ABC’s ‘Black-ish,’ ‘Cristela, ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ a win for racial diversity in television comedy?

By | May 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm | 15 comments | feature slider, Opinion, TV/Movies | Tags: , , , , , , ,

cristina AlonzoABC programming chief Paul Lee gave people a taste of the network’s diverse slate of comedies for the 2014-15 season at its upfront presentation to advertisers. It showed off comedies starring black actors, hispanic females and a chubby Thai kid that saves ABC from any accusations of lacking racial diversity. Cristela is the much talked-about ABC project from comedian Cristela Alonzo. The show brings Alonzo’s humor about Hispanic family life to network television. The comedian plays herself as a woman dragging herself through law school part-time while she lives with her Mexican-American family. Cristela also stars stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias and, of course, features an overbearing but loving Mexican mother (played by Terri Hoyos).

Anthony Anderson’s Black-ish, executive produced by and featuring Lawrence Fishburne, centers around Anderson’s financially successful character Andre Johnson whose family lives in an upper-class predominantly white neighborhood. He fears that his family is losing ties to its heritage and attempts to teach his kids about their culture while his old school father sits back and makes snide comments. Seriously, a “bro-mitzvah?”

Recurring segment host on Vice and chef personality Eddie Huang turned his bestselling memoir Fresh Off the Boat into a sitcom with some promise for ABC. Borrowing from the Chris Rock childhood flashback comedy Everybody Hates Chris and the just-renewed The Goldbergs (also on ABC), Huang narrates the series about his early 90s childhood when his American-loving father uproots his family to open a cowboy-themed steakhouse in Orlando, FL. The rest of his family, including the stand-out comic relief mother played by Constance Wu, is less than excited about the culture clash that occurs. Huang attempts to show what it’s like trying to assimilate and survive recess.

Manhattan Love Story follows a budding new relationship of a romantic New York City transplant (Analeigh Tipton) and a seasoned womanizing player (Jake McDorman) after they’re set up on a blind date. The romantic comedy utilizes dual inner monologues throughout, emphasizing what we’re all thinking when trying to impress someone of the desired sex.

Also on the ABC comedy slate is the medieval fallen-hero musical comedy Galavant. Think Glee with original songs, swords and castles.

ABC’s attempt to showcase diversity, judging by these trailers, tackles race not by eliminating it but by highlighting it. These new sitcoms appear to emphasize why we’re different rather than integrating various cultures to show how we’re all kind of the same. Sadly, this extreme route will be packed with well-written set-up/punch line jokes but could potentially fall short of the larger goal. Sure, now they have an Asian family show and a Hispanic leading woman, but at the expense of loudly reminding us, “Hey! Look! Diversity!” Even the titles of Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat humorously remind us, “Don’t forget. This show’s about mainstreaming race.” Of course, most of this is based off of three-minute trailers and it’s possible that these shows subtlety normalize diversity the way Modern Family has.

A potential example of how to integrate diversity without focusing on it is Selfie from creator Emily Kapnek. Seflie stars Karen Gillan as a self-obsessed twentysomething who accidentally ends up with an insane amount of social media followers after an embarrassing viral video goes wild. She enlists the help of John Cho (Harold & Kumar trilogy) to “transform this vapid, social media-obsessed narcissist into a woman of stature.” The show’s first-look features an Asian co-star and shows viewers different genders, skin colors and walks of life without presenting any caricatures. Yes, we all come from different backgrounds but there’s no need to obsess on it. Bill Cosby made the excellent point that if “a black comedian goes on stage and doesn’t talk about race,” he might have changed the world. Let’s hope that ABC hasn’t fallen into a trap full of stereotypes.

Check out Selfie‘s trailer below.

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About the Author

Billy Procida

Billy is a stand-up comedian in New York City. Every week he sits down with former lovers and special guests to talk about sex, dating, sexuality & gender on The Manwhore Podcast: A Sex-Positive Quest for Love. Follow Billy on Twitter: @TheBillyProcida

  • Arnie Fickel

    Forcing race down everyone’s throat just divides america and advances the stereotypes we as a nation seek to erase.

    • Jiggahmy Ninja

      You’re not forced to watch it, so it’s not quite shoving it down anyone’s throat. Also, if you don’t seek diversity, you can watch Fox News, USA network, MTV, NBC, or CMT. And by your logic, since most channels and shows are not diverse, cable tv is really shoving white America down everyone else’s throat.

      Hopefully you’ve watched them, but if not, you’ve probably not realized that the characters on each show are also relatable to people of other races. I can identify with Eddie’s mom on Fresh Off the Boat, with Dre’s son on Black-ish and with Cristela on her show. (These names probably mean nothing to you because you haven’t watched those shows.)

      • Arnie Fickel

        suck it you race baiter

        • Jiggahmy Ninja

          Says the racist. Go back to your cottage in West Virginia.

          Here’s a fun fact: Racists have low IQ’s. You, being a racist, have a low IQ.

  • Stepping On Shadows

    About Cristela:

    I really like how this show portrays White people as low IQ racists. It’s fun seeing White people of power ridicule the poor little Hispanic girl and always assume she’s a janitor or an illegal.

    No, wait, it’s not fun. It’s disgusting. This show is ant-White racist garbage.

    Did this show actually use the term “INS” instead of “ICE”? Who wrote this terrible show?

  • jay

    I get what the author is saying. I hate it when comedians use their race as a gimmick. But Selfie is definitely NOT a win for racial diversity. Just cuz Harold is the co-star? The entire show is narrated by a white woman. Cristela just looks like a terrible show, nothing to do with it being gimmicky. The unfortunate thing is, is that no matter how much you try to make a show about a Latino family just a normal ass show…….ABC and the World is gonna look at as “The Sitcom about Mexicans” or “The new George Lopez”.

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  • blue-upp

    It sounds a lot like you’re saying “the best way to have diversity on television is to only have POC as side characters,” which is not that new an idea at all. Don’t try and hide your distaste for shows that focus on nonwhite families behind not liking “forced” diversity. This article reeks of privilege.

    • dylan

      wow, way to read something negative into something overtly positive. the point of the analysis is the more we segregate races — here’s an Asian comedy! and here’s a gay comedy! and here’s a Latin comedy! — the more we reinforce the idea that we should all be kept away from each other. in no way does this piece imply that POC actors should only play side characters. the piece is saying POC actors should play lead roles, side roles, whatever. and white actors should play side roles and lead roles. everyone should be organically integrated to better reflect real life.

      • Noah Odabashian

        I see the point you are making in your response, but Billy Procida makes his point clear in the last two sentences of this article. Here is a break down:

        1) Networks are really committing to diversity!
        2) Here are some examples of the diverse shows coming up
        3) These shows focus too much on racial diversity, and Bill Cosby said it’d be more impactful not to bring it up. Subtext (And I as a white guy, feel more comfortable with that)

        What most white people don’t understand, and what Cosby’s millions and womanizing have helped him forget, is that for those of us who deal with race and racism no matter how much we try to avoid it, talking about our experience helps.

        Just because I’m latino, or Anthony Anderson is black, or Eddie Huang asian, doesn’t mean white people are evil. To every Bill Cosby there is a Dick Gregory, to every Martin there’s a Malcolm. Just please be wise enough to see who the main stream embraces.

        We get it, white people, you’re more comfortable when we don’t talk about race. Why though?

        • lilkunta

          noah, why do you have to bring up cosby’s womansising ? his personal behaviour is his wife’s business. it has no bearing on his great comedy, his great television show, and the charity he does which has put so many men through school.

          you are named after a great man, noah that G d so trusted.
          try to be like him

          • Noah Odabashian

            First of all, Noah became a drunk and was kind of a dick when his kids struggled to cope with that reality.

            Second of all, you read through all that and your takeaway is that I shouldn’t have mentioned Cosby’s womanizing? Your defense of patriarchy is abhorrent.

            However, I mentioned it because the two things I think of after his comedy are his riches and his treatment of women. Both things, wealth and sex, can become escapes that help people deny realities, in this case the reality of how most of us deal with race and racism. So while I agree with much of what Cosby has said, in this area (the one that the author of this article used to further his point) I believe Cosby to be out of touch.

            Noah was trying to save the world and God’s kingdom. I have tried to point out your patriarchal approach to what you saw in my post so that maybe you’d realize you were defending actions that hurt not just Cosby’s wife but the women he burns (I’m sure not everyone he sees gets hurt but I am sure there are some who do). I also brought it up in the context of disagreeing with the author’s opinion that by ignoring race we make the world better.

            I think if we confront things like Patriarchy and Racism than we do the world a service and leave it better than we found it. So, in a way, I am being exactly like Noah.

            But it’s dumbasses like you who make me want a drink. Know what you’re referencing, ya dummy.

          • Michelle Kirkwood

            For real—you made a good point—people kill me acting like racism is just something that’s is going to go away if you jsut ignore it, like swatting a fly with a fly swatter—that is not even the case, and it has NEVER gone away because people ignore it—it’s dealt with when people have actually confronted it. Pepole who say that have obviously never really even had to deal with racism in the first place. What’s cool about these shows is that they are being made, written or produced by the people in question, meaning they will probably be more realistic and funnier about the different cultures–especially to people who are part of these cultures. I’m looking forward to them because I’m tired of seeing sitcoms only about white people, as if only white people have interesting stories to tell, which isn’t even true.

          • Michelle Kirkwood

            Sorry, but it became everybody’s business when some of those women sued him for allegedly having drugged and assaulted them under the influence–it ceased to be just his and his spouse’s business then.

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