Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire episode of “The George Lopez Show,” but after having watched this documentary, I think I’m gonna have to check it out; I don’t have any idea whether it’ll actually be funny or not, but just listening to the guy’s comments in “Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream” makes me predisposed to liking him. (Mind you, I was already pretty much in that camp after I heard that he’d gotten into a physical altercation with Carlos Mencia over Mencia purportedly stealing some of his material, but, still, this really sealed the deal for me.)
“Brown is the New Green” focuses on Latinos as they’re perceived on the small screen, and while it probably won’t come as any surprise that they haven’t always had the best representatives on the American airwaves – for awhile, their big three were Jose Jiminez, Speedy Gonzales, and The Frito Bandito – it’s heartening to realize that they’re finally getting their due. Now, if you’re one of those folks who gets pissed off every time they reach a voicemail menu that says, “For English, press 1,” I’m sure you’re already seething mad at the mere thought of what this documentary discusses; in fact, some of you may have stopped reading altogether while you work out a diatribe for the comments section about how giving Latinos airtime to trumpet their culture is akin to setting Old Glory afire and watching her burn.
Well, hang onto your hat, muchacho, because you may be surprised to find that a lot of Latinos aren’t so remarkably different from John Smith, Average American.
For instance, when George Lopez was casting his TV show, many actors came in to audition and, when doing so, they’d put on a heavy Spanish accent. “George would say, ‘Brother, cool down, you don’t need to do that,'” said producer Bruce Helford, “and they’d say, ‘Oh, cool, thank you,’ and then they’d do it in perfect English, with no accent at all!” Lopez himself reveals that, while building the sets for his series, the network complained that the kitchen didn’t look like a Mexican kitchen. “They said, ‘There’s nothing here that indicates that a Mexican family lives here. There’s not a tortilla maker.’ I said, ‘My tortilla maker was my grandmother!'”
For the most part, the so-called “Latino audience” is something which, more often than not, the entertainment industry views as an advertising demographic rather than a group of individuals who are looking for their own brand of entertainment. There’s an ongoing battle between trying to portray real Latino life versus what producers think middle America can handle; one guy mentions how, from his experience, the average Latino family doesn’t always have a father present, but TV can’t hang with the idea of a fatherless family scenario, while Lopez speaks about how absolutely no-one in his family was supportive of his attempts to build an American TV career. The most interesting interview, at least for me, wasn’t with Lopez but, rather, with Bill Dana, the comedian who portrayed Jose Jimenez. He was hugely popular for many years, but he wasn’t actually Latino, and as the tide of public opinion turned, the popularity waned dramatically…like, to the point where, when he announced that he was retiring the character, he was stunned at the resulting cheers.
“Brown is the New Green” is another fine PBS production, providing an interesting, educational, and – ultimately – depressing look at how little love the Latino community gets on television. Sure, it’s nice that “Ugly Betty” is a success, but you can’t really call that a step forward when, in virtually the same breath, ABC canceled “The George Lopez Show” in favor of “Cavemen.” Still, when the doc ends with the revelation that Lopez earned $5 million from the show’s final season, $15 million from the series’ syndication deal, and $9 million from his stand-up shows that year, at least you can’t say that his chapter of the story hasn’t had a happy ending.