REVIEW: ‘The Garcias’ is All About Family

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The Garcias - But Why Tho

There are virtually no sitcoms focused on a Latino cast. That fact makes the reboot of The Brothers Garcia all the more important. The Garcias, an HBOMax Original, comes from New Cadence Productions, the banner founded by The Brothers Garcia co-creator and executive producer Jeff Valdez. Characterized as a reboot, The Garcias chronicles an American family based in San Antonio, TX, who are gathered for a summer vacation in their fancy beach house in Mexico.

For those who don’t know, The Brothers Garcia was the first English-language sitcom to have an all Latino cast and creative team. Returning to the cast are Ada Maris (as Sonia Garcia), Carlos Lacamara (as Ray Garcia), Alvin Alvarez (as Larry Garcia), Jeffrey Licon (as Carlos Garcia), Bobby Gonzalez (as George Garcia), Vaneza Pitynski (as Lorena Garcia). Additionally, the series stars Oliver Alexander as Max Garcia; Nitzia Chama as Ana Garcia; Paul Rodriguez, Jr. as Julian Ramirez; Maeve Garay as Victoria Garcia; Elsha Kim as Yunjin Huh Garcia; Ayva Severy as Andrea Huh Garcia; and Trinity Jo-Li Bliss as Alexa Huh Garcia.

A family sitcom that deals with a different topic every episode, The Garcias hits all the notes that you expect from the genre—for better and for worse. The series embraces tropes and stereotypes, turning them into hyperbolic plot points that tend to obscure any real messaging behind eccentricity. This means that some of the heavier issues in the series get buried underneath comedy or in the case of one particulate exchange between Abuelita and Yunjin, thrown out completely.

For starters, the series tries to have a conversation about colorism when Lorena ends up on the set of a novel that has cast white Mexicans as indigenous Maya. While her father continuously brings this up, he still does it through the guise of “ancient Maya,” ignoring that the Maya are still an Indigenous community that is currently living and facing state violence in places like Mexico and Guatemala. Add in that the commentary is overshadowed by Lorena’s spectacle when she quits the job and everything becomes jumbled. While a sitcom can’t be everything for everyone, its attempt at commentary gets sorely lost in translation. Throw in that there are virtually no characters darker than a paper bag in the series, the notes on colorism could be attributed to the series itself.

If it isn’t colorism, it’s the fact that Victoria’s activism is painted as a phase and in direct opposition to her extremely wealthy parents and family. Social activism here is painted as a child’s errand, exaggerated to the point that the Garcias being an extremely conservative family wouldn’t surprise me.

The largest issue for me comes in The Garcias Episode 3 where Abuelita pushes baptism on Yunjin and Carlos’ kids. That said, Carlos, Abuelita’s son removes himself from the conversation leaving Yunjin to fight with her mother-in-law about whether or not to force the girls into Catholicism. While at first this seems to be a fruitful discussion of boundaries between parents and loved ones, it quickly devolves into an assumptive conversation that essentializes culture down to Catholicism. By distilling Mexican identity into Catholicism, the series makes it seem like all those who fall outside this one religion brought by colonizers as wrong or less than.

Sure, Abuelita comes around, but the “compromise” doesn’t involve Abuelita giving up anything. Instead, she allows a “shaman” (he’s a curandero whose indigenous practices are dismissed as something not culturally important) to perform the baptism. In the end, Catholicism wins, and it’s a moment that hit my atheist heart hard. I’ve been an atheist in a public way for the last 10 years, and yet, I still find myself frustrated with how entwined Catholocism is into the culture and how it left many of my own family to shun me. Abuelita steamrolls Yunjin in a way that would have made me cut her out of my family if she was my mom, and essentializes what it means to Mexican in the process.

That said, The Garcias does have some good moments. It explores ideas of being “Mexican enough” and the sharp differences between being Mexican American and being, well Mexican. Additionally, one plotline has Abuelo having to push back against racist academia. Another episode has Yunjin working things out with her mother, and others still show George and Carlos working out their brotherly disagreements. It’s when characters within the family are reacting to each other and learning from each other that it shines, but when the Garcias meet the world around them, it’s a big mess.

The Garcias - But Why Tho (1)

But it has to be noted that The Garcias is embracing stereotypes that only Latino writers would know and fall into. In it’s final episode, the series confronts the box that Hollywood puts Latinos into. It directly confronts the stereotypes of cholos, narcos, gardeners, and maids. This series is ultimately about a bougie family being themselves and living beyond what they’re expected to be.

So yes, The Garcias exceed in showcasing the importance of embracing being both Mexicano and being American at the same time while avoiding the stereotypes that white entertainment studios put us into. That said, sometimes the way we talk about ourselves and our community can also impact ideas around identity negatively which ultimately pushes the series square into the world of respectability over anything else.

The Garcias is complicated to say the least. I don’t hate it, but I don’t see myself in it. In many ways, this rich family doesn’t stick out because they’re not Mexican enough to be in Mexico, they stick out because they’re so incredibly self-absorbed and wealthy, that it detaches them. With this, the series loses a lot of what made the original special. Instead of just focusing on the family in San Antonio, they’re in Mexico exoticizing a culture they’re supposed to be a part of and reinforcing stereotypes along the way -granted they’re ones we have out about own community.

It’s been over a decade since the series was on the air, and unfortunately, the jokes and story elements seem stuck in the early 2000s as well. Had The Garcias just been focused on the eccentricities of a fish out of water family staying in Mexico for months and exploring how their Tejano identity is different than a Mexican one, it could have been something special. Instead, the series bites off way more than it can chew, undercutting itself along the way. I wanted to love this series, for myself and for the generation below me to deserve to see more than just 3% of speaking roles go to our community. But I’m stuck.

I want to see The Garcias get a Season 2, and with a new season, I hope it explores their everyday life at home and not just vacationing in Mexico. I want to see the series hone in on what makes it special and ultimately not undercut its commentary. It can do more and be more, but it has to trust that the audience will take the medicine without the spoonful of sugar for some of the deeper topics it tries to discuss.

A centrist show that tries to bury any progressive notions under jokes, I have to wonder who the series is made for. I thought it was made for me, a Tejana from San Antonio and a complicated family, but now I’m not quite sure. More Latino-led series are important, and we deserve the ability to have an absurd sitcom as well. That said, when something misses, it’s important to offer critique and hope it gets better.

The Garcias is streaming now, exclusively on HBOMax.


The Garcias Season 1
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    Rating - 5/10
5/10

Summary

Had The Garcias just been focused on the eccentricities of a fish out of water family staying in Mexico for months and exploring how their Tejano identity is different than a Mexican one, it could have been something special. Instead, the series bites off way more than it can chew, undercutting itself along the way.