Many eyes at the launch of the new fall season will be directed at established stars. Scott Bakula. Martin Short. Anna Gunn. But let us direct your attention to TV’s most promising sideshow act, a 35-year-old comedian whose greatest acting credit to date is as Latina Woman No. 2 on an episode of “Sons of Anarchy.”
Alonzo’s sitcom “Cristela” (premiering 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10, KSTP, Ch. 5) is by no means a sure bet. It’s peppered with predictable jokes, a few too many stereotypical jokes about Latino-Americans and a Friday night time slot that plays primarily to crickets.
But Alonzo’s got spunk. Despite her lack of experience, she’s compelling as a struggling but optimistic law student forced to live with her working-class sister’s family and tactless mother. She’s a natural on camera, reminiscent of a young and hungry Roseanne Barr. In a field of mediocre new sitcoms, she’s the one to watch.
“This is such a weird thing,” said Alonzo, who added that on a scale of one to 10, her nerves are at a 20. “It’s like winning the lottery. You don’t know what to do with all the money, because the chances of winning are so slim.”
The odds were even greater when ABC initially passed on the script, choosing instead to work on projects with Kevin Hart and Henry Winkler.
“I was no one,” she said. “I mean, if I was in their shoes, I would have picked up the Fonz in a second. There wasn’t room for me.”
However, the “Cristela” deal came with a caveat: If ABC didn’t green-light the show, the creators would get penalty money.
Executive producer Becky Clements used that check to film a rough presentation of the pilot script, hoping the network would like it enough to shoot an actual pilot. To save money, the cast used the set of the Tim Allen sitcom “Last Man Standing.” The network liked it so much that they decided to use that presentation as the first episode.
“We’re on right after ‘Last Man,’ ” Alonzo said, “so I want to do a commercial in between the two shows and say, ‘Look! Brown people have moved into Tim Allen’s kitchen!’ ”
Alonzo knows there’s a lot at stake — even if it’s unfair. Just look at the hit Margaret Cho’s career took in the mid-’90s after the failure of her sitcom “All-American Girl.” Critics were upset that Cho didn’t try to represent every single person’s Asian-American experience.
“Yeah, I feel stress,” she said. “You worry that if it doesn’t work, we’re going to have to wait five years for someone else to get a chance.
“Everyone wants to target the Latino audience these days. In articles, they break it down by math: ‘OK, 25 percent of movie audiences are Latino. What do they like? How are we going to trick them into watching us?’ My favorite movie is ‘Die Hard.’ It doesn’t have piñatas and mariachis. It’s just a good movie. It shouldn’t be about reaching a Latino audience. It should be about reaching an audience.”
Neal Justin's fall TV picks
"Transparent": Sept. 26 on Amazon. The show you can’t miss this fall is not on network TV, cable or even Netflix. “Transparent,” a dark comedy about the most dysfunctional family since the Bluths of “Arrested Development,” belongs to Amazon Studios, which is fast becoming a significant player. It might be just a coincidence that the series stars “Development’s” Jeffrey Tambor, but this is like no other character he’s played before. Heck, has anyone else ever portrayed a former ladies’ man trying to tell his selfish children that he’s transgender? Tambor’s heartbreaking performance is just one reason we can’t wait for the studio to release all 10 episodes to Amazon Prime members on Sept. 26. In the meantime, everybody can watch the first half-hour at studios.amazon.com for free.
Shows we can’t wait to welcome back
Universes collide in the season premiere of “Family Guy” (8 p.m. Sept. 28, KMSP, Ch. 9) when the Griffins take a road trip and wind up in a town called Springfield. Yep, Peter will share the stage (and more than a few beers) with Homer in a crossover to end all crossovers. “The Simpsons,” which premieres earlier that night, isn’t done entertaining out-of-town guests. In November, “Futurama’s” Bender the Robot will visit from the future to fulfill Sideshow Bob’s ultimate dream: killing Bart.
Speaking of exploring new worlds, “The Good Wife” (8 p.m. Sept. 21, WCCO, Ch. 4) has smartly moved Alicia (Julianna Margulies) to new surroundings as she and her one-time mentor team up to start a firm. Most dramas start to flail around season six, so this reboot is a chance to introduce fresh storylines, not the least of which is the possibility that Alicia will run for state’s attorney. Don’t worry, “Wife” isn’t completely ditching the past. Trailers tease a return by Michael J. Fox’s Louis Canning. Bring it!
There’s a reunion of a different sort on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m. Oct. 12, AMC) as most of our wandering survivors find themselves back together. One little snag: They’re imprisoned in a train car by a group that might be cannibals. I wasn’t a big fan of last year’s sprawling season, as favorite characters disappeared for several weeks, so I’m eager to see them bounce off one another, especially as they react to Rick Grimes’ increasingly dark mood.
Another character badly in need of therapy is Sheldon Cooper, who boarded a train to nowhere in last season’s finale of “The Big Bang Theory.” In the first new episode (7 p.m. Sept. 22, WCCO, Ch. 4), Amy and Leonard hit the road to pick him up, while Penny finds everything isn’t rosy when she takes a job working for Bernadette. Those troubles may be mild compared with “Theory’s” most daunting challenge: a move to Mondays, where it will square off against “The Voice.”
“Parenthood” (9 p.m. Sept. 25, KARE, Ch. 11) already knows its fate. NBC has announced that this season’s 13-episode run will be its last. That frees creator Jason Katims to tackle some weighty issues, including death. Yes, all signs point to the demise of a member of the Braverman family. For members of the show’s small but fierce fan club, tears will flow.
Worst trend of the year
During her Emmy acceptance speech, Julianna Margulies remarked that this was a great time for women in TV. If she catches the new network shows, she’ll want to retract that statement.
• Viola Davis manages to keep from rolling her eyes as a “Paper Chase”-inspired law professor in Shonda Rhimes’ absolutely absurd “How to Get Away With Murder” (9 p.m. Sept. 25, KSTP, Ch. 5).
• Kate Walsh brings dishonor to the court as a sexed-up judge in the appropriately titled “Bad Judge” (8 p.m. Oct. 2, KARE, Ch. 11)
• Debra Messing brings very little grace — or believability — to her role as a mom and detective in “The Mysteries of Laura” (9 p.m. Wednesday, KARE, Ch. 11).
• Tea Leoni tries to smart aleck her way out of international crises in “Madame Secretary” (7 p.m. Sept. 21, WCCO, Ch. 4).
All talented actresses, all deserving better. The upside: Since most of their shows will be quickly axed, they’ll soon be freed up to make guest appearances on “The Good Wife.”
Shows we’re rooting for
It’s impossible to find a surefire winner in a crop of network rookies that may be the weakest since dinosaurs roamed the earth. But a handful of series appear to have potential.
The most promising element of “Marry Me” is the real-life power couple of David Caspe, who created “Happy Endings,” and the breakout star of that woefully missed sitcom, Casey Wilson. Caspe plays to his wife’s strengths: Her character is neurotic, desperate and determined to make life a Jennifer Aniston rom-com. She’s perfectly matched with the unshakable Ken Marino, a veteran of the comedy troupe The State. Most sitcoms take time to find their rhythm, and this is no exception, but there’s good reason to believe this is all leading to a — wait for it — happy ending.
“The Flash” (7 p.m. Oct. 7, WUCW, Ch. 23) has had a hard time translating to the screen, in large part because the superpower of running really, really, really fast is tough to make visually compelling. This DC adaptation hasn’t cracked that nut, but it manages the even tougher challenge of making us sympathize with a borderline God who’s ridiculously good-looking. Grant Gustin brings plenty of pathos to the role of scientist Barry Allen. The show’s future will hinge on the nastiness of his roster of villains.
Bad guys aren’t a problem for “Gotham” (7 p.m. Sept. 22, KMSP, Ch. 9). The season’s most hyped show is set during Commissioner Gordon’s days as a rookie detective determined to find whoever killed the parents of a young boy named Bruce Wayne. Ben McKenzie, all grown up from his days on “The O.C.,” has developed into a stoic leading man, and he’s well paired with Donal Logue as his rumpled, ethically challenged mentor. Origin stories for the likes of the Penguin and the Joker should delight Batman fans, but others may be turned off by the show’s constant references to the comic-book world.