It’s one thing to be the star of a sitcom. It’s another thing entirely when the character being portrayed is an alternative version of yourself. The most popular example of this is Will Smith with the show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. A new show on Netflix follows a similar idea, starring comedian Gabriel Iglesias in the title role. Though Mr. Iglesias may not have the same timeless charm as Fresh Prince, it is still a worthwhile sitcom.
The series follows Mr Iglesias, a high school history teacher with a class of (mostly) underperforming students. While the kids may not be doing so well in other classes, it’s Mr Iglesias’ charm and faith in them that helps them do well in his and motivates them to excel elsewhere. Even his humor helps them get understand the class: “While Monroe is best remembered for his doctrine, I think he really should be remembered as the first president with enough courage to say ‘Enough with the powdered wigs’.” Throughout the season, each episode covers a wide variety of issues, ranging from complex topics like cultural identity to simpler conflicts like the Academic Decathlon.
As well as the titular fluffy comedian in the star role, the rest of the cast is filled with talented actors. It was interesting to see some actors that were in previously dark roles taking on much more innocent ones in this: Jacob Vargas goes through a hell of a career change, going from an outlaw biker in Sons of Anarchy to a history teacher in this. The same can be said for Maggie Geha, who plays the rookie teacher in this show, but also stars as Poison Ivy in Gotham. Christopher McDonald plays the PE teacher, who feels reminiscent of Shooter McGavin years after the events of Happy Gilmore. Sherri Shepherd stars as the principal of the school. Oscar Nunez from the American version of The Office plays Carlos Hernandez, the show’s rough equivalent of an antagonist.
Even some of the younger actors who play the students have more experience than you might expect: Tucker Albrizzi as Walt has appeared in films like Bridesmaids and Alvin and I Am Number Four, Coy Stewart playing Lorenzo has starred in sitcoms like Bella and The Bulldogs, and relative newcomer Cree Cicchino starred in the comedy series Game Shakers, whose last episode aired a couple of weeks before Mr Iglesias popped up on Netflix.
The first season has a total of ten episodes that have an average running time of half an hour. When talking about the show, Gabriel makes a comment that “I was supposed to be a teacher. I went into comedy instead of teaching. I think it’s cool that Netflix gave me the opportunity to try out that other life.” The easiest example of a show to compare this to is the previously mentioned The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, following the formula of a celebrity’s alter ego.
However, that’s where the similarities end: while Fresh Prince opened up as the beginning of a fish out of water story, this series opens up with the school already well into the school year, but it doesn’t take a lot of time before the audience gets acquainted with the story. This is a mostly episodic series, with each of the conflicts are only contained to a single episode. The only hint of an overarching storyline is Mr Iglesias getting his kids ready for college, as well as a romantic subplot involving Maggie Geha’s character.
The writing of the show makes the characters range nicely from charmingly wholesome and adorkable, to deliciously hateable. However, there are also a few moments that paint the characters beyond stereotypical good guys and bad guys. Some of the more villainous characters get a bit of self-reflection that humanizes them: In one episode, the assistant principal realizes the way he wants to run the school is similar to his childhood living under a dictatorship in Cuba. Additionally, the characters the audience vouches for have their own flaws as well: Jacob Vargas’ character is an avid gambler and Mr Iglesias is a recovering alcoholic – something that the comedian himself has dealt with. It’s a nice touch that not all the characters are clear black-and-white cardboard cutouts.
As for the comedy itself, it mostly hits and rarely misses. Much of the comedy is wordplay or just general dirty/childish humour, as well as dialogue that reflects Iglesias’ stand up, with him doing impressions and making jokes about food. One show that Mr Iglesias has been compared to is the recently cancelled remake of One Day At A Time: the family element and the idea of raising kids to do the right thing go hand in hand for both shows. There are a handful of jokes that were clearly written for American audiences, so it may not land for other people. There is also the occasional joke that may come off as uncomfortable at best and racist at its worst, especially in the case of the PE teacher character.
One of the nicer credits comes up at the end of the first episode: Gabriel Iglesias – who also was an executive producer on the show – dedicates the show to his high school teacher June Garner, telling her ‘Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.’ Well, let’s hope that this show fills Ms Garner with the same sense of joy as the audience watching this charming sitcom.
Mr Iglesias is a nice binge-worthy show. Though it might not stick with the audience long after it's over, it has enough charm and laughs to make watching it an enjoyable experience.