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'Cristela' review: It has potential, but needs to find it

Cristela Alonzo was the star of

Cristela Alonzo was the star of "Cristela," a family comedy loosely based on her life and stand-up routine. Photo Credit: ABC / Adam Taylor

THE SHOW "Cristela"

WHEN | WHERE Friday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC/7

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Cristela (Cristela Alonzo) is a legal temp who is studying to get her law degree, but -- college bills being college bills -- has to live with her extended Mexican-American family, with sister Daniela (Maria Canals-Barrera), resentful brother-in-law Felix (Carlos Ponce) and their two young kids, and mom, Natalia (Terri Hoyos), who just wants her daughter to find a man. Felix's brother, Alberto (Gabriel Iglesias), in fact, is very interested. Cristela isn't.

Life at home is fine, but Cristela has ambitions, and finally lands a gig at a Dallas law firm run by Trent Culpepper (Sam McMurray), who's politically incorrect (bordering on bigoted). Worse: She's unpaid. At least she has a friend there, fellow intern Josh (Andrew Leeds).

MY SAY Despite the slightest everything's-up-to-date vibe, "Cristela" is really just another old-fashioned sitcom with roots that reach all the way back to the dawn of television, where shows neither offended nor scandalized. As such, it's both congenial and listless -- entirely reliant on old sitcom tropes, alongside the occasional joke about Mexican-Americans and the prejudices they continue to endure.

"Cristela" is unfailingly good-natured, but never quite funny enough (at least in the first two episodes sampled). In a TV world where sitcoms either draw blood or put audiences into a stupor, that might actually turn out to be its secret weapon -- as the TV comedy that works the bland middle ground.

But the other secret weapon, or the only one, is Cristela Alonzo, who radiates abundant optimism and joy. She happens to radiate abundant charisma, too, and at the TV critics' recent summer press tour, had most of the room eating out of her hand. "The character in the show is very much who I am in person," she explained.

Now all she needs is a better platform to showcase the Real Her.

BOTTOM LINE Cristela has plenty of potential. "Cristela" -- so far -- is forgettable.

GRADE B-

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