Forget pilots. Apparently, if you want your TV shows to star non-white leads, you’re better off making a web series first and getting a network to pick it up later. It worked for Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure). And for Fatimah Asghar (whose Brown Girls is also being developed by HBO). It was only time a kickass Latino project would be next. More than six years since Julia Ahumada Grob and Yamin Segal first released their web series East WillyB, ABC has put their half-hour comedy into development.
Before Gente-fied was tackling gentrification, before High and Mighty was putting young Latino talent front and center, before Grown was telling local stories in urban areas, there was East WillyB. The pioneering web series was a kind of Latino Cheers set in Bushwick. It starred Flaco Navaja as Willy Jr., who runs a bar in the quickly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. As he sees the barrio around him changing and his arch-nemesis (who stole his gf Maggie) fully taking advantage of the new hipster crowd in a competing bar, Willy Jr. finds himself needing to face the music lest he lose the two things he loves most. Throughout its two-season run the salsa-infused series showed the full breadth of the Latino experience, with characters from all over: Mexican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Puerto Rican and even some halfsies. Moreover, it was warmly received by the New York community it was representing; many of whom are now celebrating the ABC news.
“When we created this show as a web series we did so by using our grit, emptying our piggy banks, and paying our cast and crew with our tia’s arroz con pollo,” said show creators Grob and Segal. “To have the opportunity to bring an authentic Brooklyn story to television is a dream come true for two New York kids raised on city stoops.”
The fact that a network like ABC signed on to develop the show gives us hope that next season will see the kind of Latino-fronted TV lineup we’ve long been promised and which always fails to materialize. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, take a seat and binge-watch all of East WillyB from the comfort of your own home, starting with the first episode below. It opens, quite appropriately, with a bit of salsa narration and features none other than pre-Looking Raúl Castillo.