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‘Gordita Chronicles’ is the 'jubilant' family-friendly comedy you need in your life

The cast and creator of the HBO Max series spoke with TODAY about the fan favorite sitcom, which follows a Dominican family in 1980s Miami — and features one unforgettable 12-year-old.
Olivia Goncalves, Savannah Nicole Ruiz and Diana Maria Riva from "The Gordita Chronicles."
Olivia Goncalves, Savannah Nicole Ruiz and Diana Maria Riva from "The Gordita Chronicles."Courtesy of HBO Max

If there’s one lesson to take from “Gordita Chronicle," it's to be your most authentic self.

The new HBO Max sitcom, released in June, is a refreshing immigrant story, following 12-year-old Carlota “Cucu” Castelli and her family as they adjust to life in 1985 Miami after moving from the Dominican Republic. The show is narrated by an unseen older Cucu, voiced by Dascha Polanco.

Though it was announced on July 29 that the show was not renewed for a second season, the 10-episode comedy has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. Created by Claudia Forestieri and executive produced by Zoe Saldaña, along with Eva Longoria who directed the pilot, the series brings the laughs with its relatable cast and storylines.

“It’s been so positive, it’s been so supportive, upbeat and embracing and just jubilant,” Diana Riva, who plays Castelli matriarch Adela, told TODAY in a group interview with the cast and creator.

Forestieri added that she’s been getting “so many messages from fellow gorditas and moms who are feeling very seen.”

As the first episode describes, “Gordita means little chubby and in the Dominican Republic, it’s a term of endearment.” After moving to Miami, the show's gordita, Carlota "Cucu" Castelli (portrayed by 12-year-old newcomer Olivia Goncalves), soon discovers that the American Dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  

“The song said, ‘America the beautiful.’ I think they oversold it,” Cucu says as she arrives at her family's temporary home in the States.

Olivia Goncalves, Savannah Nicole Ruiz, Diana Maria Riva and Juan Javier Cardenas.
Olivia Goncalves, Savannah Nicole Ruiz, Diana Maria Riva and Juan Javier Cardenas.Lara Solanki

Over the course of the season, viewers see how the family’s wholesome attempts to believe in, and eventually achieve, the American Dream are challenged by realities like federal income tax and discrimination. As Adela says, they take on challenges by being “bold Americana(s).”

Below, we spoke to the show's cast and creators about the show's origin story and where it's headed.

The story begins in Miami in the '80s — and in real life

For the show, which she began writing in 2017, Forestieri who has written for shows like “Selena: The Series” and “Good Trouble” — drew on her life growing up in Miami in the mid '80s.

Many storylines, like the Halloween episode where Cucu goes trick-or-treating for the first time, come directly from Forestieri’s personal life or from the writers', who were either immigrants or children of immigrants and grew up in South Florida.

At a time when many Latinx shows like “Vida,” “Gentefied,” “Promised Land,” and more have been canceled, Forestieri said she “got really lucky with the timing of this idea."

“Five, 10 years ago, maybe the industry would not have been open to an idea like this one,” she said, later adding, “A lot of people are saying that they wish they would have had this show growing up, which was my wish too.”

Latinx-led shows frequently get cancelled in a TV landscape where Latinx characters are already underrepresented. 2021, UCLA released a Hollywood Diversity Report TV analysis that revealed that Latinx talent — including actors, directors and writers — remain marginalized in Hollywood, according to Variety. While 18.5% of people in the United States identify as Hispanic or Latinx, in the 2019-2020 season Latinx actors made up only 6.3% for broadcast, 5.7% for cable and 5.5% for digital.

Zoe Saldana and Eva Longoria at the "Gordita Chronicles" Los Angeles premiere on June 12, 2022.
Zoe Saldana and Eva Longoria at the "Gordita Chronicles" Los Angeles premiere on June 12, 2022.Jc Olivera / Getty Images

Meet the Castellis, according to the actors who play them

The Castellis are an ambitious and optimistic bunch, beginning with the youngest of the clan: Cucu.

Armed with an “I can do anything attitude,” Cucu takes on the challenge of attending middle school in a foreign country with confidence. Whether it’s telling her classmates that her aunt is Gloria Estefan and promising her to perform at their school dance, to standing up to the school bully, there’s nothing that Cucu can’t take on.

Actor Goncalves had to tap in on her inner Cucu for the role. “I’m still shocked that I’ve done this,” Goncalves told TODAY of her acting debut.

In doing so, she said she inspired others. Goncalves recounts receiving messages from fans about Cucu's impact. “They’re like, ‘You’ve inspired me so much to feel comfortable.’ And I’m like, I’m glad I did that and even prouder than I made you feel comfortable," she said.

Cucu attempts to find her place in a new school and country.
Cucu attempts to find her place in a new school and country.Lara Solanki / HBO Max

Then there’s Emilia, Cucu’s older and popular sister portrayed by Savannah Nicole Ruiz. Viewers see the teen taking on the all-American life by meeting cute boys and trying to fit in with the cool clique, a.k.a “The Bubblegums.”

Though Emilia's journey as the new girl-turned-popular girl seems familiar at first, she soon begins to questions her friends’ decisions and becomes her own person.

Commenting on Emilia’s development throughout the course of the season, Ruiz said Emilia “believes the opinions of the teenagers around her are the most important things in the world.”

“Breaking through the thought that teenagers and their validation is the most important thing in the world is something that I went through and something that I think a lot of viewers have gone through,” she added. 

Emilia is experiencing life as an adolescent in the United States.
Emilia is experiencing life as an adolescent in the United States. Laura T Magruder / HBO Max

Victor, the girls' kind and hard-working father, played by Juan Javier Cardenas, is a successful marketing executive at an airline. He soon discovers that for a country that calls itself “land of the free,” it sure is expensive in the U.S.A.

Victor, hilarious and charming in his own way, is a very present father. As Cardenas said, he “is so proud of his kids ... that he would die for them.”

“He risks everything in the world to give them a life that he thinks that they deserve, and he wants to provide so much for them,” he said. “That’s such indicative of what I tried to do as a father.”

Victor is a marketing executive at an airline.
Victor is a marketing executive at an airline and does whatever he can for his family.Laura T Magruder / HBO Max

After having it all in the Dominican Republic, Adela, on her end, is forced to downsize her family’s lifestyle. From learning about coupon clipping to befriending new neighbors, Adela has to balance the disappointments and setbacks of being an immigrant in the U.S, while trying to maintain a positive and loving home environment.

“I love how much of a cheerleader she is for her family. That’s something that a mother can relate to,” Riva, who is a mother herself, said. “I love … the truth about her struggling to find her place as a mother of two children in school and her husband who works full time. What’s her place in this new environment? That’s something that women go through.” 

She also touched on the amazing chemistry between Adela and Victor, calling it “a testament to what Juan brings to the table.”

"The writers have allowed us all of that beauty as a married couple and it shows because I get comments all the time that we just looked so natural in our dynamic of yin and yang," she said.

Adela attempts to start a new life as a homemaker in the United States.
Adela attempts to start a new life as a homemaker in the United States.Laura T Magruder / HBO Max

The creators wanted to 'counter stereotypes' about immigrants

Without spoiling any of the hilarious and heartwarming storylines, each episode title takes on the format “In America ...” The ensuing story either pokes holes into the adage, or reveals another side to the phrase.

“In America Everything Is Possible,” the episode that kicks off the series, the Castellis learn just how hard life in America is. Or in the episode “In America You Get What You Pay For,” a used car salesman takes advantage of the Castellis. Cucu embraces her curves and "gordita-ness" in “In America We’re Brave.”

“Showrunner Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz came up with this wonderful parallel which was between adolescence and immigration,” Forestieri said. “When you become an adolescent, you feel awkward, you start being self-conscious, (you’re) experiencing new things, the same as an immigrant. We found that kind of connected a lot of the stories of the girls and the parents and what they were all going through.”

Forestieri said she wanted to tap into the “immigrant first” experience and culture shock that comes with it, as well as “counter the negative stereotypes about immigrants that were so rampant during the last presidential administration.”

A touching moment between Adela and Cucu in "The Gordita Chronicles."
A touching moment between Adela and Cucu in "The Gordita Chronicles."Laura Magruder/HBO Max

HBO Max cancels the show

At the time of TODAY's chat with the cast and creator, they were awaiting news of a renewal. Unfortunately, on Friday, July 29, HBO Max announced that it was canceling the show after one season, due to their new programming shift.

“Live-action kids and family programming will not be part of our programming focus in the immediate future, and as a result, we’ve had to make the very difficult decision to end ‘Gordita Chronicles’ at HBO Max,” a spokesperson for the streaming service said in a statement to TODAY. “The series earned critical acclaim and a loyal following, and we are proud to have worked with creator Claudia Forestieri and our two powerhouse executive producers, Eva Longoria (who also masterfully directed the pilot) and Zoe Saldaña, to bring Cucu’s journey to the screen. We thank them and the talented cast and crew for creating such a heartfelt, groundbreaking show that connected deeply with a very important demographic.”

In an additional statement from Longoria and Saldaña, they said they were "heartbroken" by the decision.

“We are heartbroken by the larger programming changes at HBO Max that will not allow our special show that is ‘Gordita Chronicles,’ showrun by LatinX comedy powerhouse Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz, to have a second season at its original home,” the two actors said in a joint statement to TODAY. “As producers and storytellers who are continually seeking out the authentic and original stories that highlight our community’s joy and talent, we are so proud to have worked on this piece of magic.”

“We continue to be blown away by the overwhelmingly positive critical response coupled with our growing audience numbers, which prove that viewers recognize the importance of this show’s existence and the crucial space it is filling for LatinX content in the media landscape,” the statement continued.

Forestieri had previously revealed to TODAY that HBO Max had greenlit a “mini (writers’) room" for a prospective second season and from February to May, the team had been working on writing the first few episodes.

“We came up with the whole map for Season Two — what every character is going to be like, their big dilemma, the big thing that they’re going after, what they’re going to learn, how they’re going to change,” Forestieri shared. “And then we wrote the first four episodes of Season Two.” 

She was hopeful that “Gordita Chronicles” would get picked up for a second season. “We were very lucky in that respect that we got a chance to do that brush off of working off Season One,” she said, adding that if they do get renewed, they will be “that much more ready to jump back in.”

The cast of "Gordita Chronicles" during their Halloween-themed episode.
The cast of "Gordita Chronicles" during their Halloween-themed episode.Laura T Magruder

The cast, on their end, was also ready to jump back in and continue telling the Castelli family's story. While chatting with TODAY, each actor shared that they can’t wait to have the opportunity to grow their character and see them evolve — they also want a musical episode.

As for newcomer and rising star Goncalves, she just wanted to get back to work.

“Hopefully (we get renewed) because I’m so bored,” Goncalves said, making everyone in the Zoom interview laugh. “I can’t wait to work.”

The “Gordita Chronicles” is now streaming on HBO Max.

EDITOR’S NOTE (July 29, 2022, 8:00 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this story was published before HBO Max did not renew "Gordita Chronicles" for a second season. It has been updated to reflect the show's cancellation.