The premiere of Diary of a Future President couldn’t be better timed, what with the arrival of a new decade and an upcoming presidential election. The Gina Rodriguez-produced series, which airs on Disney+, is a delightfully engaging story of perseverance, family and growing up that will appeal to everyone.
The 10-episode series follows Cuban American Elena Cañero-Reed (Tess Romero) as a middle-schooler trying to navigate the tricky landscape of adolescence and shifting friendships. Her father has been dead three years and her mother, Gabby (Selenis Leyva), is dipping her toes into the dating pool with a goofy co-worker named Sam (Michael Weaver). Elena narrates the story as she documents it in her diary, which is being read by a now-adult Elena (Gina Rodriguez) as she prepares to take office as the President of the United States.
With its bouncy theme song reminiscent of One Day at a Time, series creator Ilana Peña gives audiences a show that’s consistently sweet, authentic and humorous. The audience knows Elena’s future, but her past is meant to remind them of what it took for her to get there. Reminded by her mother to never forget who she is, the first episode focuses on Elena’s personality being tested when she learns a secret about her former best friend, Jessica (Harmeet K. Pandey). Like the best tween and teen dramas on Disney Channel, the series is remarkably frank in its discussion of common adolescent issues, such as menstruation. The incredibly intelligent Elena understands the misguided reasons why young girls would think a period gives them added currency, but she still doesn’t appreciate how popularity has caused Jessica to change herself. When she gets the opportunity to out her former friend as a phony, Elena takes the high road. This could be a hokey Disney Channel moment, but the script never plays for sentiment. This is who Elena is and her kindness will allow her to one day hold the highest seat in the nation.
Rodriguez is the special guest star as the grown-up Elena, only having one scene at the beginning of the pilot. The true star is the up-and-coming Romero, who perfectly captures what audiences loved about Rodriguez on Jane the Virgin. Rodriguez’s fans might feel there’s not enough of her in the first episode to continue watching, but the series works so wonderfully and no doubt she’ll be peppered in throughout the entirety of the season.
When Elena realizes she’s mislabeled a social studies assignment, believing it to be due next week when it is due at the end of the day, Romero’s freakout perfectly mimics similar flare-ups Rodriguez has had on Jane. You believe the two are the same person. The rest of the young cast is equally genuine, particularly Carmina Garay’s Sasha. Sasha is Elena’s most loyal friend and Garay captures the giddiness and joy of being a middle-schooler who thinks the world of Elena.
Series creator Ilana Peña gives audiences a show that’s consistently sweet, authentic and humorous.
Peña subtly calls attention to Elena’s Cuban heritage; it’s evident in every scene with her and her family. Leyva is perfect as Gabby, a woman trying to raise two kids on her own while also chasing her own personal desires. She’s introduced while making Cuban tostadas and cafecito for breakfast, burning her hand and yelling in Spanish for her son Robert to hurry up. The frame is regularly filled with Latino faces, so it’ll be interesting to see how often real-world issues affecting Latinos will factor into future episodes.
Gabby’s relationship with Sam looks to be a major element of the entire season as Gabby struggles to tell her children about her dating life. When Elena hilariously finds out, it culminates with the little girl interrogating her mother only to ask if her mother is truly happy. No matter what problems the pair endures throughout the season, the show suggest that so long as everyone is happy and living their truth, it’ll be OK.
The first episode sets up the threads that will carry Elena and the audience through the season. No doubt Gabby’s relationship, Elena’s back and forth with Jessica and the overall nature of growing up will provide plenty of plot for the first season, all of it meant to show how Elena became President. This is a program that feels particularly female and Latino and broad enough to appeal to anyone who has felt like they want to achieve the impossible. Diary of a Future President is such fun thanks to its sharp script and Romero’s affecting performance. The series is a must-watch.
Diary of a Future President debuts January 17, 2020 on Disney+.