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Interview: Showrunner Debby Wolfe Talks ‘Lopez vs Lopez’

Comedian George Lopez and his real-life daughter Mayan Lopez find the secret recipe to healing generational trauma in their authentic family sitcom Lopez vs Lopez. The NBC show, created by Showrunner Debby Wolfe (One Day at a Time) along with the Lopezes, centers on Mayan Lopez, the Gen-Z daughter to two boomer parents George and Rosie (Selenis Leyva). In the series, audiences see Mayan reconnecting with her dad while healing her own childhood trauma. 

Each episode seeks to bridge the generational gap between Mayan and her working-class father, George, by poignantly exploring themes on topics like mental health, gaslighting, alcoholism, and more. While these topics are universal, this show hits home for Latinx viewers due to the talented writer’s room Debby Wolfe has culled together, half of whom are Latinx. A personal favorite episode was “Lopez vs Español” which touched on the shame and “otherness” Mayan felt throughout her life for not speaking Spanish. It’s a story that’s all too familiar for many of us. 

Debby Wolfe, who’s bicultural herself, brings the cumulative experiences of the writer’s room to the show, ultimately allowing for diverse storytelling of what it means to be in an expansive community. It’s what makes Lopez vs Lopez important television and one of those shows we’ll remember when looking back on the next new wave of representation in television. 

Awards Radar spoke to Debby Wolfe about representation, growing up bicultural, and
developing Lopez vs Lopez with Mayan and George.

Niki Cruz: I can, on one hand, name all the Latina showrunners I’ve spoken with, and unfortunately, that’s such a reflection on not only who gets to make a show but what shows get to experience longevity.

Debby Wolfe: Yeah, I agree. I’m in a group chat with all of them, and we talk about this all the time. There are so few of us, and our shows are constantly being canceled. It’s a sad state of affairs, but all we can do is stay positive, keep pushing, keep trying to make shows, and hope for the best.

NC: It must feel so nice to have that camaraderie, at least.

DW: Oh, yeah. It’s called the Untitled Latinx project, and we have an Instagram, too, and all the Latina showrunners are in it, and we’re such a support to one another. We’ve all gone through the same things and challenges, and it’s just really awesome to not feel alone. You have that support group to always turn to. We’ve texted almost every day, all day long. 

NC: In the last couple of years, we’ve had a moment where you have shows that tell audiences how diverse our community is. In the last 10 years, we’ve had shows like Gentefied, Cristela, One Day at a Time, Gordita Chronicles. What does this new wave of representation mean to you? 

DW: It’s wonderful. We’ve been waiting for our moment, and it feels like it’s starting to come. People are starting to recognize that we are a force to be reckoned with. Lopez vs Lopez has the largest index of Hispanic viewers because people like you can relate to the show. It feels very specific. It’s a beautiful thing that it’s being recognized and that we do have an audience, and they will watch. Representation has always been a driving force in everything I do because I didn’t feel like I had any characters I could relate to growing up. I really hope that shows like Lopez vs Lopez opens the door for more.

NC: Given that lack of representation on television, what was it like developing your tastes as a writer growing up? Was there always a desire to work on sitcoms?

DW: I was always creative. I grew up bicultural. My mom is El Salvadorian, and my father is Jewish, so I always felt like an outsider looking in. I didn’t fit in with either side. I wasn’t Latino enough because I didn’t speak the language, and I wasn’t Jewish enough because my mom was not Jewish, so I always felt like I was trying to find my place in the world. So, I always turned to writing to figure it out. Being creative became my therapy. That’s really what got me into writing and it’s what continues because I’m still trying to figure out who I am.

NC: Mayan and George are not afraid to get real and go there, and I think it’s part of what makes this show work. It’s such a careful balance that you can tell is in the writing. Is that balance hard to capture in a script?

DW: I was fortunately trained by some of the best. I got to work with Norman Lear, and Mike Royce, who did Everybody Loves Raymond, and Gloria Calderón Kellett, who did How I Met Your Mother. These mentors always taught me to write your truth. To always start from an experience you’ve had, or your writers have had. A lot of Lopez vs Lopez is based on what George and Mayan have gone through. There’s a lot of funny in pain.

NC: I love how each episode has one subject that feels authentic to the Latinx community. What was the process of developing these episodes? Was it a thing of reaching out to Mayan and compiling stories, like, let’s talk about being Latina and feeling othered for not speaking Spanish, let’s talk about anxiety.

DW: Yeah, part of it was that. Her TikTok was all about daddy issues. She was twerking while calling out her father for cheating on her mom, and her mom divorcing him and getting a settlement. She was speaking her truth. In developing these stories, I would talk to George and Mayan, and then a lot of it came from my own life and things I went through. We also have half Latino writers in our writer’s room as well. We all have these stories that we’ve gone through. For example, it got brought up in the room that you get shamed for not speaking Spanish and you get shamed for speaking Spanish, so you can’t win. When something resonates with more than one person in the room, we know we have something here.

NC: It’s so refreshing and rare to see a Latinx family talk about therapy and the generational disconnect because “trauma” wasn’t a word or “gaslighting” wasn’t a part of their lexicon. Or they were just trying to survive the best way they knew how. As I was watching, I was like, wow, this is really on NBC right now? 

DW: One of my favorite jokes is George not understanding what gaslighting is. And he’s like, “buckle up, bruja, all your gas is coming to the light!” There are always these new words we’re throwing at our boomer parents that we’re learning through being therapized or reading about it on social media, and we’re forcing them to face it whether they want to or not, and that’s a beautiful thing. George the character, and George in real life is willing and open to being called out and grow, and with that growth comes healing. If you have issues with your family, the only way you’re going to heal is if you
actually talk it out and communicate. That’s what I really hope this show shows people, that it’s possible.  

NC: Speaking of family, you’ve worked on shows where the cast feels like a family. George and Mayan are really father and daughter, but everyone around them gels like a family. What is that experience like?  

DW: I am so honored for that. I have another group chat with the cast, and they genuinely love each other. Just from shooting the pilot, we were like, “Oh wow, they gelled so quickly.” Mayan and George set the tone so quickly, and I think because they’re so vulnerable and willing to put everything out there, it creates a warm environment where everyone feels safe. With Selenis Leyva, she’s a brilliantly talented actress. She’s very open and not shy.

I learned from Mike Royce to bring all of your actors into the room and talk to them about their characters, talk to them about how they see their characters and talk to them about their lives and what they’ve experienced; make them a part of the process. That’s something we did early on. 

NC: I’m so glad you brought up Selenis, who seems to just live and breathe this role. She’s a legend in her own right, and she’s killing it on this show. She’s the type of actress that can do theater; she can do drama; she can do sitcom comedy. What is it like working with her?

DW: Selenis is like Cate Blanchett. She’s really a chameleon. She’s such a master of her craft. Every little impediment she’s added to Rosie, like touching her hair and hand movements. These are all things she has thought about, developed, and added to this character. She’s made this character so much richer, deeper, and full of life than I ever imagined. She’s really one of the breakouts, and people are obsessed. As you said, it’s completely different from what she did before. Everyone in this cast is hilarious but can also nail the drama, which allows us writers to go to heavier and darker places.

NC: We’ve talked about the Lopezes, but what do your parents think of the show?

DW: Oh, they absolutely love it. They tell everyone behind my back (laughs)

NC: They keep you humble!

DW: Yeah, keeping me humble (laughs). When I became a comedy writer, I said, “mom, I’m going to be a comedy writer,” and she said, “but you’re not funny.” So there’s still a little bit of that to this day. (laughs)

They’re really proud. I grew up in Hollywood, Florida, and didn’t know anyone out here in the business. I moved out to LA and worked really hard. I’m so grateful to them, they grew up poor, so they instilled in me this strong work ethic, and I think that’s what it took for me to be successful out here. 

Lopez vs Lopez returns on Friday, February 3rd, at 8 PM on NBC.


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Written by Niki Cruz

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