ABC’s ‘Black-ish,’ ‘Cristela, ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ a win for racial diversity in television comedy?

cristina AlonzoABC programming chief Paul Lee gave people a taste of the network’s diverse slate of comedies for the 2014-15 season at its upfront presentation to advertisers. It showed off comedies starring black actors, hispanic females and a chubby Thai kid that saves ABC from any accusations of lacking racial diversity. Cristela is the much talked-about ABC project from comedian Cristela Alonzo. The show brings Alonzo’s humor about Hispanic family life to network television. The comedian plays herself as a woman dragging herself through law school part-time while she lives with her Mexican-American family. Cristela also stars stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias and, of course, features an overbearing but loving Mexican mother (played by Terri Hoyos).

Anthony Anderson’s Black-ish, executive produced by and featuring Lawrence Fishburne, centers around Anderson’s financially successful character Andre Johnson whose family lives in an upper-class predominantly white neighborhood. He fears that his family is losing ties to its heritage and attempts to teach his kids about their culture while his old school father sits back and makes snide comments. Seriously, a “bro-mitzvah?”

Recurring segment host on Vice and chef personality Eddie Huang turned his bestselling memoir Fresh Off the Boat into a sitcom with some promise for ABC. Borrowing from the Chris Rock childhood flashback comedy Everybody Hates Chris and the just-renewed The Goldbergs (also on ABC), Huang narrates the series about his early 90s childhood when his American-loving father uproots his family to open a cowboy-themed steakhouse in Orlando, FL. The rest of his family, including the stand-out comic relief mother played by Constance Wu, is less than excited about the culture clash that occurs. Huang attempts to show what it’s like trying to assimilate and survive recess.

Manhattan Love Story follows a budding new relationship of a romantic New York City transplant (Analeigh Tipton) and a seasoned womanizing player (Jake McDorman) after they’re set up on a blind date. The romantic comedy utilizes dual inner monologues throughout, emphasizing what we’re all thinking when trying to impress someone of the desired sex.

Also on the ABC comedy slate is the medieval fallen-hero musical comedy Galavant. Think Glee with original songs, swords and castles.

ABC’s attempt to showcase diversity, judging by these trailers, tackles race not by eliminating it but by highlighting it. These new sitcoms appear to emphasize why we’re different rather than integrating various cultures to show how we’re all kind of the same. Sadly, this extreme route will be packed with well-written set-up/punch line jokes but could potentially fall short of the larger goal. Sure, now they have an Asian family show and a Hispanic leading woman, but at the expense of loudly reminding us, “Hey! Look! Diversity!” Even the titles of Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat humorously remind us, “Don’t forget. This show’s about mainstreaming race.” Of course, most of this is based off of three-minute trailers and it’s possible that these shows subtlety normalize diversity the way Modern Family has.

A potential example of how to integrate diversity without focusing on it is Selfie from creator Emily Kapnek. Seflie stars Karen Gillan as a self-obsessed twentysomething who accidentally ends up with an insane amount of social media followers after an embarrassing viral video goes wild. She enlists the help of John Cho (Harold & Kumar trilogy) to “transform this vapid, social media-obsessed narcissist into a woman of stature.” The show’s first-look features an Asian co-star and shows viewers different genders, skin colors and walks of life without presenting any caricatures. Yes, we all come from different backgrounds but there’s no need to obsess on it. Bill Cosby made the excellent point that if “a black comedian goes on stage and doesn’t talk about race,” he might have changed the world. Let’s hope that ABC hasn’t fallen into a trap full of stereotypes.

Check out Selfie‘s trailer below.

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Billy Procida

Laughspin editor-in-chief Billy Procida is a stand-up comedian in New York City. He hosts The Manwhore Podcast where he talks to women he's hooked up with about sex, dating, and why they didn't work out. Reach him on Twitter.

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