I was toying over what to name this week’s article, which highlights three shows that feature Hispanic and African-American casts.
Something about diversity, or the changing face of television, but then I realized: the differences between these shows and so-called “mainstream” or “traditional” shows is literally nothing at all or, at most, stylistic or cosmetic. These shows aren’t new and different, they’re familiar and comfortable.
Jane The Virgin
If there’s an exception to the rule I just set out, it is Jane The Virgin, the first true telenovela to air on American television. All of the classic hallmarks of Spanish television’s popular sexy soaps are here, and while the format may seem familiar as a nighttime serial soap, you ain’t never seen a nighttime soap as over the top and melodrama-fabulous as this one.
Based on the Spanish language show Juana La Virgen, our heroine is Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a nice Catholic girl who promised her grandmother Ivonne Coll she would remain pure until marriage, thus avoiding the life-altering teenage pregnancy her cabana singer mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) suffered when she got pregnant with Jane.
Jane has her life together, she has a devoted fiance (Brett Dier) who’s a police detective and he understands her vow of chastity. Everything is great until she visits her doctor who accidentally inseminates her with the sperm of a wealthy playboy Justin Baldoni meant for his evil, scheming wife (Yael Grobglas). Her grandmother wants her to keep the baby. Her mother wants her to sue the doctor. The playboy wants a divorce. The evil scheming wife wants to adopt the baby. Jane’s boyfriend is kind of pissed (can you blame him). That summarizes the first 25 minutes of the pilot.
Obviously, the show would never work if Rodriguez couldn’t make Jane a believable, viable grown up woman, and she does that marvelously. In the hands of a lesser actress, Jane would be a silly pollyanna.
Jane The Virgin packs a ton of story into each episode, and nothing is too taboo, outrageous or over-the-top to try. It should fit right in on The CW.
Watch just a few minutes of Survivor’s Remorse, the story of a kid who makes it big in the NBA and now has to deal with the cadre of family, friends and hangers-on who want to share in his success, and you’ll immediately recognize it as a permutation of Entourage. The latter, of course, was based on the real life experiences of Mark Wahlberg. Survivor’s Remorse features a producer’s credit for LeBron James, and while I doubt we’ll ever know if any of the fictional travails of Cam Calloway (Jessie Usher) are based on James’ own journey, it is an interesting parallel.
While Survivor’s Remorse doesn’t look to break any new television ground, it would be similarly unfair to dismiss the show simply as the “black Entourage.” Entourage dealt, often heavily, in the plasticity of Hollywood and the film industry. By contrast, an underlying theme of Survivor’s Remorse (one that is apparent from the very title) is the fragile nature of talent, success and fortune.
What distinguishes Survivor’s Remorse and has me recommending it as a show you should watch however, is very simple. It’s funny. Sometimes really funny. There is good camraderie between Usher and costar RonReaco Lee. TV veterans Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps and Erica Ash all add something unique. And whether it’s secretly or openly about LeBron James or not, there is an honesty to this show which is also where it mines its best humor.
Starz network has picked up the show for a second season, so there’s plenty of time to catch up on this show which will end its limited 6-episode first season run this week.
Of the shows we’re talking about, Cristela, based on the stand up comedy of Mexican-American comedian Cristela Alonzo, is most reminiscent of something you’ve seen before. Call it female Home Improvement, hispanic Roseanne or Dallas, Texas King of Queens, Cristela follows the tried and true format of creating a fictional job and family for its lead and letting them run with it.
In this case, Alonzo is a law firm intern who splits time between sparring with her family at home and trying to get ahead and work. Alonzo is perfectly funny, and there are enough laughs thrown in to each episode to keep audiences happy, but this show feels like a small, tired idea that will struggle to draw viewers who have grown accustomed to something more from their viewing experiences.
I will commend Alonzo on crafting a female character who comes across as a very legitimate sports fan (Cowboys and Mavericks) and isn’t at all preoccupied with her social life or with any one guy in particular. In that sense, Cristela does provide some fresh perspective, but the newness of gets lost in the sameness of family and workplace sitcom stories.
I would watch a show with Alonzo at the head of it, but I don’t think it will be this one for very long.
Non network cancellations tend to fly under the radar, but I couldn’t help but notice that FX had canceled The Bridge. The show followed up an amazing first season with an uneven second one. It was a good enough show to deserve an addition run however. Much more upsetting to me is the cancellation of modern western Longmire, despite being the highest rated original show in A&E history. I will truly miss this one.
And on the network cancellation front, ABC has axed Selfie, a show which I felt deserved a much better fate.
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) With twins, one is always evil (Brooklyn Nine-Nine); 2) New Yorkers express happiness by grunting and giving you the finger (@Midnight); 3) Brunch is a good reason to have vodka at 10:00 a.m. (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon).
I’m not sure you will see a sweeter moment on TV this season than Sheldon (Jim Parsons) telling Amy (Mayim Bialik) he loved her on The Big Bang Theory. These two characters are the wackiest and most oddball of the ensemble, and that’s what made this moment so very poignant.
Reality Check: I have to admit, I watch far too much Food Network to really be able to appreciate Master Chef Junior, although I was told by multiple people that I just had to watch it at least once to see Gordon Ramsay, one of the most vociferous and verbally caustic personalities on television, be as sweet as Mr. Rogers to a bunch of little kids. Noted, And I will say that the 8-12 year old contestants have really impressive culinary skills. Being a foodie-come-lately myself, I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of Master Chef Junior, even if I may not be a fan.
I think we can add goth hacker Felicity on Arrow to the pantheon of legendary alt-characters like bearded evil Spock on Star Trek and Vampire Willow on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
The Newsroom and Getting On return to HBO on November 9.
The series premiere of Holiday Baking Championship airs on Food Network on November 9.
The comeback season of The Comeback begins November 9 on HBO.
The brilliant first season of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver comes to a close on HBO on November 9.
The midseason finale of The Blacklist airs on NBC on November 10.
The series premiere of The Missing airs on Starz on November 15.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: [email protected]. I welcome your input! Featured Image Source Image Source 2 Image Source 3 Image Source 4