[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all “These are reviews.” If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: “Cristela” (ABC)
The Pitch: “Cristela Alonzo is fairly popular with a certain audience and if you just schedule it on Friday after 'Last Man Standing,' nobody will even notice if it fails. Remember 'Malibu Country'?” “Huh?” “Exactly.”
Quick Response: There isn't much to say here beyond a repetition of what I already wrote about “Mulaney” and “The McCarthys.” In person at TCA press tour, Cristela Alonzo was smart, funny and her energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Her stories about her upbringing and her early days in comedy were amusing and entertaining. However, in the context of the pilot she co-created with Kevin Hench, Alonzo isn't exactly sure how to capture that energy and enthusiasm on camera. Multi-cam probably is a good choice for “Cristela,” because Alonzo's style isn't small. She's very expressive and periodically loud and you can understand why she'd want the approval of an audience over the potential sterility of a single-cam. But there's a certain amount of “waiting for that approval” in the pilot that's off-putting and that prevents the show from ever finding its rhythm. You sense that Alonzo is so proud to be making the on-point observations about race and first-generation immigrant culture that she wasn't able to A) Make those jokes funny enough or B) Make those jokes in the context of in-scene flow. So Cristela goes into a law firm for an interview and she faces an assortment of racist and xenophobic behavior, some intentionally levied and some just casually ignorant and in each case, she practically turns to the camera with a, “See what I have to go through?” note of exasperation before continuing. There are jokes that Alonzo is able to make that nobody else on network TV can do, but she almost always settles for the superficial versions of the jokes, rather than digging any deeper, but still pauses for pride anyway. Of course, there's a blurring between Alonzo's trying-too-hard attitude and Fictional Cristela's trying-too-hard attempts to make a success of herself, but there's a learning curve she'll have to go through to figure out how to keep the character within the world of the show, not forcing things from the outside. Unfortunately, several other characters also grind the show to a halt. It's the pilot and already Gabriel Iglesias has to pause for audience applause when he enters and perhaps excessive adulation to his various jokes. I get that Iglesias has his own devotees, but the show has to flow. Cristela's on-screen mother, with her endless stories about her “village,” has already become one-note within 20 minutes, so something more needs to happen there. In fact, all of the supporting characters need more flesh, with the possible exception of Carlos Ponce's Felix, if only because Ponce seems very comfortable with the format.
Desire To Watch Again: Cristela Alonzo bought “Cristela” another episode or two with her superior self-promotion at TCA press tour. This isn't a very good pilot, but she gave me hope that she could someday be a part of a good show. So let's see how this progresses, at least a little.
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