Why you should care
Because so much culture happens at borders.
The writers’ room of the Fox cartoon TV series Bordertown is a pressure cooker. Some of the most talented and experienced comedy staffers in town are here, including veterans from Futurama and American Dad, as well as elite up-and-comers from The Simpsons. There are 14 people in all, men and women of different ethnicities, capable of throwing brutal fastballs and nasty, gut-busting curveballs. The oldest guy in the room is Lalo Alcaraz, and he keeps up with the kids by flinging quips, laughing at others’ best jokes, politely clapping at the worst, and above all, enjoying his first real shot at Hollywood.
The 51-year-old San Antonio native is an award-winning cartoonist and a novice at making TV shows. But Fox execs are leaning on him as one of Bordertown’s Latino voices of reason. For a series that may serve as America’s most visible look at the Mexican-American experience, Alcaraz takes that responsibility seriously. “I don’t put my name on stuff lightly,” he says, adding that his job is to keep Bordertown smart with political satire and social commentary, “without it degrading to lame jokes about sombreros or other meaningless subjects.” But Alcaraz and the Bordertown crew are not afraid to push the envelope with razor-sharp adult comedy: The story is about two families living on the Mexican border, one white and one brown, and the executive producer is noted rabble-rouser Seth MacFarlane.
Bordertown centers around Bud Buckwald and his Mexican immigrant neighbor, Ernesto Gonzales. Buckwald is the “idiot worst border patrolman in North America” while Gonzales is a hard-working, amiable guy with so many cousins living in his house that he continually double-takes when he can’t recognize them. Alcaraz says the show is about the cultural friction between the two men as U.S. demographic changes make white people the minority. Show creator Mark Hentemann modeled Buckwald after the abrasive Archie Bunker and his own father’s factory-working friends.
Alcaraz says the very existence of the show has worried his fellow Latinos, who are used to biased, inauthentic portrayals of their culture. But he believes that his and his colleagues’ work will soften those worries. In fact, Alcaraz says, the “little, specific things” they’ve added will help define Bordertown as one of the smartest and most plugged-in shows to discuss the immigrant experience. He cites a recent development as proof. A Fox executive was “not happy” the Gonzales family house has Christmas lights up year-round. That’s a joke Mexicans laugh at because the mostly Catholic populace loves Christmastime and can’t wait to put up lights. “It’s not a joke about being lazy [and therefore not taking down the lights] or being greasy, but it’s an inside thing that La Raza people will get. TV execs are so unfamiliar with people of color, they think everything is offensive. We’re here to say what’s offensive and what’s not.”
Alcaraz designed the interior of the immigrant’s family home by crowdsourcing Twitter and asking people what they remembered from their Mexican homes in the 1980s. The result: plastic covers on couches, horse-emblazoned blankets, a tortilleria calendar and walls covered in wood siding and millions of family photos. Even Alcaraz’s own church, St. John of the Cross in Lemon Grove, California, has made it onto the show.
Working with the young kids in a group setting pushes him, he says, to continue to get better, and keeps his comedy mojo going: “When I work with myself in my studio, I’m in competition with myself as the god of the comic strip. [But here,] it’s a competition.” So far, 13 episodes have been written, and if it goes well “or the sun explodes or dogs start having sex with cats,” they’ll probably get a full season’s order of episodes.