FX makes two kinds of live-action comedies: Wild, experimental shows in which hot-dog comedians challenge the limits of the sitcom form and their own likability (Louie, Legit, The League, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia); and shows like the Charlie Sheen vehicle Anger Management, which pick up the discarded star of a successful network sitcom and stuff him into a familiar mold to see if any more money can be squeezed out of him.
George Lopez’s new comedy, Saint George, is not one of the hot-dog shows. Neither was Lopez’s old ABC series, George Lopez, which was the kind of vehicle that’s usually described as “serviceable”—a mildly watchable little time-killer that pleases its audience and gets extra points for introducing some diversity to the network lineup. It knew what it was and what it was good at, and it wasn’t hurting anybody. As one of the few primetime network shows with a mostly Hispanic cast, it even had a modest degree of daring.
Saint George is more in keeping with the executive mentality that gave us such programming concepts as winning a time slot by putting on the least objectionable option available. It smells like something that’s been tested in focus groups to within an inch of its life. Lopez plays a successful entrepreneur who’s first seen sitting in front of the TV in his spacious pleasure dome, gleefully watching his own infomercials. His character peddles an energy drink that his acerbic mother, played by Olga Merediz, describes as “cat pee” that combines “cactus juice with enough caffeine to shut down your organs.”
Having established his character as a vain, shameless huckster, Lopez hops into his expensive car and drives to the high school, where he works as a teacher—because he wants, as they say, to give something back to the community. (Apparently, nobody has suggested that he accomplish this by writing the school a fat check and leaving the teaching job available for someone who needs it.) George is divorced, but his blonde wife (Jenn Lyon) still hangs around constantly, along with their 11-year-old son (Kaden Gibson). There’s not a hint of tension between them; everyone is on the best of terms. It’s hard to see much comic potential in any of this, but Lopez’s character hasn’t been shaped to produce comedy gold. Everything about him is designed to protect the star’s likability.
The energy and rude humor on Saint George is supposed to be provided by the supporting cast, but the material is mostly just gross. George’s wingmen are his cousin, Junior (played by David Zayas, who was the more-empathic-than-observant police detective Angel on Dexter) and Junior’s father, played by everybody’s favorite glowering tree stump, Danny Trejo. Trying to get the 50-ish, girl-shy George to re-enter the dating pool, Junior drops trou in George’s living room, takes a cell-phone picture of his own junk, and starts circulating it online, explaining that this sort of thing is all the rage these days. (George, looking at the photo and shuddering: “It’s like a flaccid Tootsie Roll!”) When George says, weirdly, that he doesn’t think it would be right for him to date a year after his divorce because it would hurt his ex-wife’s feelings, Zayas and Trejo tell him that his ex-wife has already moved on: They’ve spotted her out on the town, on dates and “showing her toes.” Showing her toes? “It means they’re letting it out. Letting everybody know that they got no corns, no bunions, inhibitions—all 10 nails!” “Sometimes,” adds Trejo, “when the little nail falls off, they just paint the skin!”
Zayas and Trejo make some of their material bearable by playing their characters as essentially innocent—as if they were 10-year-olds trying to impart the wisdom they’ve picked up on about the battle of the sexes from conversations they’ve overheard at the barbershop. No such mercies are allowed Diana Maria Riva, who plays the principal at George’s school and regards him as pure catnip—leering and hitting on him in terms that, in the real world, would make her the star of a special report on 60 Minutes. (Complimenting him on his graying hair, she asks him if “the drapes match the rug,” adding that she herself is “all hardwood floor.”) In scenes like that, Lopez looks as if he’s wishing he could teleport himself to the surface of the moon, though as the show’s star and pilot co-writer, he must have some veto power over what’s in the scripts. Is this what his team came up with in place of stuff that was even worse? The mind boggles.
The thing is, Lopez doesn’t have to bland himself out like this. The idea of him playing a teacher may have been inspired by his role in the crowd-pleasing movie Real Women Have Curves, but before that, he gave an amazing performance in Ken Loach’s Bread And Roses as the supervisor at a Los Angeles cleaning firm who’s brutal, and brutally arbitrary, about using his power over the women under his command. Lopez may see himself as a role model, but if he were willing to show some rough edges, he might be a better role model just by giving a funnier performance. If he’d look around at the other stars on his new network, he might notice that he’s the last one concerned with not giving offense: All the heroes on the shows mentioned earlier, and on the FX cartoons such as Archer, take being funny as their top priority. That just leaves Charlie Sheen, and whatever the hell it is that compels people to watch Charlie Sheen, likability sure doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with it.