George Lopez returns to television for a third situation comedy Wednesday with TV Land's "Lopez," following ABC's much-loved "George Lopez" and FX's short-lived "Saint George." (He had a talk show too, "Lopez Tonight," for a couple of years on TBS.)
Although elements from his own life infused his earlier sitcoms, this is the first in which Lopez has nominally played himself — a professional comedian, a Mexican American from the north San Fernando Valley living among upper-crust Anglos, a divorced father whose ex-wife had given him a kidney — and the first to be shot single-camera. This makes it seem comparatively modern and sophisticated and self-aware, though that Lopez has taken this approach — especially after the failure of the old-school "Saint George" — feels more inevitable than daring. But it is certainly an improvement, by more than a little, on that last effort.
Created by John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky (co-creators of HBO's "Silicon Valley" with Mike Judge and veterans of Judge's "King of the Hill"), the series feels familiar but also fresh; predictable but not without character.
There is the traditional bumbling head of household — Lopez — confused by changing times, confounded by social media, by modern dating rituals, by his teenage daughter (Ashley Zamora) and by the Latino Morrissey fans she has let into his kitchen. There is the comical buddy (fellow comedian Maronzio Vance); there is the difficult neighbor (James Michael Connor).
There is the now-common gambit of famous people comically playing with or against their real-world public persona: Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whom Lopez mistakes for a parking attendant, insults him in Spanish, twice. Snoop Dogg talks about going off to meet Dr. Dre and Helen Mirren to bring Al Pacino "to the David Mamet play he's opening up — we're going to take him out for some drinks, relax him a little bit." Ed Begley Jr. unplugs all of the appliances in George's kitchen, announcing, "I'm a real environmentalist; you say you are, but these incandescent bulbs in this giant-sized margarita machine tell a different story."
And as is often the case with performers who play themselves on television, the character is less successful than the real person. The George of "Lopez" is abused, dismissed and mocked; the tour guide who brings buses by his house notes his presence by saying, "Usually celebrities are far too busy workin' to come out and say hi." Mention is made more than once of a 2014 incident in which Lopez passed out drunk on the floor of a Canadian casino.
With his dark hair slicked back and a goatee and sunglasses, the star looks more street than in his previous outings and, as if to underscore the effect, hires as his driver and de facto assistant, a large, largely tattooed friend (Anthony "Citric" Campos) from the old neighborhood, to which he regularly returns. Jokes about race and racism are put front and center.
"You're telling me that I'm a draw, but that could be a problem because my audience is brown," Lopez says to his agent, Olly (the wonderful Hayley Huntley), who is seeking to broaden his appeal among white people and score him a residency in Las Vegas.
"No," she replies, "I specifically made sure not to say that."
If the situations would serve any number of other sitcoms, the dialogue has its own sharp flavor, and there's an easy rapport between the players that keeps the show pleasantly watchable. George may take a lot of grief, but Lopez, who benefits from the relaxed naturalism of this setting, and whose best moments are his quietest, is well-supported on all sides.
Where: TV Land and Nickelodeon
When: 10 p.m. Wednesdays
Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)