ABC’s freshman sitcom Cristela had so-so ratings and decent critical reviews, but one thing that was acclaimed was its star: comedienne Cristela Alonzo. Alonzo plays Cristela Hernandez, a young woman who gets a much-coveted internship at a top Dallas law firm. Because it’s on ABC on Friday nights, Cristela is a mainstream, family-friendly sitcom, which has edges of blandness, but one thing is clear: Alonzo is a star, a bright star who deserves kudos for her charm, intelligence, and talent.
Cristela is television’s first sitcom that is written, produced, created, and starred by a Latina comedienne. This distinction is important because for too long Latino/a characters have either been invisible, marginalized, or told through the prism from white writers (take a gander at 70s black sitcoms to see all the white writers who were telling black people’s stories). With Cristela, Alonzo created a platform to give voice for a demographic that is too often ignored.
Is the show super zeitgeisty? Of course, not. It doesn’t have the doses of irony or is self-referential like a lot of popular sitcoms right now. Instead, it’s a standard sitcom with broad supporting characters and a studio audience that roars in approval whenever Alonzo lands a funny joke.
And despite it being in a situation as milquetoast as ABC Friday nights, Cristela manages to be subversive – it’s feminist and liberal, examining identity politics in palpable doses.
A few days ago, Alonzo wrote on her blog about the show’s uncertain future, writing “I want to be realistic and honest about things. I’m not sure if the show is coming back. It worries me and not because I want to be on TV more. It worries me because I think this show gives a voice to people that haven’t been given a voice before.”
The best kind of TV is TV with a message – whether its socio-political or merely cultural, a show needs to say something. Alonzo’s obviously influenced by Roseanne Barr (who has a recurring role on Cristela). Barr chose television to impart her message of blue-collar politics, liberal ideology, feminism, and gay rights through her classic sitcom Roseanne. The show is a funny manifesto for Barr’s political conscious. I hope that Cristela allows for its creator/star to do the same. As the show (hopefully) grows and develops, Alonzo might be able to flex more creative muscle and make it even more explicitly political and personal.
As Alonzo pointed out, “This year, Cristela has managed to talk about topics that are difficult to make funny…but we managed to do it. We talk about race, gender equality, differences in class. How many other sitcoms do that?” That’s an important question to ask, because the answer is not many. Especially after the end of Parks and Recreation (arguably, the most feminist sitcom of the last twenty years), network TV has become a bit of a desert for a staunchly feminist comedy that talks about gender, class, money, and race. What Cristela does is make its viewers look at how messed up privilege is, and how difficult it is to transcend privilege – but it does so in a funny way.
Earlier this year, I gave Cristela a good-to-mixed review. I still stand by that review – though I will say, the show’s grown and gotten funnier. Alonzoa’s developed into a stronger actress and it feels as if her voice has become more prominent in the writing of the program. We need shows like Cristela and we need performers like Alonzo because without them, television becomes the equivalent of fast food: empty calories, fulfilling in the immediate, but without lasting value.
If Cristela does get canceled, I hope that Alonzo turns to cable for her next venture. Cable is always more willing to take on riskier projects (sad that an appealing and talented performer like Alonzo could still be seen as risky by some). With the freedom of cable, Alonzo could become even more strident in her comedy, which would be a blessing. We need funny ladies like Cristela Alonzo to skewer outdated gender roles and to destroy racial stereotypes.