The non-CBS laugh-tracked multi-cam sitcom might not be having the comeback many had hoped for (sorry, Mulaney), but tonight’s premiere of ABC’s Cristela is certainly a good argument for the format.
At its core, the series is traditional family comedy, set in a Cowboys-loving Texas household. The Hispanic family is made up of the three generations, trading quips in English and, occasionally, in Spanish. Luckily, it’s pretty funny in both languages. The show’s star quip-trader is Cristela, played by the talented comic Cristela Alonzo. She’s magnetic, and a lot of the show’s charms come directly from her strengths as a performer.
The fictional Cristela, on the other hand, is a little less confident: She’s an unpaid law-firm intern with a rickety career path that’s constantly challenged by her circumstances, and by her mother. “Someone could have become a doctor two times in the time it you to not become a lawyer,” Cristela’s mom (Terri Hoyos) tells her. Its a clever-enough one-liner, and Cristela (the show) is full of such gems. As you might expect, some are hammier than others, but for the most part, the jokes are solid enough to keep viewers hanging around during a commercial break.
It’s when Cristela gets to the office that things get really good. Her family’s impatience with her chosen profession has created a need to excel at work, and since she’s a Hispanic woman interning at a very white law firm, her workday entails more than what’s in the job description — something like a middle-class Black-ish. When the boss’ daughter struts through the office and notices Cristela, she asks her a question: If she can get her parking validated. (That’s after she assumes Cristela is the cleaning lady.) Cristela’s response? “I think you’ve been validated enough.” When chatting with a white fellow intern and potential love interest (Andrew Leeds), Cristela reveals “My big sister… she’s probably going to throw me out of the house.” Responds the colleague: “My big sister just bought me this messenger bag!”
The twist with Cristela is that on top of its traditional sitcom format, it often has something to say. For the most part, though, the premiere relies on old TV-comedy standards, full of funny-enough rejoinders that might work (and have worked before) without the context. Fortunately, Cristela Alonzo delivers them with enough winning gusto to merit a weekly visit.