June 15, 2024

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Fall in Love With the Morales Family in Netflix’s Hip Comedy

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First there was “Broad City,” then there was “High Maintenance” and “Insecure.” Thanks to the age of web series, peak TV has been able to anoint some of its most inventive creators, especially underrepresented or unknown ones who otherwise may have had trouble getting into a a pitch room, much less getting the green light. Now, we have one more gift to the thank the web series for: “Gentefied.” Funny, incisive, and oozing with homegrown charm, “Gentefied” is exactly the kind of TV we need right now. Netflix’s latest half-hour comedy is bilingual, bold, and braced to tackle painful issues with wit and nuance.

Created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, “Gentefied” was ushered to the Netflix screen with the help of executive producer America Ferrera, who has a small cameo as a housing lawyer. Ferrera has been involved since the show’s digital days, and right from the jump, it’s easy to see why the “Ugly Betty” star invested in Lemus and Chávez’s vision. Gentrification isn’t just a buzz word for these characters, or for their creators. It’s a very real issue that affects their lives in myriad ways, threatening to tear communities, neighborhoods, and even families apart. That Lemus and Chávez managed to infuse that very real struggle with so much humor and warmth — while also representing Mexican-American identity in a way few TV shows have been given the space to do — is what makes “Gentefied” so special.

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The key players in the 10-episode series are the four main members of the Morales family, who live and work in the rapidly changing East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The beating heart of the family is Casimiro — Abuelo to the kids, Pops to everyone else — played by venerated Mexican actor Joaquín Cosio. In Cosio’s hands, it’s easy to see why everyone loves Pops, even if he can be stubborn as a mule. Portly and jovial, he radiates a warmth and soulfulness befitting a beloved Abuelo. Cosio is downright adorable in the role; which is made doubly heartening by the thrill of seeing him play something other than a Bond villain or drug lord.

Pops generously houses his two grandsons, Chris (Carlos Santos) and Erik (Joseph Julian Soria), who represent the neighborhood’s shifting identities via two comically opposed archetypes. Chris gets called a gringo by the “real Mexicans” at his fancy restaurant job, where he happily ass-kisses his racist white chef in the hopes of someday working in a Michelin-rated kitchen. Meanwhile, Erik slaves away helping Pops with the family business, Mama Fina’s taco shop, Boyle Heights’ finest and a gathering place for all the locals. Erik resents Chris’ privilege — or is it his ambition? — and Chris is tired of having to prove his Mexican-ness to his hotheaded cousin. Orbiting this dick-swinging contest is Ana (Karrie Martin), a queer artist who must play family peacekeeper, while good-naturedly ribbing her cousins about their “toxic masculinity.”

With developers encroaching every inch of real estate (even the ones from the neighborhood), Mama Fina’s is struggling to keep up with rising rents. As the culinary whiz, Chris has all sorts of ideas for how to drum up business, like tikka masala tacos and charging for chips, but he’s oblivious to what such changes may represent in the grander scheme. While Erik and Pops are initially resistant, eventually they come around; they’ll try anything to save the shop.

The family drama and central characters are compelling enough, but “Gentefied” really struts its stuff in two bottle episodes. These standalone episodes are a remnant of the web series, which told each episode through the eyes of seven different characters. From a mariachi player sleeping in a van with his son to Ana’s garment worker mother who has to hold her bladder until the next bathroom break, the bottle episodes have the twin effect of expanding the show’s world while allowing the space to explore heftier topics. It’s a lot to pull off in a comedy while also staying focused on the central storyline, but “Gentefied” passes with flying colors.

Grade: B+

“Gentefied” Season 1 premiered Friday, February 21 on Netflix. Check out IndieWire’s interview with the creative team below. 

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