We now live, as we’re told, in the age of Peak TV. With over 500 shows being produced a year (!) there is truly no way of catching up with everything. Rather unfortunately, if you begin winnowing down those numbers to shows that deal with US Latinos, you’re left with a much more manageable list. A dozen years since Ugly Betty presumably ushered in a new era of Latino TV in the United States, broadcast and cable networks have done little to put the US Latino experience on the small screen. That hasn’t stopped talented storytellers from trying.
That’s what makes these 10 shows so important — and so worth binge-watching. Not only do they boast the kind of talented performers we’ve come to enjoy (America Ferrera! Gina Rodriguez! George Lopez! Rita Moreno!) but together they offer a brief history of contemporary US Latino television. Telling stories of immigrant families and local high schools, of outsized celebrities and humble personal assistants, they run the gamut from steamy cable dramas to multi-cam sitcoms. With, yes, the requisite drug trade thriller in there for good measure. Better yet: these are all available to stream across various platforms so if you’re looking for a new series to pick up this summer, consider one of these below.
Jane the Virgin (2014- )
This CW soap drama started with a simple, all too relatable conceit: Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) had pledged to stay a virgin until her picture-perfect wedding day. Only, after a routine doctor’s appointment goes awry, she finds herself pregnant with the baby of the rakish heir who owns the hotel she works at. Stuck in a love triangle, eager to become a harlequin romance novelist, and committed to putting her family first — which includes her mother, her abuela, and her newfound father, telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega — Jane is the kind of everywoman Peak TV needs. With storylines that are as outlandish as they are endearing, Jane the Virgin is one of the sweetest most delightfully bonkers shows you’ll ever watch.
On My Block (2018- )
Changing the game from the get-go with its binge-watching strategy, Netflix has slowly helped diversify the television landscape. Take On My Block. Created by Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft, this half-hour show is set in a rough inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood. But where other narratives taking place in such a setting would aim for grim gritty dramas, On My Block offers instead a tale about young people of color (including Afro-Latino tomboy Monse, Mexican-American Ruby, and African-American Jamal) that’s authentic but not dour. Its 10 episode first season is a master class in what it means to tell truthful stories about those who seldom get to take center stage in American television.
Available to stream on Netflix.
One Day at a Time (2017- )
To those who say the multi-cam sitcom is dead, I present to you: One Day at a Time. Capturing the old-school feel of sitcoms of generations gone by — you know, the ones that always took place in way too large living rooms and featured a cooky neighbor who always visited — this reboot of the 1970s show centers on a Cuban-American family dealing with contemporary issues. But don’t let the very special episodes on PTSD, coming out, and immigration steer you away, for laugh out loud hilarious this Netflix series is, mainly due to its ace cast, which includes Rita Moreno and Justina Machado as bickering mother and daughter.
Available to stream on Netflix.
Queen of the South (2016- )
In a genre dominated by male antiheroes (looking at you Narcos), USA’s Queen of the South puts women at the center of the action. An American take on the Kate del Castillo’s La reina del sur, this rags to hella riches story follows Teresa Mendoza as she goes from poor woman in Jalisco to ruler of a sophisticated drug empire that straddles the US/Mexico border. Starring Alice Braga and boasting adrenaline-thumping action sequences, the series offers proof positive that devilish female protagonists are just as fascinating and worthy of your time their male counterparts.
Available to stream on Netflix and USA Network website.
East Los High (2013-2017)
The OG all-Latino show, East Los High began as an independently produced series before being picked up by Hulu and given a home in that streaming service, serving as one of its first banner series. Set at a fictional high school in East Los Angeles, this teen drama tackled everything it could during its 4 season run. That meant pregnancies and romance, peer pressure and immigration issues, games and Homecoming, and everything in between. Oh, and did we mention the ace dance team Bomb Squad that took center stage for much of the show’s run? Because you really don’t want to miss out on it as you seek East Los out.
Available to stream on Hulu.
Ugly Betty (2006-2010)
The story of an unpretty but impressive assistant that wins audiences’ hearts first began as a Colombian soap opera. Soon, though, it traveled around the world in too many international remakes to count. It was only a matter of time before American TV — with the help of one Ms Salma Hayek — would take on the iconic bespectacled protagonist. Making America Ferrera an Emmy winner and a bona fide TV star, ABC’s Ugly Betty followed a young Queens native as she worked at a glamorous Manhattan magazine where she swooned over her boss and tried to make the best of the sudsy family drama happening all around Mode. With delicious performances by Vanessa Williams, Ana Ortiz, Michael Urie, and Rebecca Romjin to name just a few, this was one remake definitely worth watching.
George Lopez is no stranger to primetime TV. Having already starred in his own sitcom George Lopez, his own cable comedy Saint George, and even his own late-night show Lopez Tonight, he’s perhaps the most recognizable Mexican-American TV star of the last few decades. It followed that he’d try to mine his own life for what was hist most recent project, the semi-autobiographical sitcom Lopez. Playing a version of himself in a Curb Your Enthusiasm sort of way, the stand-up comedian poked fun at the challenges he faced in making it big and trying to stay true to his Latino roots.
Available to stream on TV Land.
Vida (2018- )
There is no show quite like Vida. Ostensibly focused on the family dynamics between two young women who lost their mother (who, in turn had hidden the fact that she was a lesbian and was living with someone in the building she’s just left them), this Starz original series is a rallying cry for LGBTQ Latinas in East Los Angeles, for radical Latinx peeps who can’t stand gentrification, and for Selena fans who love themselves a good lotería joke. Anchored by newcomers and shot by a mostly female Latina crew, Tanya Saracho’s series feels has an indie Sundance vibe that just makes it all the more authentic.
Available to stream on STARZ.
Wearing all of the hats (star, creator, producer, writer), stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo made history with her sitcom Cristela. Set in Dallas, Texas, the multi-camera show followed Cristela Hernandez, a law school graduate trying to get by while living in a house with her sister’s family and her mom. An outspoken and ambitious young woman, Cristela offered Alonzo a great chance to poke fun at the many assumptions people (including Latinos!) have of and about Latinas, all the while offering the kind of big-hearted family-driven sitcom that once ruled the airwaves.
Devious Maids (2013-2016)
Taking a page out of Desperate Housewives and Mexican show Ellas son… la alegría del hogar, Marc Cherry and Eva Longoria went ahead and created an all Latina-driven neo-noir that, like that Wisteria Lane show, anchored each season with a new mystery. In its first season, for example, we get to see Marisol (Ana Ortiz) take on a job as a maid so as to prove that her son wasn’t responsible for the death of Flora Martinez, a maid who was suddenly murdered. Together with three other maids (played by Roselyn Sanchez, Judy Reyes, and Dania Ramirez), Marisol kicks off her investigation, as well as the start of new friendships that became the cornerstone of this steamy 4-season wonder.