Let’s get one thing straight: Donald Trump is not a consultant to Bordertown.
To be sure, this new Fox animated comedy does target issues like immigration, the drug war and the embattled American Dream. But it’s been in development since 2007, long before the furor sparked by Trump upon his entry last June into the presidential race.
The series’ premiere (9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox) deals with a toughest-in-the-nation anti-immigration bill passed by Mexifornia, the U.S. desert community where Bordertown is set.
The second episode, airing Jan. 10, is about the construction of a border wall meant to protect Mexifornia from undesirables from down Mexico way.
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“It’s about time we did something about immigration! The Southwest belongs to retired art teachers and meth-lab entrepreneurs,” roars Bud Buckwald, a dunderheaded Border Patrol guard who fears his American Dream is slipping away in an America where ethnic minorities are projected to become the majority within a few years.
After all, next door to Bud and his family reside the Gonzalezes, whose genial patriarch, Ernesto, has a thriving landscape business after less than a decade settled in the United States.
According to creator Mark Hentemann, Bordertown began as a modern-day update of Archie Bunker, the apoplectic working man from the pioneering 1970s sitcom All in the Family. Like Archie, Bud is “a white guy who feels he’s losing his place in the world. He’s contrasted with an immigrant who’s building a life for himself in the United States.”
Growing up in Cleveland, Hentemann was inculcated with a version of the immigration story by his father.
“Every time he had a glass of wine, he would tell my siblings and me how his dad came over from Germany in the ‘20s with nothing, seeking a better life, working three jobs,” Hentemann recalls. “It was his way to communicate the values he wanted us to embrace, and not take for granted what we have.
“Every family has their immigration story somewhere back through the decades,” he says. “That’s what compelled me to write about this. This show seemed to be an opportunity to do a smart cultural satire.”
Even as the broader themes felt second nature to him, Hentemann did not wish to perpetuate stereotypes, so he brought in a team that included Latino writers.
Among them: Lalo Alcaraz, creator of the Latino comic strip, La Cucaracha, who brings to the show informed details (like Latino men’s huge belt buckles and the practice of Christmas lights strewn year-round outside Latino homes). He regards the show’s characters not as stereotypes, but as archetypes.
“My own dad was a gardener and I gardened with him on Saturdays,” says Alcaraz. “My mother cleaned houses for middle-class white people in San Diego. I’m from that background.”
Alcaraz went on to earn a master’s degree in architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, where he found his comic voice reflecting his experience growing up.
Now he describes the arrival of Bordertown – framing the immigrant experience in terms he was born to lampoon – as “Kismet for me, man! The stars aligned!”
Alcaraz co-wrote the border wall episode with Hentemann more than a year ago. Their hero, Bud, proposes the wall be paid for with confiscated drug money. But it works too well, destroying the local economy and leaving Bud jobless.
“At the time I remember worrying that all the furor over border walls had kind of faded,” says Hentemann. “Was this going to feel old hat when we aired it? Then a few months later Donald Trump announced his candidacy and brought it roaring back into the national conversation.”
“He went even further than we did,” adds Alcaraz with a laugh. “He said, ‘The Mexicans are gonna pay for my border wall!’ ”
Reflecting his recent stint running Family Guy (and the role of Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane as an executive producer), Hentemann’s new show takes plenty of shots at pop culture, including Bud’s 5-year-old daughter (a chubby beauty-pageant veteran who picks up where Honey Boo Boo left off) as well as the threat of interplanetary aliens, visions of the Virgin Mary, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose and the WNBA. (Voice talent includes Family Guy star Alex Borstein along with Hank Azaria of The Simpsons and Judah Friedlander of 30 Rock.)
But Bordertown aims to dig deeper than Family Guy and the equal-opportunity offensive that propels it.
“I’m excited about the potential of a show like Bordertown,” says Hentemann. “At its best, it could break new ground as a relevant satire in the way that All in the Family did.” With or without Donald Trump’s inspiration.
‘Borderland’ airs at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox.