Image Credit to FOX
In a time when national idiot Donald Trump has built a sizable lead in the GOP Primary on a platform of unhinged racism, hatred, and lying, a show that intelligently and sensitively examines the origins and costs of those feelings is a must. The Seth MacFarlane produced Bordertown (FOX, Sundays) aims to be this exact show by following two families (a white and Latino one) in a town on the border of America and Mexico. But Bordertown is a catastrophic failure, offering little insight into race, politics, or humanity, while at the same time serving up an ugly and dumb brand of humor. Every scene, line, and character is worthless.
Bordertown’s main failure revolves around its two lead characters, Bud Buckwald and Ernesto Gonzalez, white and Latino patriarchs, who live ordinary lives as neighbors in the fictional Californian town of Mexifornia, near the border of Mexico and America. Of the two, Bud is by far the nastier one. Born an American citizen, he works as a border agent and has a seemingly endless amount of hatred for immigrants and Mexicans. Bud seems like a typical Trump supporter, even championing the building of a wall on the border and the deportation of legal, not just illegal, immigrants. While the character of Bud might be uncomfortable and gut-wrenching, his presence in the TV landscape is a refreshing acknowledgement that such losers exist in reality. Sadly, Bordertown does little more than acknowledge Bud and use him for laughs. No attempt is made to understand the forces that shaped him into an angry and pathetic human being, whether they are ideological, political, or personal, and the show rarely sees him as anything other than a hateful joke. In turn, Bordertown strips Bud’s humanity from him, making him simply a disgusting figure. The show loses any humor, sadness, and anger that can come from recognizing the gulf between what a person can do and who he is. Instead, it sacrifices tragedy and empathy for laughs and smugness; essentially, turning itself into a shallow work about a shallow man.
Image Credit to Hotchka
When it comes to Ernesto’s character, Bordertown tries to go down a different path, but just ends up in the same simplistic, narrow-minded, and cloying place. Unlike Bud, Ernesto-an immigrant and gardener-is a calm and jolly figure, one who possesses no political agenda or hateful feelings. Ernesto’s kindness is so vast that he even invites Bud over to family gatherings despite the openly racist comments Bud makes. All of these compassionate characteristics make Ernesto a more charming and sympathetic figure than Bud, but again, they come at the cost of his humanity. Ernesto seems like an idiot and simpleton because of his constantly cheerful and forgiving attitude, one that makes it look like he lacks all self-worth and intelligence to realize just how much disrespect Bud throws his way. Does Ernesto never feel rage or heartbreak at the mean and harsh comments Bud makes? Is he really ok with the fact that Bud can’t stand the idea of his son (JC) and Bud’s daughter (Becky) dating? Does Ernesto never ever consider just banning Bud from his life, thus cutting the chord with a hateful human being? From Bordertown’s crude perspective, the answer to all these questions is yes. The show can’t imagine Ernesto as little more than a kind and thoughtful human being, who at most gets slightly annoyed at the world, but never angry or depressed with it. Ernesto isn’t a positive portrayal of Latino men, he’s a stereotype who lacks any of the complex, changing, and contradictory feelings that all human beings contain. In other words, his character is exactly like his supposed contrast Bud: both characters are products of writers who want to say something deep about race, politics, and humanity, but are too unimaginative to do so.
Sadly, for Bordertown, that lack of imagination infects every aspect of the show. None of the other characters are any more complex than Bud or Ernesto. There’s Bud’s nagging, but understanding wife, the ridiculously PC college stereotypes (JC and Becky), and Bud’s other kids, who are just stereotypical images of white trash (one of them even looks like Honey Boo-Boo). Meanwhile, the show’s animation style offers some surreal jokes that play with the form, but the writers never figure out how to incorporate that style with the story in a way that comments or amplifies the underlying conflicts. However, the show’s most unforgivable sin is tied to its comedy: Bordertown simply isn’t funny. Every joke made on the show comes from a place of disdain for either the characters or its audience. The jokes on the show either smugly highlight how ugly, stupid, and hateful all the characters are or consist of lazy pop-cultural references to works like Breaking Bad and NCIS; there’s no wit, absurdity, or sensitivity to the show’s brand of humor. Bordertown only throws punches at its subjects, and it’s ugly, not joyous, to watch. Ultimately, then, Bordertown’s writers have created show that swaps humor, wit, insight, and humanity for feelings of superiority, nastiness, and simplicity. In many ways, this show is the perfect mirror for our current Trump-led political quagmire; it’s just not the mirror anyone wanted.
Image Credit to Way Too Indie
This post was published before the third episode of Bordertown (FOX) aired.