October 18, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Cristela”


CRISTELA:  Friday 8:30PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on CRISTELA:  Law student Cristela (series co-creator Cristela Alonzo) works as an intern at a firm run by partner Trent Culpepper (Sam McMurray), alongside his bubbleheaded (blonde) daughter Maddie (Justine Lupe) and nice-guy Josh (Andrew Leeds).  Meanwhile, to make ends meet, Cristela lives at home with her meddling mother Natalia (Terri Hoyos) and sister Daniela (Maria Canals Barrera), her dour brother-in-law Felix (Carlos Ponce)–and flirty next-door neighbor Alberto (recurring guest star Gabriel Iglesias).

Episode 2:  Cristela felt a lot less distinctive the second time around, with an episode that, other than the cast’s accents, could have passed for many another single-girl, multi-camera sitcom of the last 20 years.  Written by Alonzo and Consulting Producer Kevin Abbott, and directed by Gerry Cohen, it had Daniela enter Cristela onto an online dating site, about which Cristela was initially dubious, but soon became enthusiastic once a guy who used a photo of a dog in a suit as his avatar appeared to be her soulmate, which prompted her to desert Josh in the office so she could go on a date.  It was hard to tell which was the more alarmingly hacky touch, Natalia hearing the word “lifestyle” and instantly deciding her daughter was a lesbian (and then instantly offering to buy her golf clubs), or the reveal that the guy on the other end of the dating site was actually Alberto.  In any case, she was soon back across the desk from Josh, presumably to go on for some time not to realize that he’s her true love.

Alonzo herself continues to be a strong, likable lead, and the rest of the cast is fine.  The episode’s writing, though, featured one obvious punch-line after another, and even on its own terms, it abandoned consistency for contrivance, as Alberto, previously presented as an amiable lout, was suddenly able to hook the supposedly savvy Cristela with his online dialogue.  (Since the show has no interest in actually featuring Alberto as a romantic interest for Cristela, it got rid of him quickly once the date began by having him declare he would never want his wife to work.)  Cristela’s mother, on the other hand, is all too consistent, delivering exactly the same kind of joke every time she opens her mouth in a way that’s already becoming tired.

The pilot for Cristela suggested a new angle on familiar sitcom territory, not just because the family at its center was Mexican-American, but due to its smart take on the old story about a spirited young woman with crazy relatives and heady ambitions.  This episode was disappointingly flat and conventional, but with Alonzo at the center of its creative vision, one can hope that the quality of the pilot is just temporarily in hiding.  The show debuted fairly well in the ratings by Friday night standards, holding its Last Man Standing lead-in (sadly) far better than The Neighbors ever did, so Cristela should have time to prove it can be the show its pilot seemed to promise.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."