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How FOX's 'Bordertown' Crossed Social, Racial Boundaries

“Bordertown” became the first prime-time cartoon to focus on a Latino family’s story, but was canceled before the first season concluded.
Opening sequence for \"Bordertown.\"
Opening sequence for "Bordertown."FOX Entertainment

"Bordertown," the prime-time cartoon that focused on the changing relations between Mexican-Americans and white Americans in southern California, airs its final episode on the FOX network Sunday night.

The show, produced and created by Mark Hentemenn and aired for a single season, followed the lives of border agent Bud Buckwald and his successful Chicano neighbor, Ernesto Gonzales, in a small American town called “Mexifornia.

Before the show's final episode, writers and consulting producers Lalo Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano spoke to NBC News Latino about how “Bordertown” became the first primetime cartoon to focus on a Latino family’s story, and why they feel the show made a lasting impact.

“There are so many stories that we wanted to tell, and in this day and age, it is the time to have a politically edged cartoon about the U.S.-Mexico border,” Arellano said. “Now more than ever is the time to have a cartoon that can highlight the insanity and inanities of the issues concerning immigrants, but also the hilarity involved in them.”

Left to right: Bud Buckwald, Janice Buckwald, Maria Gonzales and Ernesto Gonzales. "The Engagement" - Episode one of "Bordertown"FOX Entertainment

“To us, it was revolutionary to show a Latino family on an animated sitcom, and the first time ever on network television,” Arellano said. While animated shows like “Dora the Explorer” and “Mucha Lucha” exist, “Bordertown” opened up a Chicano household to an older, broader audience, Arellano said.

Every episode begins with Buckwald, who is miserably incompetent at work, failing to capture famed human-smuggler “El Coyote” in absurd chases much like those of Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner. These intros were meant to show that stopping Mexican migration of any kind is impossible, despite what vitriolic anti-immigration politicians say, Arellano said.

El Coyote and Bud Buckwald - "Groundhog Day" - Episode five of "Bordertown"Fox Entertainment

“In this hype of some ‘La Reconquista’ of Mexicans taking over the U.S., people don't try to engage in the community at large," Arellano said.

While many of the episodes rely on Buckwald’s disdain for the Gonzales family’s success, many themes transcend racial boundaries and present issues affecting both families. One episode equates the sheer fanaticism surrounding small-town football rivalries and fierce soccer fandom in Latino communities.

Later, Buckwald’s obese daughter, Gert, has to go to Mexico for heart surgery because the family cannot afford the U.S. healthcare system. In that same episode Gonzales’s son, Pepito, is diagnosed with ADHD and heavily medicated to calm him.

The most eerily prophetic episode, however, shows how a massive border wall ruins the local economy. Alcaraz said the script for that episode was written before the idea of a border wall entered the current U.S. political discourse.

“We wrote the wall episode a year before Donald Trump began talking about the wall,” Alcaraz said. “In the same wall, they smuggle people through a tunnel, much like 'El Chapo.' If anything, our show inspired them!”

"Borderwall" - Episode two of "Bordertown"FOX Entertainment

Alcaraz said the show initially met skepticism, especially with executives in the industry wary of insulting the Mexican community.

Related: Hank Azaria: 'Bordertown' Turned Out to be More Topical Than Intended

“People were scared of the topics we were going to cover at first, but once they saw it their minds changed,” Alcaraz said. “I understand it was edgy for some people, but it’s a great experience. We made history.”

While every episode of “Bordertown” addressed illegal immigration, the writers intended to create characters that reminded Latino viewers of their own families.

“I wanted to show actual, Mexican and Mexican-Americans as they are in true life,” Alacraz said. “Just to show brown people on TV is crazy right now, even in 2016. We wanted to do that and have multidimensional characters that work beyond stereotypes.”

Alcaraz said that although the majority of TV writers are white, he is proud that "Bordertown" had five Latino writers. Even though the show was canceled, he hopes another network may pick it up so that he and the team can keep writing stories Hispanics can relate to.

"It's not just comedy writer blabber, it's from a real place," Alcaraz said. "Maybe America wasn’t ready to see that much of real Chicano humor on TV."

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