Tonight, Jennifer Lopez will return to scripted television for the first time in 20 years. She stars as detective-turned-FBI informant Harlee Santos in Shades of Blue, an NBC procedural on which the showbiz Renaissance woman also serves as an executive producer.
This is a big deal: A meaty, nuanced role for a Latina actress, and better yet, a role that she personally wielded creative control in crafting. What's an even bigger deal is that Shades of Blue doesn't represent an isolated incident. After airing "preview" episodes in late 2015, two comedy shows with Latina leads made their debut in regular Monday timeslots on the same network this week: Superstore and Telenovela.
America Ferrera anchors Superstore as Amy, an experienced, no-nonsense floor manager at a big box store. Like Lopez, she's also a producer for the show.
Amy, who's in the midst of a budding flirtation with new coworker Jonah (Ben Feldman), is unconstrained by the stereotypes that too often plague roles intended for Latina performers. The Ugly Betty alum explained why this sensibility attracted her to Superstore in Parade:
…when I saw how [executive producer Justin Spitzer] was casting this show, it was a huge draw for me. None of the characters were written specifically for any race or ethnicity… We are so diverse, and we come from such different walks of life, and that was really exciting to me. I could see that Justin’s vision, along with the other EPs, was to show a world that really reflected the world that we’re living in.
Despite the show's open casting (or, more likely, because of it), it's nevertheless eager to engage with issues of race and identity. Garrett (Colton Dunn), a black man who uses a wheelchair, spends much of the second episode dodging a photographer for the internal corporate magazine who sees him—a disabled person of color—as a "holy grail" subject for the cover.
But sometimes, even though its enthusiasm is charming, it feels like Superstore hasn't quite yet figured out exactly what it wants to say. In "Shots and Salsa," Amy is offended when she's asked to serve free samples of salsa because of her "natural spiciness," doubly offended when fellow Latina employee Carmen does the job with an exaggerated Mexican accent, and triply offended when a Filipino coworker takes her place. The stereotypical impressions employed by various characters throughout the episode aren't offensive so much as they feel unnecessary, even trite—although they are bolstered by a few genuinely sharp moments, as when a misguided white customer chastens Amy for criticizing Carmen’s Spanglish.
At its best, Superstore is a clever, sweet show (showrunner Spitzer spent seven years writing for The Office, and that influence is keenly felt here), and a well-deserved showcase of Ferrera's talents.
Telenovela is also, technically, a workplace sitcom, but this workplace is considerably more glamorous than a Wal-Mart clone. Executive producer Eva Longoria is Ana Sofia, a Spanish-language soap diva whose work-life balance is upset when her ex-husband is cast as her love interest.
The comparison to Jane the Virgin—which prominently features a telenovela of its own invention—is inevitable, so let's get that out of the way. Telenovela can't compete with the fairy-tale dreaminess of the CW rom-com (nor with modern-day Lucille Ball Gina Rodriguez's flair for physical comedy), but it's more interested in a high-energy, slapstick brand of fun. The backstage action borrows plenty of telenovela tropes, like evil twins and faked amnesia, and the show's cartoonish ensemble is easy to like even when the writing isn't particularly successful.
Telenovela showcases an all-Latino cast, a rarity on television, which Longoria considers a point of pride. As she recently told Parade, "there have been communities that have long been ignored for talent, and the Latino community is one of them." A particularly interesting fact about the series' protagonist is a detail drawn from Longoria's own life: Ana Sofia doesn't speak Spanish, but that—along with her aversion to spicy food and salsa dancing—doesn't make her ties to her culture any less robust, an identity crisis explored when she goes on a date with the white TV network president (Zachary Levi).
The simultaneous, welcome arrival of these three noteworthy shows brings to mind Rodriguez's 2015 Golden Globes acceptance speech: “This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes."
Watch Shades of Blue at 10 p.m. Thursdays, and catch Superstore and Telenovela Mondays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET—all on NBC.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.