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COUNTERPUNCH

'Lopez' Family Dynamics Not True to Life

April 15, 2002|VIC CABRERA

You always have to root for the homeboy. So on Wednesday, March 27, I made sure to be home by 8:30 p.m. The premiere of "The George Lopez Show" was a "must-see TV" event for me. Even though I don't know Lopez personally, I have friends and do business with Latinos who have similar backgrounds to his, living half in the Latino world and half in the non-Latino world. Their perspective on the "situation" is generally light and often funny, so I was ready to laugh.

I got home about 8:15 and my wife was watching "American Family" on PBS, so I was relegated to the little TV in the kitchen. Here we were, watching two "Latino-themed" programs--and with "Resurrection Boulevard" coming on at 10 p.m. on Showtime, I realized we had made some progress. Three television shows about three Latino families. We have Wednesday night. Perhaps we should call it "Must Si TV."

I really liked the opening of "The George Lopez Show." The characters flying in and out of frame to the beat of a snappy theme makes a good background for credits. At this point, I did not know that the credits would end up being my favorite part.

Like any other profession, comedy writing has certain rules. One of them is, "You've got to have likable characters." That doesn't mean your characters can't have flaws or make mistakes, but by the end of the episode the audience has to be at peace with those people.

Take Ray's mother on "Everybody Loves Raymond." No matter how annoying she is, there is always at least one moment in each episode where she is "human" and compassionate. We know that if push came to shove, she would gladly give up her life for those boys and those grandkids ... although maybe not for the daughter-in-law. On the other hand, in "The George Lopez Show," his mother is a bitter, angry woman who constantly puts him down. Whether alone or in front of others, she doesn't show one iota of compassion. I would not invite this woman into my home for five minutes, never mind a half-hour.

I've had friends who have messed up their whole lives and done really, really stupid things. Yet their mothers always believed they were basically good, misunderstood and innocent of whatever crime they may have committed. George is a hard-working family man. Why is his mother so angry?

Not likable. Not funny.

But even more important than that is the No. 1 rule of comedy writing: "You must be honest." Without that, this one rule, by itself, can destroy the best-laid story plans. Your characters have to be honest and your situations have to be true. The family dynamics, and especially the Latino family dynamics, depicted on "The George Lopez Show" are not honest.

Being the father of two daughters, ages 16 and 20, I was surprised at the lack of insight into family life displayed by the writing in the pilot. George's 13-year-old daughter refuses to wear a bathing suit and the parents jump to the conclusion that she must have started her first menstrual cycle. The mother is excited because her "baby has become a woman." Wrong. Then she wants to call their friends and announce this "event." Wrong. Wrong. The daughter storms off and the wife sends George to find out what other personal problem it could be. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The Latina mothers I know are more apt to break down in tears because their baby was becoming a woman or deny the event has even taken place. And as for who would investigate further: In my house, I would be banished to the TV room and my wife would cordon off the perimeter around my daughter until the problem was revealed, researched and remedied.

But on the show, the daughter refuses to discuss her problem with George for about 10 seconds. Then she tells him that her concern is unsightly hair.

Oh my gosh. I don't want to sit through this. I don't want to know when my daughter shaves, and I certainly don't want to know when George's TV daughter shaves. Where's her mother?

I'm sorry to say the second episode was not much better. And the third episode's main story line revolved around the fact that George's mother had never encouraged him to have any aspirations in life. "That way you'll never be disappointed." Wow.

Nevertheless, I hope "The George Lopez Show" finds its way--for two reasons. First, if it fails, "they" will surely say, "Latino sitcoms just don't work," when in fact all we know for certain is that they broke the first rule of comedy writing. Second, no matter what, you always have to root for the homeboy.

*

Vic Cabrera is a playwright and screenwriter and works in news production at an L.A.TV station.

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