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5 reasons the sitcom Cristela should live to see another season

Cristela Alonzo stars in Cristela. Yes, the show is named after her.
Cristela Alonzo stars in Cristela. Yes, the show is named after her.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

As this week rolls on, the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC) will be making decisions on which new and old shows to pick up for next season — and which shows to cut loose, to live on only via assorted streaming platforms.

It's typically an exciting time of year for TV fans, but this year is a little boring because, for the most part, it's easy to predict which shows will and won't be renewed come the end of the week. For instance, Scandal isn't technically renewed yet, but it will be back.

However, there's one show that sits at the literal top of the bubble — to the degree that I would put its odds of renewal at literally 50/50. And it's this show that most deserves to be renewed to see where it can go in season two.

The show is ABC's sitcom Cristela. Here are five solid arguments in favor of renewal.

1) The creative argument

You almost certainly haven't noticed this, because you almost certainly don't watch live TV on Friday nights, but a show that started out as an intriguing little spin on the family sitcom has grown into a reliably funny series that deftly tackles some serious subjects. Cristela is the kind of show you might sample on Netflix because you've never heard of it, then realize you really, really like about 10 episodes in.

Centered on a thinly veiled version of the actual life story of comedian Cristela Alonzo, the comedy follows a young woman who's balancing living at home with her mother, sister, and brother-in-law with working an unpaid internship at a local law firm, in hopes of fulfilling her dreams of becoming a lawyer. It's not the world's most exciting setup for a sitcom, but in its execution Cristela rises above the typical fare.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, simply telling a story like this about someone who's a person of color or from a different social class than most TV characters (who have money to spare) can add so much to a series. Cristela stands as proof positive of this.

The show has turned everything from the clash between Cristela's working-class background and that of her fellow interns (who are better off) to the time Cristela's mother kept her out of a gifted program at school because she didn't believe Latinos should stand out in a crowd into grist for both big comedy and surprisingly sensitive drama. These aren't stories every other show is telling, and that leads nicely into the next argument for renewal.

2) The diversity argument

Though Latinos are a growing population within the United States, you wouldn't really know it from watching TV. For the most part, the stories of Latinos in America are relegated to Univision, the hugely successful Spanish-language network that routinely beats other broadcast networks in ratings among younger viewers.

Cristela stands as one of just two broadcast network shows with primarily Latino casts. (The other, The CW's Jane the Virgin, has already been renewed for a second season.) The 2010 census found that 17 percent of the US population was Latino (America's largest racial minority), and that number only continues to grow. Even discounting creative questions of representation, it makes business sense to put shows on the air that reflect a growing segment of the viewing audience.

But the series boasts more than just racial diversity. Cristela is one of only a handful of current shows that focus on characters who don't automatically know they'll have enough money to solve all their problems. The blue-collar sitcom used to be a legitimate TV subgenre, but it's been on its deathbed for a while now. Cristela is, again, just different enough to stand out.

3) The economic argument

Though Cristela's ratings aren't terrific (it's only drawn more than 6 million viewers on two occasions — and one of those episodes guest-starred Roseanne Barr), they're also not so horrible as to merit instant cancellation. The show draws more total viewers than last year's occupant of its Friday-night time slot, the alien-themed comedy The Neighbors. But its viewership in the younger demographics that advertisers are most interested isn't as high. (Translation: Cristela has more total viewers than The Neighbors did, but more of them are older than The Neighbors' viewers were.)

One other caveat to an economic case to renew Cristela: ABC also doesn't outright own the show. Instead, 20th Century Fox does; it's just leasing the program to ABC for first-run airing, and hoping Cristela will eventually produce enough episodes to enter syndication, where the studio will make back its initial investment. (Here's a more thorough explanation of the syndication process.)

And yet if ABC wants proof that Cristela could still take off, it need look no further than the series that leads into it, Last Man Standing. That Tim Allen star vehicle hovered on the verge of cancellation for several seasons, before gaining serious traction with viewers this year in its fourth season (and boosting Cristela's numbers in the process). Shows like these two — which are filmed in front of live studio audiences — often take a while to catch on with viewers, for whatever reason. There's no reason to believe the same can't be true of Cristela, and the show's overall viewership numbers are already pretty good.

Thus, there's simply no immediately compelling economic reason to cancel the show, particularly as these sorts of sitcoms are generally less expensive than other kinds of scripted programming.

4) The bragging-rights argument

While every other network struggles to launch good comedies, ABC launched three this season, in Cristela, Black-ish, and Fresh Off the Boat. And while every other network struggles to create shows with diverse casts, all of the above (plus freshman drama smash How to Get Away With Murder) revolve around people of color.

Picking up Cristela to join the sure-to-be-renewed Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat would allow ABC some pretty substantial bragging rights. That has to count for something.

5) The "Cristela Alonzo is a star" argument

Like all first-season shows, Cristela suffered some growing pains in the early going. Some of those stemmed from Alonzo, who was a standup comedian rather than an actress, and a little too fond of going a little too broad.

After a remarkably small number of episodes, however, Alonzo had the sitcom acting thing figured out. She was able to play both her character's punchlines and her dramatic moments with nicely sketched-in detail, and she became an able leader of an ensemble cast that gelled remarkably quickly. She appears in just about every scene, nearly all of which require her to land a big moment or two, and she nails each and every one. Even Cristela's dud episodes are sure to feature a big moment from Alonzo.

Cristela still has its flaws — the scenes set in the law office, for instance, are rarely as compelling as those in the family's home — but it's improved so rapidly and so strikingly in its first season that it's more than earned a shot at more episodes. C'mon, ABC. Give this one another chance.

Cristela's first season is available to stream on Hulu Plus.

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