News / Culture

In Defense of: Lopez Tonight

This week in the Guácala Audit (because you might think something’s “guácala,” but that’s only because you haven’t done your homework): In defense of Lopez Tonight.

Full disclosure: I can’t sit through a full hour of TBS’ George Lopez late-night vehicle. Even though 11 pm is the time I usually reserve for mindless entertainment, I have standards even when it comes to that.* I want my TV shows like I want my outlet-store dresses: I hate catching the seams. If my tired mind can predict the punchline of a joke minutes before Lopez spits it out (a Snoop Dogg skit features never-ending pot references? My mind is blown!), then his show can be considered a slight failure.

This is in part due to Lopez’s studied, inorganic delivery (the man manages to take the fun out of comedic pauses), but more than anything, due to poor writing. Wasting the (easily exploited) beauty and sharp tongue of Sofía Vergara on a ludicrous cash-for-dare game llora ante los ojos de Dios. Topher Grace‘s dry, awkward humor? Thankfully displayed in a four-minute anecdote, yet with little direction from the host. Cindy Casares over at Guanabee understandably take large sips from her Haterade bottle every time she reviews an episode.  Almost every guest seems like a wasted opportunity, they say.

But my sour-on-the-outside, sweet-on-the-inside heart wants to think that the writing is this predictable because the otherwise talented writers are drinking some Haterade of their own, this time directed at their audience.  They might be exercising a form of self-hatred that’s hard to notice because it can be easily disguised as other, less vile sins: They’re pandering to their viewers because they think that’s what we want to watch. That Latinos are one big stereotype, and should be spoon-fed half-digested crass jokes as a stereotypical bunch. That nothing gets more ratings than seemingly self-deprecating racial jokes, or wink-wink chauvinistic ones.

Here’s a show that has the chance to show both the Hispanic world and the Other-People world what it’s like to be Latino right now, and yet again, wastes that opportunity. Craig Ferguson might throw in a Scottish joke here and there, and a small part of Jon Stewart‘s shtick has to do with him being Jewish, but we know both late night hosts for their wit and their tightly produced machines. While ethnicity is an inescapable and life-branding part of ourselves, we’re more than our racial background. And the Lopez team seems to know that; why else would they book such a diverse roster of guests? Yes, la Vergara and JLo are there, but what about James “Dawson” Van Der Beek, David Beckham and Hilary Duff? Oh, could that be because Hispanics have a wide variety of socioeconomically derived interests, just like every other group in this country? So, say, if George Lopez and CO. fine-tuned the writing and stopped being condescending to their traditionally underestimated audience, this could actually be a good show?

Indeed.

And this is where the defense part of the argument comes in: This show, with its high production value and its somewhat decent ratings, plus the relaxed hand of an easy-going network, has the potential to be a respected player in the late night game. If Lopez keeps this track record, he could be considered the Leno of minority TV; wouldn’t it be better if he were considered the Letterman or Colbert, instead? Or that our post-racial America (deal with it, Cate Blanchett, indeed) could see past his Chicano roots and just use him as a go-to source for mindless, yet thoughtfully crafted entertainment? I’m not saying that he should drop the bits that make him unique — I love his immigration references, and I love a Baby Smiley chola makeover like Vampire Weekend loves to mispronounce “horchata.” What I’m saying is that, right now, he’s the national face of Latino humor, and he has the power to improve the “dumb Hispanic” stereotype.  He can demonstrate to those numbed by countless years of Univision blandness that their humor buds are up for a challenge. He can serve as a cultural bridge, as an ambassador to Latinoness for everyone in this country. Because yes, we’re here to stay… but we need people to make the transitional ride a lot smoother.

I’m defending Lopez Tonight not for what it is, but for what it could be. Help that show realize its potential by bombing the hell out of the production team’s inbox, asking them to up the ante. Tell them that crass, simplistic humor can only get them so far (as much as I love Chola Girl bits, no más, please), and that if you’d wanted to witness badly staged sexual innuendos, you’d rather watch a telenovela. Tell them that you want George Lopez to shape the future of Latino humor. Tell them that, indeed, it’s time for change and a revolution in late night TV.

* These standards also keep me from doing ugly guys. Deal with it.

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This week on The Other Side of the Guácala Audit (or “the guy who has an equal or higher level of fame and respect as the thing I just defended, but doesn’t deserve half of it”): The indefensible – Sábado Gigante. One of the biggest sources of the aforementioned humor-numbing. Shame on you, Don Francisco, for making several generations of Latinos think that a cloaked hornet player shooing a mediocre singer with little self respect (or sadly, little money) should be considered funny. Slapstick humor can’t wait to disown you and your team of enablers. But if there’s one good thing to come out of this misogynistic, simplistic piece of broadcast crap, it’s Stephen Colbert‘s parody. Esteban Colberto, take it away.

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