The new Fox adult animated sitcom, Bordertown, is pulling down criticism and praise. It deserves a generous helping of both.
Set in the mythical town of Mexifornia, located on the U.S.-Mexico border, the series—which airs Sundays at 8:30 pm—deals with the interplay between two families. The Buchwalds and the Gonzalezes reside next door to one another. But, as we soon see, they live a world apart.
Starting with heads of households. Bud Buchwald is a border patrol agent, and Ernesto Gonzalez is a Mexican immigrant. Bud’s daughter, Becky, is dating Ernesto’s nephew, “JC”—an Americanized abbreviation of Juan Carlos. And voters have approved an anti-immigrant, “show-me-your-papers” ordinance because, as Bud puts it: “It’s about time we did something about immigration. The Southwest belongs to meth lab entrepreneurs and retired art teachers.”
You might want to take a look at the deed to that property, Bud. The Southwest once belonged to Mexico and Mexican immigrants are reclaiming it—one hardscrabble success story at a time.
Delivering funny gags and clever dialogue with the subtlety of an Obama immigration raid, the series—which was created by Family Guy writer Mark Hentemann and executive-produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane—is already generating plenty of buzz in the Latino community. In fact, people were talking about this show months before the first episode aired.
Part of the reason for the high level of interest is that while Latinos—particularly those in my parents’ generation, which grew up in the 1940s—are always on the lookout for television programming featuring Latino characters and familiar cultural themes, actual sightings are rare. And once a show airs and gets cancelled, there is often a significant lag-time before networks are game enough to take another bite out of the tamale.
That’s how they do in Hollywood, right? You could have 100 white males strike out with crappy programs, and they’re right back in the director’s chair before lunch. You won’t hear top studio executives talking about taking a decade-long sabbatical from doing other projects by white males.
But that’s the game they run on Latinos.
In 1984, AKA Pablo—produced by Norman Lear, and starring a young comic named Paul Rodriguez—premiered on ABC. It was canceled after six episodes, after weeks of taking fire from Latino activists for reinforcing stereotypes.
In 2002, George Lopez—produced by Sandra Bullock and starring comedian George Lopez—had its debut on ABC in 2002 and ran for five seasons before being cancelled in 2007. It’s now in syndication.
In 2014, ABC put forth its third Latino comedy with Cristela, created by and featuring comic Cristela Alonso, who became the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in a primetime comedy. The show was cancelled after one season.
And finally, this fall, NBC launched Telenovela—starring Eva Longoria, who is also an executive producer on the television comedy. The network originally ordered 13 episodes but later cut back its request to just 11 episodes.
With that track record, you would think that the arrival of Bordertown—which Fox billed as taking “a satirical look at the cultural shifts occurring throughout America”—in the primetime line-up of a major network would be warmly received by Latinos.
But if you believe that, your knowledge of my peeps is a taco short of a combination plate. We’re O.P.—original pessimists. Give us a silver lining, and we’ll find a cloud.
Sure enough. Within minutes of the closing credits, there were grumblings and barbs floating about on social media—including many from Latinos. Critics said the show was low-brow, crass, embarrassing, and juvenile. Some proclaimed it simply terrible, a silly show that promotes ugly cultural stereotypes and gives white people license to laugh at us.
And those were some of the nicer comments.
Clearly, like other offerings from Seth MacFarlane, this show won’t be everyone’s cup of tequila. I figured that out when Becky turned to J.C. and said: “I want you to put a baby in me so I can fight for the right to legally abort it.” Or when Bryce, a janitor at the Border Patrol station, was abducted by aliens in a spaceship looking for a “cheap anal probe.”
While the show is on, maybe you should leave your 68-year-old abuela in the other room. No, not you, Mrs. Clinton.
But c’mon, folks. Not everything on television has to be Downton Abbey. There must certainly be room on the creative spectrum for a show like Bordertown which tackles sensitive subjects like immigration, assimilation, language, culture and race relations with a mix of humor and irreverence.
Having come to grips with the fact that the immigrant neighbor he looks down on is actually more successful than he is, Bud speaks for millions of Americans struggling with a rapidly changing world when he turns to his wife and says: “I just don’t know where a guy like me fits in anymore…”
And you can’t help but chuckle when Ernesto asks a Mexican-American Border Patrol agent who insists he doesn’t speak Spanish: “How are your parents, Francisco and Consuela?” And indignantly, he responds: “Frank and Connie are fine!”
Another thing that helps shape how Latinos are reacting to Bordertown is the fact that the project involves several Latino writers and producers. They include journalist Gustavo Arellano, who serves as a consultant, and cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, who serves as consulting producer.
Here’s something you might have noticed: Latinos don’t often pat each other on the back—unless they’re looking for a soft spot to stick the knife. Need I make here the obvious reference to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? Ethnic loyalty is overrated.
For those who would like to break that pattern and be supportive of a couple of Latinos who done good, Bordertown gives them the opportunity. Those who don’t have anything nice to say could take their mother’s advice and say nothing.
So Latinos who didn’t like the show have a problem: Should they be supportive by holding their tongues, or say their piece even if it makes them seem like just another crab in a bucket?
Finally, there’s the soul-searching that always accompanies the arrival of shows like this: Should Latinos be grateful to Fox for being brave enough to wade into these waters, or trash the offering and demand better programming?
If activists choose the latter, they could wind up with nothing. There are no entitlements in this game. Hollywood doesn’t owe us a thing, and no one said that being able to see our experiences reflected on television was our birthright.
In spite of everything, some Latinos will still be critical of Bordertown.
But, I have to ask: What are they afraid of? Does anyone really fear that the rest of America will watch a show like this and come away thinking that this animated series is really a documentary, that all Latinos are really like this?
If that’s true, then we have much bigger problems than what’s on television.