Fox’s Animated Series ‘Bordertown’ Is Breaking Barriers for Latino Talent

Television animation is about to get a lot browner, and we’re not talking about more maids or over-the-top Spanish-language TV stars á la Bumblebee Man from The Simpsons. We’re talking about Bordertown and its fictional family of enterprising Mexican-Americans along with their incompetent white American neighbors. Even in the months before the show’s impending premiere, Mark Hentemann and Seth MacFarlane’s provocative satire was already stirring up debate and passionate dissent, though it’s become clear that perhaps no other show on television is packing as much Latino authenticity into its on- and off-camera talent.

Things started looking especially bright when they announced that beloved Chicano cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz was brought on to the team along with four other Latino writers to help shape Bordertown‘s world around their own true-to-life experiences. To boot, creator Hentemann also brought on esteemed “¡Ask a Mexican!” columnist Gustavo Arellano as a consultant to help bolster the show’s authenticity.

Bordertown has set out to stir the pot of the U.S.’s supposedly enlightened race relations like no other show has in a generation. And as we have learned in the lead up to its January 2016 premiere, the show’s topical border humor has become increasingly relevant in light of recent political developments.

In fact, a special sneak preview of an upcoming episode at New York Comic Con focused on the proposed construction of a massive border wall, which, as Hentemann admitted in a follow-up Q&A, wasn’t even a topic of national debate when the episode was written over a year ago. It also featured some savvy gags including a bit that finds paterfamilias Ernesto González taking to social media to promote his landscaping business with the slogan: “We love you lawn time.” In what promises to be an irreverent show that nevertheless speaks eloquently to the new reality of a country in demographic flux, and the often laughable face of an old America that can’t quite wrap its mind around it.

Here are some more highlights from Bordertown’s New York Comic Con debutante ball, in which the show’s diverse cast of talent, including Hank Azaria and Judah Friedlander, spoke to immigrant stories, United Colors of Benetton, and proper Spanish accents.

Mark Hentemann on Staying Relevant

“Everyone in America has an immigration story.”

I pitched this initially in 2007 to Fox, and Bush was president and immigration was an issue. And Fox didn’t pick it up but didn’t throw it out completely, and I was worried, thinking, “Immigration’s gonna get solved, and this is gonna go away, and the show’s not gonna be relevant anymore.” Whether it’s for good or for bad, it’s still an issue.

Mark Hentemann on His Own Family’s Story

Growing up my dad told our family’s immigration story a thousand times, and my worldview comes from the lessons I learned from my father, and his father coming over to the United States and working four jobs. Everyone in America has an immigration story… And it seemed like fertile territory given that immigration is at the center of the national debate. Cultural shifts show that whites are going to become a minority in maybe 2017? Sometime soon, which is a historic shift for this nation.

Lalo Alcaraz
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Lalo Alcaraz on Latino Writers and Authenticity

“It’s five Latino writers on the show, which is a world record for a network show, except for a telenovela.”

I think it’s five Latino writers on the show, which is a world record for a network show, except for a telenovela on Univisión. I mean, this show also has that imprint from our stories that we tell. That’s what’s new and fresh about the show: it’s not just about U.S.- Mexico border stories, it’s also about demographic change, and from our side too, the brown side…It’s such an important show; it’s a big pop culture moment for Latinos because we’re invisible on TV.

Hank Azaria Compares His Character, Bud Buckwald, to Donald Trump

[Bud’s] slightly smarter, and slightly less cartoonish, but other than that they’re very similar.

Hank Azaria. Photo: The Hollywood Reporter
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Hank Azaria on The Show Pushing The Boundaries of P.C.

“Animation is just another medium when it comes to entertainment, where we need to see different faces and voices represented.”

I’m a huge All In The Family fan, and I always said that it could never get made now in this politically correct world. A cable outlet wouldn’t do it and a network would never do it, and this show is the closest I’ve seen to some modern version of that. Serious, serious racism on display as a comedic launching point.

Nicholas Gonzalez on Television’s Relationship with the Real World

Across the board in animation, whether it’s for child’s animation, or comics, or anything, people want to see themselves, and it’s what exists out in the world. It’s what we’re surrounded by, so what we see on TV isn’t the world we live in. I’m looking at this table [and] it doesn’t look like a lot of the shows that are on. Unless it’s a very deliberate attempt, and it’s United Colors of Benetton and then it feels almost crazy – you’ve got an Asian guy, and a black guy, and it’s almost a little too on the nose.

But for especially a project like this…it’s very important and animation is just another medium when it comes to entertainment or information, where we need to see different faces and voices represented.

Nicholas Gonzalez
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Mark Hentemann on Avoiding Hollywood’s Terrible Spanish Accents

“It’s neat to see a show that’s going to feature so many Mexican-American characters – it’s going to be a historic show in American television.”

I’m glad that Nick does the Ernesto part on Bordertown. Being on the ground floor, it’s really neat to see a show that’s going to feature so many Mexican and Mexican-American characters – it’s going to be a historic show in American television – and I’m happy that Nick can pronounce stuff in Spanish like a pro, like a native.

[Lalo Alcaraz responds] He’s from San Antonio, which is still part of Mexico. [laughs]

Alex Borstein on The Freedom of Voice Acting

You can play anything. I can be a hot piece of ass in one thing, I can be an old lady, I can be a little boy. I mean that’s the beauty, that’s the freedom of it, especially being a woman working in this industry it opens up so many other doors for me than on-screen, where there’s only so much I could do.

[Nicholas Gonzalez responds] And I can be three other Mexicans. [crowd laughs] It’s pretty limited.

Judah Friedlander
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Judah Friedlander on Comedy That Cuts Through Political Division

I like hard-hitting. I mean, I love all kinds of comedy, but I like when people go to places that are uncomfortable and most people don’t want to talk about. And to do it in a humorous way is really cool. Most shows don’t go anywhere in that direction… And it’s not preaching to the choir… I think no matter where you fall in the political spectrum, you’re going to like this show. People, whether they’re left or right, are still going to be laughing at it.

Bordertown premieres Sunday, January 3, 2016 at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.