See Jane Spotlight

Interview with Debby Wolfe about “Lopez vs. Lopez,” a Latine Comedy that Rings True for All Fathers and Daughters

Debby Wolfe, executive producer and co-creator of “Lopez vs. Lopez” (Photo: Carlos Eric Lopez/NBC)

In a compelling episode late in Season 1 of “Lopez vs. Lopez,” a character tries to stymie a fellow Latina mom in her social circle rather than lift her up.

George Lopez finally tells Mayan Lopez that there’s a term for that kind of behavior.

“She’s a bucket crab,” he explains. “It’s like when Latinos try to pull each other down, like crabs in a bucket.”

Think of “Lopez vs. Lopez” as the direct opposite of such crabbiness. As the working-class family comedy barrels toward its Season 2 premiere on NBC this April 2, the show is all about pulling each other up – and maybe helping those with bigger dreams to cross a few things off their bucket lists.

Debby Wolfe, the show’s executive producer and co-creator, grew up in Miami at a time when Latine characters were almost impossible to find on network television, let alone in prime time. In a wide-ranging interview with the Geena Davis Institute last month, Wolfe said she remembers seeing a PBS show as a kid called “Que Pasa USA” which ran from 1977-80. But other than that, it was a mostly barren landscape for Latino representation in those days.

So it comes as a profound milestone for Wolfe that the authentically Latino stories of “Lopez vs. Lopez” will resume with back-to-back episodes at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays this spring. In the meantime, anyone looking to get caught up can find all 22 episodes of Season 1 on Netflix.

“It’s been really amazing to see how supportive our audience has been and how much they relate,” Wolfe said. “Whenever we do panels, people always come up to us and say, ‘You know, I see myself in these characters. I see my family in these characters.’ It’s not lost on me how much specifically Latine TV viewers want to see themselves on screen.”

The cast: Selenis Leyva, Al Madrigal, George Lopez, Mayan Lopez, Matt Shively and Brice Gonzalez (Photo: Carlos Eric Lopez/NBC)

That representation applies to both sides of the camera, which of course aligns with the mission of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The goal of GDI is to reinvent, transform and inspire how global content creators and media tell stories through authentic portrayals of the population in entertainment.

“Lopez vs. Lopez” is that kind of show, from the writers’ room to the actors and beyond.

“We’re the only network comedy with a predominantly Latine cast,” Wolfe said. “There’s so little offered to us. And so I take that very seriously. I am trying to make the best show possible. And I’m hoping that we continue to be a big hit so that we can open the doors for more.”

“Lopez vs. Lopez” serves as a vehicle for the real-life father/daughter combination. George Lopez, the stand-up comedy legend, plays the owner of a struggling moving company whose financial straits force him to move in with his Gen Z daughter Mayan. From there the show riffs off cultural differences, the age gap and family dysfunction.

For all the jokes, however, the show also delves into serious territory on a regular basis. The Season 1 finale focused on George Lopez’s struggle to curb his drinking (“Lopez vs. Last Call”). Earlier episodes came with titles like “Lopez vs. Anxiety,” “Lopez vs. Gaslighting” and “Lopez vs. Appropriation.”

The pain, like the laughs, comes from a real place.

“We tackle mental health. We tackle alcoholism, toxic masculinity. We always do it with humor,” Wolfe said. “And I think that comes naturally, especially coming from being Salvadorian and also half-Jewish. You know, I think that the generational trauma and the oppression that my family’s faced has made us a very funny family. We’ve gone through a lot. We know how to laugh at it.

“And I think everyone in my room can speak to that, too.”

Indeed, one of the perks of having so much diversity in the writers’ room is that the stories can come from a place of truth. “That’s how you avoid stereotypes” Wolfe said. “Authentic storytelling is our bread and butter.”

George and Mayan are among those who contribute storylines that actually happened within their family, but the show draws from a deep well of other staffers.

“You know, half of my room is Latine, including me, but we’re from different cultures,” Wolfe said. “My mother was Salvadorian. And then I also have Mexicans in the room. I have Cubans in the room.

“But we all share similar experiences. So when we find what those gems that we all share are, we’re like, ‘OK, we have something here.’ But it’s always coming from real life.”

George Lopez, Mayan Lopez and Selenis Leyva

Wolfe is also cognizant of making sure there are parents in the room, to make sure the family dynamics ring true. Omar Ponce, the executive story editor for 13 episodes, has a son who is the direct model for the Chance character played by Brice Gonzalez, the 9-year-old actor and TikTok star.

Embracing one’s roots is a lesson Wolfe learned long ago. As part of her early career journey, she participated in NBC’s “Writers on the Verge” program as well as NALIPs Writer’s Lab program. One of her big breakthroughs was when she had a short film called “Gordita” play at the NBC Diversity Festival. Looking back, Wolfe said those writer programs helped pave the way for her career. “I’ve been very fortunate to have some amazing television mentors,” she said.

Now, Wolfe continues to push the community by encouraging young talents to rise up. She feels a responsibility to pay it forward in terms of mentorship.

“It’s definitely important to me to hire as much Latine staff, crew, writers as I can, so that they can rise up,” “Because if you don’t have representation behind the screen, you won’t have it on screen. So that’s not lost on me.”

She recalled how in the first season of “Lopez vs. Lopez,” she would put some of her young writers in the spotlight to celebrate their voices. She’d walk out to one of those boisterous live audiences and announce the names of the scribes behind the scripts.

“And everyone cheers,” Wolfe said. “Being able to give that gift to young writers, ohhhh, just nothing feels better.”

There should be plenty more to cheer in Season 2. Confirmed guest stars this season include Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, Diana Maria Riva and former NFL star Marshawn Lynch.

All in all, not a bad haul for a showrunner with a vivid memory of revealing her comedic career plans to her mother – and getting heckled.

“When I actually told my mom I was going to be a comedy writer, she said I wasn’t funny,” Wolfe said with a laugh. “So I stick it to my mom with this show.”

For the record, Wolfe’s mom is no crab: “She’s very proud. She’s a Salvadorian mother. She’s got to keep me humble.”

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT®