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ABC premieres its latest comedy, Cristela, tonight, and there’s a silver lining sticking out of the black cloud. The show isn’t good at all, but its star, stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo, has a bright future.
Then again, maybe that future is this show. ABC has propped up other duds for a season or two, so Alonzo may be employed longer than it would seem likely.
But it’s hard to imagine that Cristela is the zenith of that aforementioned future. Alonzo is simply too good and too likable for the material that she’s trapped in here. If it’s any consolation to her or her fans, Alonzo is — let’s just check the numbers — the 3,874th good comedian and likable presence to be wasted in her very first show.
Hi, Margaret Cho.
That is, Alonzo will get past this. Somewhere there’s a network plotting the right way to package her. Over at ABC, the wrong idea was to put her in a multicamera show and have the casting of her family feel way, way off — there is not one moment of chemistry when she’s at home and only an ounce more when she’s at work.
Alonzo plays, well, Cristela, a woman who has been in law school for six years, taking the slow route because she has to pay her way through it and thus must work. She lives with her sister, Daniela (Maria Canals-Barrera), her sister’s husband, Felix (Carlos Ponce), their two kids and Cristela’s mother, Natalia (Terri Hoyos). Felix’s cousin Alberto (Gabriel Iglesias) is the sitcom dude who walks through open doors all the time and has an unrequited crush on Cristela.
This whole situation is entirely predictable, with the most predictable jokes arising from it. Felix is annoyed by Cristela’s constant presence and the two natter back and forth and drop unfunny jokes. Natalia is so old-school all she does is talk about cleaning houses and worries that Cristela will never find a husband.
In the fourth episode (ABC made it available along with the pilot), Natalia worries Cristela is a lesbian. “Are you the gay?” she asks. Her revulsion is palpable, which short-circuits whatever feel-good vibe ABC was after by being proactive with its pro-diversity casting and shows this fall (for a much better sitcom, see Black-ish).
And that’s another problem with Cristela — whatever cultural message it’s trying to send about being Mexican and struggling seems a decade or two behind the times. Also, and crucially, the show just isn’t funny.
No doubt a more solid Latino comedy will come along and avoid the easy cliches. With any luck, maybe Alonzo will be the star of that one, too, kind of as a do-over. It wouldn’t be a problem since nobody will remember her current show for very long after tonight.
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