I’m not sure what I wanted from The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia – it’s hard to look back and say I had any expectations about a show that has gotten surprisingly little promotion and even less hype. But I will say this, whatever you want from this show, whatever you need, Ashley Garcia will absolutely deliver.
You want a heartwarming family story rooted in the latinx idea that your uncles and your cousins are immediate family? You got that. You want a teenage story about an awkward girl trying to fit in and discovering the power of friendship? Yup, got that too. And you want a tale about growing up and finding your place in the world? You guessed it, you also got that.
The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia is the type of show you watch with your niece and nephew, and the kind of story you watch with your teenage kids, and also the kind of story you watch by yourself, when you just want something light and fun.
Shows geared towards teenagers are tricky. It’s hard to make them feel relatable for the actual intended target while making them feel like they can be watched by adults too. The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia succeeds by not really trying to do that, and instead just trying to tell a fun story about this teenager and her uncle, and how they sort of …figure out a way to live together.
Especial kudos to Jeancarlos Canela, who the latinx community will most remember for his roles in Doña Barbara and Pecados Ajenos than for his turn as El Rey in Grand Hotel. All of those roles had something in common for Canela, he was playing the heartthrob, and though he had a chance to show his comedic shops a little during Grand Hotel, even I – who watched and reviewed that show – didn’t expect his turn as tio Victor to be so …on point.
He is the heartthrob. And he is the little brother who just wants to win one, prove to his older sister that he can take care of his niece. He’s also the really protective tio who doesn’t see his niece as a problem or an obligation, at least not a bad one. And, surprisingly, he’s all of those while being hilarious and relatable and just …fun.
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Then there’s Paulina Chavez, adorably awkward as Ashley, a girl we have a real hard time relating to, and yet we can’t help but love. None of us have ever been in her position, and yet so much of what she goes through is relatable, never more so because she understands as little about real life as we do – even if she understands a lot of things we never will.
Bella Podaras also gets a shout-out for being the opposite of a stereotypical friend. So often teenage shows rely on the same old thing, and as someone who has been a teenage girl, I will say …we’re not stereotypes, even if we sometimes behave like it.
I didn’t get to watch much Disney Channel in my day, other than the High School Musical marathon here and there, so I can’t really compare this to what Disney Channel did 20 or so years ago. But I can, however, compare it to what Disney+ is trying to do now, with High School Musical: The Musical The Series and the new Lizzie McGuire, to name a few shows, and I will say this: it works just as well.
More of this type of content is never a bad thing – not just for the actual teenagers watching, but also for the adults who just want a break. I’m pretty sure there’s enough there for both.
The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia premieres on Netflix February 17th.