A conventional situation comedy living unconventionally on premium channel HBO Max, Gordita Chronicles is as charming as it is often obvious; in fact, one could say that its obviousness is part of its charm. This is a classic family comedy – with some key differences – funny and engaging and sometimes moving. (I got a little teary-eyed anyway.)
Created by Claudia Forestieri (“Selena: The Series”), of Dominican-Italian descent, like her heroine, with Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz (“One Day at a Time”, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, “People of Earth”) as the Showrunner is a network-style memorabilia narrated from the future, like The Wonder Years (old and new), Fresh Off the Boat, Everyone Hates Chris, or The Goldbergs (it shares the latter colorful milieu the 1980s).
Olivia Goncalves plays 12-year-old “Cucu” Castelli, the eponymous “Gordita,” which translates here as “little chubby” and is a term of endearment back in the Dominican Republic. Cucu’s family of four moves to Miami when father Victor (Juan Javier Cardenas) is hired as a marketing director for an airline looking to expand its Latin American market. Mother Adela (Diana Maria Riva) is looking forward to a new life and a house with a pool; Fashionably skinny older sister Emilia (Savannah Nicole Ruiz) is glad she goes to a school that isn’t run by nuns. Each family member gets individual storylines, although Cucu captures the center of the series.
Victor neglected to base his salary on American withholding taxes (“In the Dominican Republic, taxes are more of a suggestion,” he protests), so instead of a dream home with a lawn and pool, the family lots — to the series benefit, if not the castellis — in a vibrant Latino condominium complex in the working-class neighborhood of Hialeah. And we’re gone.
Though there’s a fair amount of comedy gleaned from the oddities of the American way of life (“Ay, why do we have to mutilate this beautiful pumpkin?” asks Victor as the family carves their first jack-o’-lantern), “Gordita” isn’t exactly a fish-from- the water comedy as the Castellis live in a peer community or near peers. (We are reminded by the subject of coffee that the Dominican Republic is not Cuba, which is not Colombia.) The population at the girls’ school is mixed; The popular Bubble Gum Girls who adopt Emilia (which causes her great fear for maintaining status) are Latinas.
Prejudice, while recognized — Victor is mistaken for a drug dealer because he’s a well-dressed Latino with a pager — is clueless rather than malicious, and prompts laughs: Anglos mispronounces Spanish words, or Victor’s boss says, “I had a margarita yesterday.” , and I was thinking of you.” When Cucu is tutored to speak Spanish in class—Dade County, we learn, passed a law requiring only English to be spoken in public buildings—is the pinnacle of political engagement the series. In fact, the plots couldn’t be more sitcomic: the premiere episode (directed by Eva Longoria, also executive producer) reverses Cucu’s lie that Gloria Estefan is her aunt and will be singing at a school dance.
While culture informs (and enlivens) everything and class can be an issue — at least insofar as making ends meet is a constant theme for the Castellis — they’re rarely the point. The problems that Cucu and Emilia face are familiar from middle school comedies and middle school comedy; Victor’s challenges at work, aside from his vague ex-astronaut boss (Patrick Fabian) calling him by the janitor’s name, aren’t far from those faced by Darren Stevens in Bewitched. Adela struggles to adapt her Dominican driving style to US legal limits; becomes addicted to supermarket coupons; deals with her visiting mother and a friend in need. gain positivity and kindness; Dancing saves the day more than once.
As Cucu, Goncalves has the nerve of a newcomer that mirrors that of her character. Cucu is ambitious, stubborn, competitive: “I didn’t come all the way to America not to be incredibly successful,” she says. She must not be intimidated, held down, or restrained. When an athlete calls her “Fatso” on her first day at her new school, she responds by tossing his soccer ball over her shoulder and making up an affair. Despite an inevitable nemesis (Gabriela Rey as Safi), this isn’t Everyone Hates Cucu. She could get herself into trouble for not understanding the new rules or being overly determined, but she’s neither unhappy nor a target, and she makes two good friends almost immediately – Ashley (Cosette Hauer) and Yoshy (Noah Rico). who, it is anything but expressly stated, will grow up gay. (On Halloween, he dresses up as Liberace, “a caped, piano-playing bad boy.”) They’re a gang of misfits — like the geeks of Freaks and Geeks — but a band nonetheless.
It’s not easy to make something authentically sunny and cute; It seems to me that it’s harder to successfully run a show like this or Abbott Elementary and get people talking about it than something like Euphoria to talk about. Shock effects are easy; Sex doesn’t take effort to throw onto the screen. But honesty needs art. Aside from the novel culture of its characters, Gordita Chronicles doesn’t break new ground in comedy — it doesn’t have to — but its creators and cast are clearly in love with these people and their story. To have heart, the work must come from the heart.
Where: HBO Max
When: Anytime, starting Thursday
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-06-23/gordita-chronicles-hbo-max-review Why ‘Gordita Chronicles’ HBO Max is the sitcom of the summer