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'Gentefied' show creators on bringing humor to heavy issues in season 2

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Season 2 of the Netflix series "Gentefied" premiered this week. Still set in Boyle Heights, the majority Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, in the new season, the Morales cousins - Chris, Erik and Ana - confront new challenges as their beloved grandfather, Pop, faces the possibility of deportation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

KARRIE LACHNEY: (As Ana Morales) Your first interview is on Friday, and then we set up as many interviews as we can for the next six months until your trial.

JOAQUIN COSIO: (As Casimiro 'Pop' Morales, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What are you talking about? You have to do it.

LACHNEY: (As Ana Morales) Pop, please. Look; ICE - ICE isn't going to play fair, Pop. They're going to mess with your mind, make you slip up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) And find any excuse to send [expletive] back to Mexico.

MARTIN: The show's second season takes us even deeper into the lives of the Morales family while they try to sort through their own issues around identity, community and success, while also facing the big issues swirling around them and their loved ones, issues like immigration status and gentrification. But the show never comes off as a policy paper or documentary. It's more like a heartfelt look through a particularly honest family album.

The show was created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chavez, and they are both with us now to tell us more about "Gentefied's" new season. Welcome back to the program. Thank you both so much for talking with us.

MARVIN LEMUS: Thanks for having us.

LINDA YVETTE CHAVEZ: Thank you for having us. We're excited to be here.

MARTIN: So congratulations. I want to remind people that this show started out initially as, like, a web series idea, and now it's all over the world, which is a lot. I mean, does it feel different the second time around? Maybe, Marvin, do you want to start?

LEMUS: Yeah, I think - does it feel - I think it does feel different. It's kind of - you know, the digital series was never released. And so people knew about it and were anticipating the show coming out and, like - but this time around, you know, we get to release it, and there's, like, an audience. There's people, like, that are like - almost like a little too pushy about, like, demanding Season 2 and - which is a lot of fun for us because the - so the pressure's really on to make this good and to deliver and build on what we did last season. But it's been good. It's been crazy.

MARTIN: Let's just catch people up for people who may not have seen the first season. The first season really focuses on this family. Kind of the center of the family is this taqueria. And they're trying to figure out how to keep it going despite the forces in the neighborhood that might compromise it. You know, Pop wants to kind of keep things the way they are, and then the next generation, you know, they want to kind of hold on to the essence of it, but they want to help him kind of compete in this new world where, you know, forces are moving into the neighborhood.

And without giving too much away, the central focus of this season is Pop, who's played by Joaquin Cosio. Last season ended with Pop being detained by ICE. And this season he's fighting possible deportation. So I want to play a scene where Pop gets a chance, unlike most people in that situation, frankly, to go on CNN and tell his story. And he gives a really powerful speech. So let's listen, and then we'll talk about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

COSIO: (As Casimiro 'Pop' Morales) This country promised the American dream, but you lied. I worked hard. (Speaking Spanish). I'm done begging. I'm not a perfect immigrant. But I know I am not a criminal. (Speaking Spanish). This is my home. This is where I belong, whether you like it or not.

MARTIN: OK, let's get our tissues (laughter). I mean, it's - this goes back to what you were talking about because one of the things about the show is it's so funny and so warm and so sweet, but you don't shy away from things that are hard, that are really hard. So tell me a little bit about how you thought about how to work with this storyline.

CHAVEZ: Yeah. I mean, Marvin and I, like, when we came into the second season, we knew we weren't coming into the same tone for the family as we had in the first season. We knew we were ending the season on something pretty heavy that we actually didn't even touch upon the whole season until the very end. And we - you know, we really thought about what was the story we wanted to tell for Pop, and it really came down to empowerment.

We didn't want to see another story depicting an immigrant as, you know, sad and in misery and in detention and going through nothing but pain. The reality was this is a man who's been a mainstay of this community for 30 years. He had formed a whole family. There is generations of Moraleses in Boyle Heights in this story. And he was beloved in the community. And for him to suddenly be seen as a criminal, to be suddenly told that he must be ripped from this foundation that he's built, we wanted to show the real, like, injustice in that and how unfair the systems are for so many folks who are dealing with their status in this country and how it affects how they live with their families and live in their communities.

And so we said, OK, what's a story - what's a story we haven't seen really depicted throughout a season? And we felt like the story of this man who goes from being this quiet ranchero who just deals with his family and his taco shop to having to be on in - this public forum nationally to tell people, like, I belong here - because he starts out the season really not being sure. He even already - he starts out thinking, oh, maybe I'll get a house in Mexico and leave now. I messed up. Like, he goes from feeling very insecure about everything and not even wanting to say that he's undocumented to literally sitting in front of the national news and saying, this is who I am, and I'm not going to be ashamed of it.

That's the journey we wanted for him because we wanted to say exactly that. There is no shame in our families and who we are. And we belong here, whether you like it or not. That's why our poster says, here to stay, like it or not. Like, this is our family. This is our story. This is our country, and we're Americans. And that's really where we wanted to hone in the story. And that's where we took Joaquin. And Joaquin, like, just blew it out of the water. I was getting emotional just listening to that clip, just the sound of it. But yeah, that was our intention with it.

MARTIN: Do you ever disagree on where to land on something like this? And if so, how do you resolve it?

LEMUS: I mean, we disagree on a lot of things all the time.

CHAVEZ: (Laughter).

LEMUS: That's, like, most of the work, is getting over and finding the compromise. No, I mean, I think on something like this, I think when it comes to these issues, I don't know that we necessarily disagree. But we were definitely trying to figure out - we're like, OK, where are we going? Like, what are the options?

And you know, one of the ways - like, this ending and this story for Pop became very crystal clear, and just the story for the family became very crystal clear because while we were breaking the story, my mom got her citizenship finally after having been a green card holder for about 15 or so years. And I still - you know that - the weight that came off my shoulders that I didn't realize was there the moment she told me like, hey, I got it; I got the paper - and it came early. She wasn't expecting it. And it was such an emotional day for me, and I had no idea that it would be - I would have that reaction to it.

And that sparked a huge conversation for us of, like, what that feeling is of, like, we've been living our lives. We find love. We find, like, you know, humor, and every day we're chasing our dreams, and we're building relationships and building careers. And - but in the back of your head, there's always that worry. There's always this doom that could come at any moment because you're - the concern over somebody's status is, like, you know, just something that can be so ingrained in you from a young age.

And so it really helped shape that conversation for us and figure out like, OK - it just kind of crystallized and became very clear for us. Like, this is it. This is the direction we need to start moving in to tell this story and what that feels like. And we want to capture what that sense, that tone, that dark cloud that is always, like, that kind of overhead, even while you're still in your joy. And I think that's what we wanted to capture this season for the family.

MARTIN: One of the things about the show that I think I've enjoyed, I think that a lot of other people have enjoyed, is that it explores some gray areas and some tensions that happen within a community and within a family when it can come to questions of, like, economic mobility or success and, like, what does that look like? And, you know, I'm just wondering how - has the success of this show - I mean, the show is such a hit. You had, as I recall, when the show was first picked up, like, multiple offers. Is there any way in which the success has changed you or at least changed how you think about it? Because just to keep it real - I mean, the reality of it is the people who get to make TV shows and movies, generally, they are the people who left, right? But they still - they are people who left. And then now you have accountants and lawyers, and, you know, people want to take meetings in wine bars and all the places that - I mean, am I right?

CHAVEZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: So is there any way that your own thoughts about these issues has changed or sort of been discomfited by your own success?

CHAVEZ: Oh, 100%. I mean, I think Marvin and I talk about it all the time, and even more so during Season 1 because we were coming from obscurity into so much visibility and so many of those wine dinners. And with every new thing that comes into my life - because it's only skyrocketing, which is beautiful, and I feel so very blessed - but with every one, it's a whole process of being OK with not being poor anymore. You know, I grew up low income. I grew up, you know, in a Mexican immigrant family, low income. I never - these were all dreams I could - that I never imagined could have come true in this way.

And so, you know, every phase is another round of therapy bills (laughter) because it's like, how do I process all of this, and how do I do right? How do I not leave my family behind? Am I changing? So, yeah. I mean, the answer to that is basically yes. And I think it's like a lifelong journey - for me, anyway. I'll let Marvin speak to it, though.

MARTIN: Marvin, what about you?

LEMUS: Yeah, I'm super - like, this is - this all feels right to me. No. I - no, I kid. I kid. I kid. No, I think that question that you're asking is - it's a question, like Linda said, that we ask ourselves a lot. And I think we, especially last season, we were struggling with it so hard. And it was, like, blocking us from being able to write. Like, it was such a like - there was so much imposter syndrome and so much survivor's guilt that I think we encounter as these first-gen kids. So we just put a lot of that struggle and all those questions and all of the debate that we were having into the show itself with the characters.

Like, with Anna and with Chris and Erik, like, they're all in this spectrum of, like, you know, Chris going from being very, very set on, like - yeah, you chase the American dream, and you make your paper. And, like, you ball out. And that's the dream. That's what you got to do. And nothing can get in the way because that's the American dream. And Erik, who's on the extreme opposite and is much more committed to community, to family and sacrificing everything for them and dropping everything at a moment's notice for them, and Ana being somewhere right in the middle - and that's, you know, the journey we wanted to take them on, is to start shaking those beliefs for them and letting them question and starting to move them from one spectrum - one end of the spectrum to the other. And that is, you know, the evolution that we see that they're going through this season.

MARTIN: Will there be a Season 3? No pressure, but will there be? Please?

CHAVEZ: Let's get Netflix on the line. We can ask them what they think. We'll be like, hey, guys. What's up?

LEMUS: If everybody goes watch - everybody listening goes and watches the show and tells your friends about it and tell your family to watch it, you sit down...

CHAVEZ: Yes.

LEMUS: ...That will - then we can - hopefully we'll have a solid answer on that.

MARTIN: That was Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chavez, the co-creators of "Gentefied." The show's second season is streaming now on Netflix. Thank you both so much for being with us, and congratulations again.

LEMUS: Thank you so much.

CHAVEZ: Thank you so much for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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