Christina Vidal Mitchell — currently starring in ABC’s new parenting comedy United We Fall — took a pause during an afternoon phone call with Refinery29. Then she admitted, “I was just talking to someone the other day and saying, ‘I had no idea the impact that Taina had.’” If you are a Latinx millennial or zillennial woman who had access to cable television in the early 2000s, Vidal Mitchell’s admission is probably a jaw-dropper.
For many of us, Vidal Mitchell's Nickelodeon series Taina — about a Nuyorican teen girl striving for stardom — was the first time we saw ourselves reflected back on young adult TV. At the time, the genre was dominated by the white faces of series like Lizzie McGuire, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Boy Meets World. If there was a Latinx girl on-screen in 2001, when Taina premiered, she was the best friend — not the heroine. Ask Lalaine’s Lizzie Macquire character Miranda Sanchez.
The “impact” of Taina — Nick’s first-ever sitcom led by a Latinx girl — is baked into its existence. “At the time, I was just like, ‘Cool! I’m doing a TV show,’” Vidal Mitchell said. That’s why it has been “humbling” for her to learn the true meaning of her series to so many. “It sobers you to think, Okay, you’re not just doing a show. Somebody could be getting something more from this,” Vidal Mithcell — who has garnered over 30 TV credits since Taina’s 2002 finale — added.
The same mantra could be said for Vidal Mitchell’s current series, United We Fall, which debuted in mid-July, less than a week after Jezebel published the story “There Are No Latinx Shows Left on Network Television.” United pulled television back from that grim brink, which befell pop culture in the wake of ABC soap The Baker and the Beauty’s permanent cancellation. Chaotic comedy United We Fall — created by Julius Sharpe, about his life with wife and series writer/producer Stephanie Escajeda — is Vidal Mitchell’s latest step in keeping television’s Latinx uprising alive.
“There are those people who are tasked with making change. They’re tasked with making noise,” Vidal Mitchell began. “And then there are other people who are tasked with showing up when the opportunity presents itself.”
While Vidal Mitchell says she falls into the latter, more laid-back category, United by definition is a series that “makes change” as the only surviving network series led by a Latinx family. The comedy follows Vidal Mitchell’s Jo as she and her white husband Bill (Mad TV’s Will Sasso) try to juggle the increasing stress of raising two young children, making it to work on time, and maintaining the romance in their marriage. Jo is a far cry from the hypercompetent Latinx superwomen modern television has popularized, like One Day at a Time’s Penelope Alvarez. Although Penny has human flaws, she is also a heroic army veteran and expert nurse who keeps her family running despite severe periods of depression.
Jo is a hero for all Latinas who don’t feel like they’re “making jefa moves” every moment of every day.
“I come from a long line of strong women who get it done. Like my mother, my tias, my sisters. And I’m like, ‘Where the hell did I come from?’” Vidal confessed with a long, hearty laugh. “My mom would even tell me, ‘Aye, nena, you were so sweet and laid back when you were a kid. I used to look and you and be like, ‘Is that my daughter?’’
While viewers haven’t met Jo’s United mom yet, it’s likely Mrs. Rodriguez would have a similar question if she is anything like her type-A son Chuy (Scandal’s Guillermo Díaz). There is nothing Chuy enjoys more than pointing out his sister Jo’s perceived shortcomings. “I really do appreciate being able to go play a Latina who does not have it all together. Who is not your typical strong, ‘I can carry the weight of the world on my shoulders’ Latina,” Vidal Mitchell said.
The inspiration for Jo, United writer Stephanie Escajeda, was one of those typically doing-it-all Latinas, according to Vidal. Then Escajeda had kids.
“I think her point was, ‘I was strong and I was firing on all cylinders in all these areas. But then I became a parent and it all kind of fell apart,’” Vidal Mitchell, a mother of two herself, explained. “I was like, ‘Man, you know that’s so interesting. Because I don’t feel like that I’ve-got-it-all-together Latina. It is a lot of pressure.’ Especially when all the women in your family are like that. I’m over here like, ‘Uhhh. I'm still just trying to tie my shoes. Put them on the right feet. Get out of the house in one piece.’”
If you’ve seen the cold open of most United We Fall episodes, you know Jo has similar complaints. Each chapter of the series is immediately powered by the stress of the traditional pre-COVID19 early morning rush. As we look towards the future of the sitcom, it sounds like Jo is destined for more less-than-perfect and extremely recognizable bumps in the road. “You might discover that Jo has a bit of a potty mouth,” Vidal Mitchell teased ahead of Wednesday night’s upcoming episode, “Participation Trophy.”
You know, because real-life messy Latinx women curse. “That’s true. Certainly the ones I know,” Vidal Mitchell quipped.