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'Gordita Chronicles' creator talks about what inspired the new HBO sitcom


When the Castelli family moved from the Dominican Republic to Florida in the '80s, they expect to live the full American dream - you know, manicured lawns, white picket fences and a huge backyard pool. But after getting here, reality sets in.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Are you sure this is it? The sign said America the Beautiful. I think they oversold it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I hate it here. If we don't go home, I'll die or run away. Either way, it'll be something dramatic.

PARKS: And so begins the comedic and touching journey of the Castelli family in the new sitcom the "Gordita Chronicles." The show is the brainchild of creator and writer Claudia Forestieri, who had a similar story growing up, and she's here now to tell us more about the show. Claudia, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CLAUDIA FORESTIERI: Hola, Miles. How are you?

PARKS: I am doing great. Muy bien. The show centers on the Castelli family here as they move from the Dominican Republic to Florida in the mid-'80s. Can you tell us a little bit about this family and especially the main character, who goes by Cucu?

FORESTIERI: Sure. So first, I got to correct you. It's white pickle fences.

PARKS: (Laughter) That's what the mom says...

FORESTIERI: And, you know, that's what...

PARKS: ...In that first episode. Exactly.

FORESTIERI: Yeah. So - but anyway, yes, this show is really a dream come true. It's inspired by my own experiences growing up in Miami in a Dominican family and coming at a young age and having to learn American customs and English. You know, Miami in the '80s was kind of like a crazy time. We've seen it - some aspects of Miami in the '80s exaggerated in movies like "Scarface" and then, you know, of course, "Miami Vice." But where this show is different is it's from the perspective of a 12-year-old child. And also, when I first wrote this, it was just a writing sample. I was just trying to get a job. I never thought anybody would be interested in having the adventures of a chubby Dominican girl on TV, but here we are.

PARKS: I've seen in your previous interviews that, you know, Donald Trump's repeated attacks over the last 5 to 10 years on immigrants and on the Spanish-speaking world really kind of motivated you as you were thinking about making this show. But I'm not sure that that is super obvious on watching it. You know, it's not an angry show or anything like that. Can you talk a little bit about that and how those two things are kind of linked?

FORESTIERI: Sure. So the show had two motivations. One was I was trying to get a job as a TV writer, and I was told, write a script that only you can write. So I wanted to write a script that would explain to people why I had an Italian last name but I considered myself Dominican. But No. 2 was, yes, what Donald Trump said, for two reasons. One is it reminded me of all the negative things that were said about Miami and the immigrant community in the '80s. So I saw this parallel, and it was kind of like, wait a second, I have heard this argument before - immigrants are ruining the country.

And I remembered the cover of Time magazine that said South Florida, paradise lost, and basically implied that the Latins, as they called them in the magazine article back then, were basically ruining Miami, and that's how Florida was going to hell in a hand basket. And I was really motivated to just tell these other stories, immigrant stories that I felt had never really been seen on TV and, yes, the lighter side of immigration and the fun side of immigration and also to clarify about what I feel is the motivation for 99% of immigrants. And that's not a scientific number. That's a number coming from my heart.

But I believe that, like, 99% of immigrants come to this country because they love this country, and they love that there's strict laws here, and they want to bring the best of themselves and also improve the country. And I would go as far as even saying that immigrants should be considered the newest members of the U.S.A. club because you have to be so brave and bold to leave your country and your language and your customs and your traditions, everything you know to start over in a new land with just a promise of a better life.

PARKS: Claudia, I want to ask you about how this show kind of feels visually, audibly. It has a very - I don't even know how to describe it, but it has a definite feel to it. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how you crafted it?

FORESTIERI: Sure. So when we were in pre-production, our showrunner, Brigitte Munoz-Liebowitz, came up with this term that I love. Whenever you - you know, you start a writers room, you usually give the writers homework. So we kind of made a list of things that we wanted them to read and see, and we had "Sixteen Candles" on the list and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and I believe one more John Hughes movie. So then Brigitte came up with this term, which is - was kind of our guiding motto, which was Juan Hughes. And that's what we were going for, which is John Hughes' aesthetic, but with a Latine twist. So that was whenever we were doing costumes and production design, the sets, that's - was our guiding light, Juan Hughes. So we didn't want it to be too kind of like poking fun at the '80s. We wanted it to be kind of grounded. And that really, you know, guided us through the through the process, through the visuals.

Also, the music - so growing up in '80s Miami, there were three part - three different types of soundtracks that kind of combined to make the musical feeling of the show. One was MTV and the Top 40 hits that you saw there - you know, Madonna, Michael Jackson. And then my parents were listening to Spanish language music - salsa and merengue. And then at school, what was heard most was freestyle music, like Lisa Lisa and Expose and TKA. So we grabbed songs from each one of those categories in every episode as much as we could because music is expensive. But that was a conscious choice as well. We really wanted people to be immersed in the '80s through the visuals, through the music as well as the storylines.

PARKS: Yeah. So much of the show is just such a beautiful blend of so many different things. It's delightful. That was Claudia Forestieri. She's the creator of the new show the "Gordita Chronicles," which is out now on HBO Max. Claudia Forestieri, thank you so much for joining us. It was a pleasure.

FORESTIERI: Thank you. Muchas gracias.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.