How the ‘George Lopez’ show brilliantly captured family life

Imagine this: it is almost midnight on a school night in the mid-2000s, and you can’t fall asleep. You turn on the TV and a bright blue light temporarily blinds you as the distinctive sound of a cowbell fills the room. You lean against your headboard and watch the screen as George Lopez and his fictional TV family jump on a trampoline for War’s “Low Rider,” and you wish you didn’t have to do a mountain of homework the next day. Lopez’s high-pitched catchphrase, “I got it,” replays in your mind as you finally fall asleep.

This was my nighttime routine for nearly two years. Episode after episode of “George Lopez” ― a sitcom most people called “The George Lopez Show” ― kept me company during the loneliest hours of the day. The Lopez family did not reflect my own: while I am Mexican-American, I was raised by a single white mother with two Korean-American sisters. Yet they have become my second family. In George, specifically, I saw the father I never had and so desperately wanted.

I am not alone in this feeling. Between 2002 and 2007, George Lopez became the father of many young children who were reflected in his on-screen children, Carmen (Masiela Lusha) and Max (Luis Armand Garcia). Jessica Marie Garcia, an actress from Netflix’s “On My Block,” was one of those people who saw George as a stand-in for her own father, who was rarely in her life.

“I felt like I could have a dad kind of watching George,” she told HuffPost.

Garcia was 15 when she first saw her family portrayed on screen. Half-Mexican, half-Cuban, Garcia remembers how much her family resembled the Lopezes, especially since her grandmother was living with her at the time.

“I felt like I could have a dad sort of watching George.”

– Jessica Marie Garcia, actress, “On My Block”

“My mom and I laughed and laughed at all the similarities we shared, especially when [Angie]Lopez’s dad would come on the show because he was like my Cuban grandfather,” Garcia said, referring to Lopez’s on-screen wife, played by Constance Marie. “Seeing an entire Latinx family made me feel like I was seen for the first time. Like my family dynamic mattered, like we weren’t the only ones.

For many Latinx viewers, “George Lopez” was the first time they had seen themselves reflected in an American sitcom in a way that didn’t focus on hardship and traumatic pornography. And for five full seasons they had an almost entirely Latinx cast, something almost unheard of even by today’s standards. As a co-creator, writer, producer, and star, Lopez leveraged his power to make room for Latinx actors to tell Latin-centric stories. And the show’s legacy lives on: you can still watch reruns on cable TV and stream the full six seasons on various platforms nearly 20 years later.

A promotional image of “George Lopez” on ABC.

While there had been other sitcoms that focused on Latin family units before 2002, “George Lopez” cemented itself in Hollywood history with its clever comedy and authentic take on family and of life. In fact, you could say that “George Lopez” was the start of a long succession of sitcoms written by and for the Latin community – like “One Day at a Time”, “Gentefied”, “Mr. Iglesias”, and soon “Lopez against Lopez”, the new series of the humorist featuring his daughter, Mayan. “Lopez vs. Lopez” is slated to air in late 2022.

Some loyal viewers, like author and editor Lauren Davila, say the show opened the doors to other diverse television comedies like “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.” Growing up in a Mexican-American family, Davila remembers “George Lopez” as a big part of her childhood.

“I looked at the [show] with my mother and my sister as reruns most often [during] early in the morning or late at night,” she said. “There was a level of comfort in seeing this complex, flawed family on television that reminded me in many ways of the people I know and grew up with.”

Davila acknowledged that she fondly remembered the show through the lens of childhood nostalgia and never viewed it with a rigorously critical eye. Still, she believes it “proved to the TV industry that audiences demand representative media at all levels,” especially as the show depicts the home life of a working-class, multi-generational family. and managed to succeed in prime time.

“I think it was really nice to see a family that showed all the different ranges of what a Latinx family can look like,” she said.

Writer Sandra Proudman has been a fan of “George Lopez” since she was a teenager in the early 2000s.

“There really wasn’t any other Latinx show outside of the Spanish speaking networks [at the time]”, she told HuffPost. “I grew up watching telenovelas with my mom and sister, so seeing a Latinx show on an English-language network, well, it made me feel like we also had a seat at the table in the United States… It felt like home.”

For Proudman, “George Lopez” was groundbreaking in that he embodied genuine Latinx in the roles. Some shows have been criticized for casting white actors as Latinx characters. For example, Netflix’s “On My Block” featured a white actor – who had previously tweeted in support of Donald Trump’s policies – as a young Latina whose parents were deported. Alex Nuñez, an infamous Latino character from “Degrassi: The Next Generation”, was played by Italian-Canadian actress Deanna Casaluce. Even Ofelia Salazar, a “Fear the Walking Dead” character who is the daughter of a Salvadoran immigrant, was played by Persian-Swedish actor Mercedes Mason. The only non-Latinx cast member on Lopez’s show was Lusha, who is Albanian.

“It was a time when the actors were still mostly white, so having a show where the characters spoke English, told Latinx jokes, and where the actors were [almost] all brown, it was something that was invaluable,” Proudman said. “At the time, I may not have realized how much, but looking back now, it was something that was so rare and special. Even today.”

“I think it was really nice to see a family that showed all the different ranges of what a Latinx family can look like.”

– Lauren Davila, author and editor

It’s the jokes in particular — jokes about hard-to-please abuelitas, hallucinogenic mezcal worms, George’s massive head — that connected Garcia, Davila, Proudman, and so many other Latinx viewers to “George Lopez.”

“I think that’s one thing the ‘George Lopez Show’ did differently and so well was that it didn’t make Latinx the punchline,” Proudman said. “We were fully into the jokes, and they were written to offer we laugh, not be a source of laughter for a non-Latinx audience.

The success of “George Lopez” made Lopez himself the first Latino to lead his own television series in syndication – when a program is broadcast on a network different from that for which it was initially created, an achievement which generally requires a minimum of 100 episodes. But the show’s ratings didn’t hold up after ABC changed its timeslot to compete with the mega-popular”American Idol.” The show was ultimately, and in Lopez’s words “unceremoniously”, canceled.

Today, it seems the networks still haven’t found the value in supporting Latin-focused productions. The past few years have seen a string of painful cancellations, including “Diary of a Future President,” “Mr. Iglesias,” “Gentefied,” and “One Day at a Time,” to name a few. Currently there is more latin shows on network tv, and those on streaming services are often canceled after just one season. (RIP, “The Baker and the Beauty” and “Chronicles of Gordita”.) With over 18% of the US population identifying as Hispanic or Latino seems like a major disservice to a massively underappreciated market. In fact, as of 2019, Latinx actors only accounted for 6.6% of leads on scripted TV shows aired. As Proudman notes, “No show can be a monolith for such a diverse group, so the more the better.”

Garcia, who is deeply embroiled in behind-the-scenes Hollywood events, wants her industry to show Latina viewers that their family dynamics matter, too.

“Our shows can highlight the love we have for each other as well as our dysfunction,” Garcia said. “That we can laugh at ourselves and argue but still come back together in the end. That after years of only watching white family shows, we can finally get our happy ending after 23 minutes as well.

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