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.
“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.