Amazon’s new rom-com gives us ‘Mexican Nancy Meyers.’ And these classics inspired it

Two men hold hands and smile over a romantic breakfast.
Vincent Rodriguez III, left, with Mark Indelicato in “With Love.”
(Kevin Estrada / Amazon Prime Video)
Share via

There’s a detail in the opening moments of “With Love,” the holiday romantic comedy series premiering Friday on Amazon, that may seem unremarkable to some, but was a very intentional priority for creator Gloria Calderón Kellett in bringing her vision to the screen: a swoon-worthy kitchen inside a Latino home.

“‘Mexican Nancy Meyers’ is the direction I gave my production designer,” Calderón Kellett says during a recent video chat. “I wanted a beautiful kitchen. I wanted sweaters and gorgeous clothes. But we’re the center.”

The five-episode series, set in Portland, Ore., follows a multigenerational Mexican family, the Diazes, over a year, with different holidays, from Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) to Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) serving as a backdrop to the medley of romantic narratives. But writing Latino characters into the stuff of Hollywood fantasy, marble countertops and all, was just the beginning.


Well aware of the genre’s predominantly white, straight, cisgender past, Calderón Kellett — a co-creator of the Latino-fronted reboot of “One Day at a Time” and an ambassador for Latino representation in Hollywood — wanted to highlight a range of identities: Latino (including Afro Latino) and Filipino, nonbinary and transgender, gay and bisexual.

There’s Lily (Emeraude Toubia) and Santiago (Rome Flynn), who play out the classic will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic; Jorge Jr. (Mark Indelicato) and Henry (Vincent Rodriguez III), a gay and bisexual couple in the early stages of a serious relationship; Jorge Sr. (Benito Martinez) and Beatriz (Constance Marie), a long-married couple stuck in a discordant rut; and Sol (Isis King) and Miles (Todd Grinnell), coworkers at a hospital who take their relationship to the next level. There’s even Tía Gladys (played by Calderón Kellett), a single woman ready to mingle or not — because no matter what, the biggest love of her life is herself.

A man and a woman talking over fries at a diner
Rome Flynn and Emeraude Toubia in “With Love.”
(Kevin Estrada / Amazon Prime Video)

“With Love” is Calderón Kellett’s follow-up to “One Day at a Time,” the beleaguered sitcom that spent most of its four-season run fighting to get renewed. It was this time last year that the comedy was canceled at its second home, Pop TV. Grieving its loss while living through a pandemic and grappling with the strain of social isolation, Calderón Kellett cuddled up with comfort movies and TV shows. That’s when inspiration hit.

“I’m watching ‘When Harry Met Sally...,’ I’m watching ‘Love Actually,’ I’m watching all the shows that I love, the movies that I love,” Calderón Kellett says, “and then being struck with the whole reason I became a storyteller in the first place: ‘Oh, it’s a real white Christmas.’ And I thought, ‘The antidote for the moment is to make something centered on the thriving and the joy and the love, where the centers of the story are these typically disenfranchised groups.’”

We spoke with Calderón Kellett about the movies she turned to and how they inspired her contribution to the genre.


In this series, Running the Show, The Times speaks with showrunners of your favorite TV programs about breaking into Hollywood, being the boss and more challenges of the job.

March 1, 2019


‘When Harry Met Sally...’

A man and a woman talk in a park in autumn.
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally....”
(Castle Rock Entertainment.)

The classic 1989 film, written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, introduced us to Harry Burns and Sally Albright, polar opposites whose bickering about things like “Casablanca” and whether men and women can be friends helped make them the gold standard of rom-com duos.

“I think it’s a perfect movie,” Calderón Kellett says. “I don’t remember the first time I saw it, but l had the VHS and I was watching it consistently again and again and again. I know it by heart. I know it word for word. It’s the two of them in their prime, and Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher [as Harry and Sally’s friends] are brilliant. It has New York City. It has all of the stuff that you love.”

Harry’s cynical outlook on love and Sally’s light and peppy personality served as a model for “With Love’s” will-they-or-won’t-they duo, Santiago and Lily.

“Lily is very upbeat and thinks love is real, and ‘I’m gonna live my best life when I find it.’ And Santiago is much more of a realist and grounded, in that people have disappointed him mostly, so he’s very guarded. Allowing this woman in opens him up and brightens him up. And she becomes more of a grown-up in terms of what love looks like for her as a result. They definitely have the ‘When Harry Met Sally...’ vibe ... but they’re not two white people.”


‘Love Actually’

A man and a woman waving from a stage with fake snow falling
Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in “Love Actually.”
(Peter Mountain / Universal)

The 2003 Richard Curtis movie is as synonymous with the holiday season as Starbucks’ coveted festive cups. Calderón Kellett paid special attention to the way the picture weaves together the storylines of its all-star cast — including Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson — and even Denise Richards for a moment.

“‘Love Actually’ is really about various storylines happening simultaneously and the challenges of that — how do we tell all these different stories?” she says. “Some are closer to the family, some are a little bit more peripheral to the family. And it became, ‘How do we get everybody in the show a beginning, middle and end? And when we check in with them, we [are] excited to see those people again and see what [is] happening in their story.’ The writing challenge for me was doing it over the course of a year and hitting on the holidays. It meant that four months might go by: How do I pick up the story and cover what has happened in the time we did not see these characters? You can definitely see the homages to ‘Love Actually.’”



A woman dressed as an Elf wrapping presents in a mall
Zooey Deschanel in “Elf.”
(Alan Markfield / New Line Productions)

Only cotton-headed ninnymuggins can fail to understand the perennial charm of Will Ferrell’s performance as an oversize elf, Buddy, who comes to the realization he’s a human, in the 2003 film directed by Jon Favreau. While an unlikely relationship develops between Buddy and Jovie, an unenthusiastic department store employee who dresses as an elf (Zooey Deschanel), another dynamic intrigued Calderón Kellett: the one between Buddy and his biological father, played by James Caan.


In “With Love,” that bond receives multiple depictions: through Jorge Sr. and Jorge Jr., with the latter seeking his father’s approval of his new boyfriend, and with Santiago and his father, Laz, both of whom are coping with the recent loss of a loved one.

“Father-son relationships are something we don’t often get to see Latino men explore, especially in terms of feelings,” Calderón Kellett says. “And so the ‘Elf’ of it all is about this relationship that this man has with his father. And we on the show explore not only Jorge Sr. and Jorge Jr. but also [Santiago and Laz] — really showing that Latinos are not a monolith — we have an Afro Cuban father and son and we have a Mexican father and son. On ‘Elf,’ you get the earnestness, the love and the joy between a father and a son. And being able to do my more grounded version — because these people don’t think they’re elves — of that Christmas story about loss and about love and about acceptance with these men was really important to me.”


‘The Philadelphia Story’

A woman with a pussy bow top looks up at a dashing man in a suit
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story.”
(United Archives/FilmPublicityArchive)

The 1940 film, an adaptation of the same-named 1939 Broadway play, stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart in a story about a divorced heiress, Tracy Lord (Hepburn), whose remarriage plans go awry with the arrival of her ex-husband and a prying reporter.

Lily is the Tracy Lord of “With Love,” according to Calderón Kellett.

“‘The Philadelphia Story’ is the breaking down of a princess,” Calderón Kellett says. “And it gave us the infamous, ‘Who is she going to choose? Is she going to go with Jimmy Stewart, or is she going to go with Cary Grant?’ And there’s that line where Tracy says, ‘I don’t want to be worshiped, I want to be loved’ — we have a bit of all of that with Lily’s journey. She is suffering from model minority syndrome. She’s the second generation, her grandparents came here with nothing and built something; her parents took over, and they’ve been building this generational wealth, and the pressure is on her to be happy. Like, ‘We did all this stuff for you so you can be free and happy’ — and she’s not. What does that look like? And how can she be honest with herself in terms of growing as a person so she can be ready to find a person to spend her life with?”