BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- The night before a recent screening of the new Fox animated TV series "Bordertown," nationally syndicated political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz and I bellied up to the rail at a Detroit bar and our eyes instantly fell on the same thing: The band that night was the Skeeto Valdez Experience.
This is what it's like being different -- you go someplace new and your eyes naturally gravitate toward what looks most familiar. And it's exhilarating and delightful to see something that's a little part of you in a place that's clearly designed for the masses.
This is exactly the feeling that I, and an auditorium of Wayne State University undergrads, experienced during the viewing of "Bordertown," which premieres Jan. 3 following "Family Guy."
After watching two episodes, our reactions were unanimous: We loved it. Full of quick-hit sight gags, knowing asides and the ridiculous, "Bordertown" is un-self-consciously funny -- and not tone-deaf and offensive as some feared when the project was first announced.
Many Latinos were worried when the network said that a new comedy based on the usually not-hilarious struggles of border communities was being created and produced by Mark Hentemann and Seth MacFarlane, respectively. The duo are behind the very politically incorrect and sometimes downright offensive series "Family Guy" (full disclosure: I adore "Family Guy").
But the show quickly added on two of the brightest lights in comedy based on the Latino experience -- Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano of "Ask a Mexican!" fame -- and Valentina L. Garza as a supervising producer, upping the probability that it would actually be funny and enjoyable to both non-Hispanic audiences and Latinos.
"Bordertown" is about the Buckwalds and the Gonzalezes. Bud Buckwald, voiced by Hank Azaria from "The Simpsons," is a married father of three and a Border Patrol agent who's feeling slightly threatened by the, ahem, demographic changes in his neighborhood.
After watching just two episodes, I had several pages of notes about things that stuck out as being thoughtful, super-subtle (and therefore all the more priceless to those who "got" the joke) and just plain crazy and funny.
My favorite moment was a scene -- after which a giant border wall with Mexico had been constructed and subsequently sidestepped -- in which Ernesto Gonzalez was railing against undocumented newcomers moving in and taking their landscaping jobs. All of a sudden, there's a "ding" and he says, "Hey, I just became a true American!"
What I found most wonderful about the backstory to this bit is that Alcaraz isn't completely sure who wrote it. He explained that every writer on the show was on equal footing -- there wasn't an expectation that the Hispanics would write the Hispanic jokes and the other writers would do the rest; it was a true collaboration.
That standard was, Alcaraz told the audience, set by lead writer Hentemann, who wanted a show that wouldn't pull any punches but, above all, would be authentic and hilarious.
Success on both counts.
"The reaction has been very, very positive," said Alcaraz, who spoke to me last week at the tail end of a whirlwind promotional tour across the country. "And my favorite reaction is when people say 'This is not what you expect it is.' After they see it, all the negative expectations go out the window. It's edgy and has that 'I can't believe they let them put that joke on TV' feel.
"I still can't believe they let us put political satire that addresses immigration on TV. To me, it's revolutionary because cartoons can help to show so much reality, can show things more truthfully, as they are, and it feels good to have that as part of a show that also has bathroom humor. There's something for everyone in this show."
It's true -- based on what I've seen, this is definitely not a "Latino show" or, worse, a bummer "immigration issue" show. It's really about friendship, the melding of cultures, our own insecurities and gaffes, and, of course, equal opportunity insults. Don't miss it.
Esther J. Cepeda is a Nationally Syndicated Columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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