ABC’s new fall comedy Cristela has the potential to become a great show, incorporating diversity, millennial culture and a relatable brand of humor into a show that shakes up the traditional story of a woman balancing workplace and home life — if ABC would just give it a chance.
Created by and starring stand-up comic Cristela Alonzo, whose appearances include Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Last Comic Standing, Cristela features Alonzo as the title character, a woman forced to move in with her sibling’s family (including her mother) as she tries to make her way through law school and balance work at her new office. The show is based off Alonzo’s semi-autobiographical comedy, with several lines in the show directly taken from her stand-up routines.
If that description sounds familiar, it’s because Cristela shares a lot in common with The George Lopez Show, and that show’s so old that it’s become a part of the Nick@Nite lineup. However, Cristela is anything but a copy. Cristela isn’t married with children (this is a comedic source of despair for her mother). She’s nowhere near that stage in her life — she’s too busy trying to make her life work around her student loans and the current job economy — and personally, that’s a story I wouldn’t mind seeing more often.
After watching the trailer, I found myself intrigued. Cristela’s tenuous balance between her home and work life is a departure from the original. For one thing, most “woman balances home and work” stories don’t include the woman being mistaken for the janitorial staff.
In the trailer, as Cristela’s throwing something away, one of her co-workers asks if she can toss something in before Cristela empties the trash. The co-worker realizes her mistake, then immediately asks Cristela to validate her parking. “I think you’ve been validated enough,” Cristela replies, laughing.
Cristela, along with Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, is ushering in a rise in family of color comedies on ABC this fall. ABC has become the poster child for diversity. They’re the home channel for Shonda Rhimes’ television drama empire, which has its own scheduled day. That’s why it’s a little confusing when looking farther into Cristela reveals that the network’s set up the battle for the new showto be uphill from the start.
For instance, the pilot episode, developed by Alonzo, was very quickly thrown together, taped on another show’s (Last Man Standing) set with another show’s crew. ABC has also given it the 8:30 p.m. time slot on Friday, the worst day for network shows to air—strange, because the quickly thrown-together pilot got promising first view ratings and was received well at the Television Critics Assocation Press Tour.
Alonzo, the main creative force behind the project (in addition to acting and writing, she also helps produce the show), has distinguished herself with her optimistic outlook for the show, an outlook that spills over into her fictional television counterpart. However, Cristela’s other cast members have also shown their dedication, sticking through making the pilot on “a third of a typical pilot budget.” At one point, to prove their versatility the cast members did a scene from the pilot impromptu in Spanish.
“The cast playing my family were all fluent in Spanish and I asked them if they were up to trying it. EVERYONE SAID YES [. . .] The jokes translated [. . .] To have a show that could be shot in BOTH English and Spanish simultaneously was pretty historic,” Alonzo said on her blog.
In a television market that’s wanting for good sitcoms, Cristela is a breath of fresh air on several fronts. It’s gaining attention despite a small budget and less-than-stellar marketing. Hopefully, ABC will help it to the success and attention it deserves.
Cristela premieres on Friday, Oct. 10, at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.