Thursday, October 09, 2014

ABC Fall Pilot Review: Cristela - Premieres Oct. 10; Sitcom on Kickstarter with Classic TV Stars

Cristela

Cristela - Fridays at 8:30PM ET/PT on ABC
Premieres Friday, October 10, 2014 at 8:30PM ET/PT


by Skees

Comedian Cristela Alonzo makes her TV debut in the new ABC sitcom, Cristela, a semi-autobiographical series about a woman trying to fulfill her dreams, in spite of her own family. Alonzo plays Cristela, a Mexican-American woman who is trying to finish up an unpaid internship after constantly dropping and and dropping out of law school, while her mother would rather just see her daughter settle down and find a husband. Meanwhile, her home life forces her to also have to deal with her sister and brother-in-law, as well as their two kids, all under one roof. How can she handle it all? That's what you'll find out in this new sitcom.

Cast Details:

Cristela Alonzo as Cristela
Carlos Ponce as Felix
Maria Canals-Barrera as Danie;a
Terri Hoyos as Natalia
Andrew Leeds as Josh
Sam McMurray as Trent Culpepper
Justine Lupe as Maddie Culpepper
Jacob Guenther as Henry
Isabella Day as Isabella

Cristela Alonso (Cristela) is not only the star of the series, but she is also the co-creator and co-executive producer. The series marks her scripted series debut, but she has appeared on series such as Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Last Comic Standing. The series is based (in part) upon her life story.

Carlos Ponce (Felix) plays Cristela's brother-in-law on the series. The Puerto Rican born actor and singer has appeared in several Spanish language series, but has also appeared on American series including Beverly Hills, 90210, 7th Heaven, and Lipstick Jungle. He also served as a correspondent on Entertainment Tonight.

MarĂ­a Canals-Barrera (Daniela) plays Cristela's sister. She is best known for her role as Theresa Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place. She also had a starring role in the short-lived sitcom, The Tony Danza Show, and has appeared in George Lopez, The Loop, Popular, Veronica's Closet, Caroline in the City, and Almost Perfect.

Terri Hoyos (Natalia) plays Cristela's mother, who would just like to see her daughter settle down. The first series that she was cast in was the Fox sitcom The Ortegas, which was talked about a lot, but didn't even make it on the air before it was canceled. She has appeared in series that succeeded, though, including Cold Case, Bones, Criminal Minds, Without a Trace, Dharma and Greg, Parks & Recreation, and Modern Family, among others.

Andrew Leeds (Josh) plays Cristela's co-worker. While he has mostly worked on stage in performances such as Les Miserables, his television appearances have included Grey's Anatomy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Veep, and Hot in Cleveland. He also has the distinction of being a writer for series pilots, and in fact, three of his pilots have been made by NBC.

Sam McMurray (Trent Culpepper) plays Cristela's supervisor. McMurray also filled the role of boss on the series The King of Queens, but has also appeared in Dinosaurs, Friends, and Freaks and Geeks, among other series. He has also played the role of Herman Munster in the made-for-TV movie The Munsters Scary Little Christmas.

Justine Lupe (Maddie Culpepper) plays Trent's daughter, and Cristela's other co-worker. She previously had a recurring role on Harry's Law, and has also appeared in Southland and Shameless.

Jacob Guenther (Henry) plays the son of Daniela and Felix. The young actor has a recurring role on Mad Men, and appeared on How I Met Your Mother and Sam and Cat, and has also appeared in skits on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Isabella Day (Isabella) plays the daughter of Daniela and Felix. She has done several commercials, and appeared last season on an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Pilot Plot:

"Pilot" – airs Friday, October 3rd, 2014 at 8:31PM ET/PT

In the pilot episode, we get to meet Cristela and her family. Cristela wants to be a lawyer and has been  attending law school off-and-on for years. Natalia, her mother, has other dreams for her: she would like to see her daughter get married and have a big house (but by "big house," she means a big house to work in as a maid). Things are looking up for Cristela, though, as she may be on the verge of landing an unpaid internship at a law firm (a dream at this point in her life)... even if that isn't quite what her mother had in mind for her daughter.

"Soul Mates" – airs Friday, October 10th, 2014 at 8:31PM ET/PT

In this episode, Cristela's family is determined to have her go out on a date, despite her own wishes. They even go so far as to create an online dating profile to find her the perfect soul mate. Determined to do whatever is necessary to have her family leave her alone, she agrees to meet with somebody and go on one of those dates, but she is in for a bit of a surprise when she finds out exactly who her mystery man is.


Analysis:

In what I saw of this series, it wasn't bad, but a big problem that I'm seeing is that it is supposed to be an autobiographical sitcom about somebody who we really don't know. We have seen a lot of this lately, and a lot of it has been marginally successful at best. In a sense, it reminds me of the Margaret Cho sitcom All American Girl that ran almost two decades ago on ABC. It's worth noting that at the time, Cho was also an unknown comedian (she is better known now), and the series even had a similar premise, about a young woman trying to live an American lifestyle against the ethnic traditions of her family. The main difference here (besides the ethnicity) is that Cristela is a more mature woman trying to start a professional career.
 
A positive about this series is that it fills a void that occasionally gets filled on broadcast TV (but never for long): it stars and mostly focuses on Hispanics. There is some stereotypical humor to be found in it, but it isn't overdone and isn't exactly over-the-top, and in that sense, reminds me a bit of the type of ethnic humor found on George Lopez. Of course, it wouldn't be complete if there wasn't at least one character who was a sort of over-the-top stereotype, and that would be the character of her mother, Natalia (Terri Hoyos). Luckily, she is a likeable character, and that makes it all a little bit better. The characters at "work" (or really, the internship), though, are the ones that I'm sort of expecting to see a bit more from as the series progresses.

Admittedly, I wasn't completely impressed with what I saw in the pilot episode, but "Soul Mates" (which airs on October 17th) was a much better episode than the pilot. Part of the problem with pilots in general, of course, is that they have to waste a lot of time building up the premise and introducing us to who each person is and why they are there, and trying to come up with small stories to make everybody fit in. That tether comes off once the show really begins, and the story in the second episode was a nice (though standard) sitcom episode. Between both episodes, I can't say that I laughed a whole lot, but there were certainly some funny moments. It seems, though, that the series is relying a bit more on stronger scripts, and I think that it has that potential, even if it hasn't quite been fully achieved yet. Also, I have to wonder where the series goes after the internship, assuming that it lasts that long... perhaps if the series works out well, she can be hired full-time? Or if not (but the series somehow manages to succeed in spite of that), could that be a good chance for a retooling? That's a bit off in the future, but it does leave some doors open.

Conclusion:

I honestly have to say that this wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting. A lot of what I read going into the pilot was by and large negative, but after watching it, it really wasn't bad. I think a big part of the problem that many people have difficulty with in a series like this (and there have been plenty more with the same issue in the past few seasons) is that it is a semi-autobiographical about a person that nobody knows. I had no idea who Cristela Alonzo was before watching this series, and even after watching it, it is hard to relate the series to who she is and what (if anything) this has to do with her life. This is a giant hurdle that the series is going to have to overcome, because to most people, this series will just be some random series about a Hispanic family. This may be a challenge since ABC has already put it on Friday night, which isn't exactly the "death slot" it was for ABC few years ago (in large part thanks to Shark Tank making people realize that there actually is a Friday night for the networks), but still poses some challenges to the success of a sitcom. It's hard to give a prognosis for this series since Friday is a bit of a wildcard, but I think it'll have plenty of time to prove whether or not it is worth of being a lasting hit.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 3/5
Funniness: 2/5
Overall: 3/5

Discuss the show after you watch it on Friday, October 10 at 8:30PM ET/PT on our message board.

Related Links:

  • ABC.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • Cristela Photo Gallery

    Preview:





  • Life Interrupted

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