent PaleyFest panel. “I never wanted to tell the story of ‘Oh, pretty girl can’t find a date?’ Aww,” Alonzo said from the stage. “It’s about doing something that’s universal and honest. There’s too much math involved in TV trying to aim shows at Latinos.”
Ahead of her show’s Friday, Oct. 10 premiere, here’s five more things the star revealed about herself and the comedy:
The Sitcom is Autobiographical
That the show mirrors her own life is deeply personal for Alonzo and her family. The day the series got picked up, Alonzo called her sister. “She was driving and pulled over and started crying,” recalled Alonzo on stage. “She said, ‘Something like this doesn’t happen to people like us.’” In that moment, Alonzo realized the impact of her success on her loved ones: “It really hit me on such a strange level on how much it meant to my family and how much it meant to me.”
The Material is Mostly Accurate
How much of Alonzo’s own life is reflected in the series? “85 to 90 percent,” she said, adding: “100 percent on Natalie” (referring to her mom, who always wanted her daughter to be a haircutter because “if there was a recession, people still needed their hair cut.”) While the majority of the storylines are familiar to the comedian, the biggest deviation is her career pursuit. Comedy, as a profession, didn’t exactly translate the way the creators needed it to onscreen. “There aren’t any concrete steps to becoming a comic,” said Alonzo, who chose law instead because of her mother’s love for Mexican novelas, in which “everyone is a lawyer.”
She Never Expected Her Own Show
ABC’s series order came as a shock. “I wanted to do it as a kid,” Alonzo explained, “but the older I got, the more cynical I got about it because there weren’t a lot of people on TV that looked like me.” But Alonzo’s agents were more hopeful than she was, especially when they discovered her life story. Alonzo credits producer Clements, in particular, with spearheading her journey to the small screen: “She decided to take a chance on me and give me the confidence that I never had.”
People Are Getting Her Name Right
Alzono is still getting used to seeing “Cristela” spelled correctly. Her entire life, she’s seen her unique first name butchered more often than not. “When you have a different name, people just kind of take the liberty to spell it how they want,” she joked, remembering all the times she would leave stores disappointed because she couldn’t find anything personalized. “Now I go into the office and everything has my name,” she grinned.
The Comedy is Set in Her Home State, Texas
It was important to Alonzo that the show was set in Dallas, where she grew up. “The Texas thing is such a big deal because whenever I see Texas in a TV show, they always show slow-moving cattle and cowboys with the hats,” she said. “I wanted to show that Texas isn’t a stereotype.” The only time cowboys come into play is when Cristela and her family are watching the Dallas football team. The border town she grew up also inspired her love for television. Because it was known for cartel activity, Alonzo’s mom encouraged her daughter to occupy herself with inside activities. “TV was my best friend,” Alonzo acknowledged, citing The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Cosby Show and Roseanne as her favorites.
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