‘Lopez vs Lopez’ Showrunner Talks Crafting Stronger, More Bonded Season 2: ‘A Really Beautiful Collaboration’

“There were a lot of growing pains in Season 1 … and we came out of it so much stronger,” showrunner Debby Wolfe tells TheWrap

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Debby Wolfe and George and Mayan Lopez on "Lopez vs Lopez" (NBCUniversal)

After a freshman season filled with growing pains and a strike-heavy 2023, “Lopez vs Lopez” is coming back stronger and more bonded than ever under the guidance of showrunner Debby Wolfe.

“There were a lot of growing pains in Season 1, learning how to work with one another and learning each other’s comfort and discomfort and working out all the kinks of that,” Wolfe told TheWrap, looking back at the show’s inaugural season and her experience as a first-time showrunner. “We went through those growing pains all together and we came out of it so much stronger, so much [more] bonded.”

The sitcom’s second season, which premieres Tuesday, dives deeper into the complex dynamics at play between comedy legend George Lopez and his once-estranged daughter, Mayan Lopez. As Wolfe worked to incorporate George and Mayan’s real-life experiences of sobriety and working together into the NBC sitcom, the trio’s collaboration has soared.

“This season, we have just gelled — we are like one brain now,” Wolfe said. “I think this season is actually a lot stronger, because every one of us feels super invested in it. It’s been a really beautiful collaboration between the three of us.”

While Wolfe was a longtime admirer of George — noting the “George Lopez” show was the first comedy she had ever seen that was centered on a Latine family — the impetus for “Lopez vs Lopez” came from Mayan’s TikTok, which embraced the untraditional nature of her family, including her recent reconnection with her father.

“I came across Mayan’s TikTok one night, and it was her twerking upside down and revealing the sordid details of her parents’ divorce, and I was like, ‘This is a show,’ ” Wolfe recalled. “I watched it like 30 times that night.”

Wolfe then shot an email to “George Lopez” co-creator Bruce Helford, with whom she worked as a writer and co-executive producer on “The Conners.” Helford also saw the sitcom’s potential, and Wolfe worked on a pitch for George and Mayan — and they all immediately clicked.

“George very much felt like a tío to me, and he also reminded me a lot of my mother in many ways, in triggering and good ways,” Wolfe said. “Mayan reminded me a lot of myself — I see a lot of myself in her. I just felt so connected to both of them.”

“We’re kind of sisters in arms in a way,” Mayan told TheWrap. “It just seemed like kismet and there was no question that this was meant to happen … we didn’t know what the result was [going to be], but this was going to be a very special collaboration and a very honorable process.”

The new show opened the world of sitcoms back up for George, who told TheWrap he had also reached back out to Helford in an effort to get back in the game years after the “George Lopez” show ended in 2007 (“Lopez vs Lopez” premiered November 2022).

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Matt Shively, Mayan Lopez, George Lopez, Gabriel Iglesias and Al Madrigal in “Lopez vs Lopez” Season 2 (Nicole Weingart/NBC)

“It’s really hard to get back in,” George explained. “When you’re in, you feel like you’re in and you never really think about when you’re out, but then when I was out, you realize how hard it is to get in.”

While George assumed the show would rival the likes of adult animated comedies like “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons” or “American Dad” — noting that dialogue can be “rougher than you could get away with as a human being” — “Lopez vs Lopez” was born as a sitcom, and welcomed aboard cast members Selenis Leyva, who plays Mayan’s mom and George’s ex-wife, Rosie; Matt Shively, who plays Mayan’s boyfriend, Quinten; Brice Gonzalez, who plays Mayan and Quinten’s son, Chance; and Al Madrigal, who plays George’s friend and employee, Oscar.

“When I knew that I was going to join this cast, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what I’m entering into with dynamic,” Leyva told TheWrap. “I’m pleasantly surprised and I’m happy to say that it’s never felt awkward — I’ve never felt like an outsider.”

As the freshman season welcomed viewers into George and Rosie’s relationship with their Gen Z daughter, “Lopez vs Lopez” was anything but shy about touching on taboo subjects spotlighting generational differences in perceptions of mental health, sex, marriage and finances, among others.

Wolfe ensured each struggle in the show reflected an authentic experience from herself, her cast or her writers’ room, saying, “If it didn’t happen to someone in real life, then that’s not a story I want to tell.”

“As Latinos, we just have so much to mine from — so much generational trauma, mental health issues and oppression — all these things are just a part of our life,” she added. “When we’re telling these stories, there’s no other choice but to tell these stories.”

While Wolfe noted that George and Mayan have healed from their strained familial relationships, revisiting the father and daughter’s past estrangement has deepened Wolfe’s relationship with her own parents. “My relationship with my parents has never been better, because through Mayan confronting George and also learning to accept him, I learned to accept my parents more,” Wolfe said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I called my father after many years of not speaking, and now we’re speaking.’”

News of the 2023 WGA strike came as Wolfe was finishing the sound mix on the Season 1 finale in early May, and immediately sent the showrunner into a panic.

“Latine shows are always the first on the chopping block, so I was in tears, [thinking] ‘I don’t know if my show’s coming back,’” Wolfe said. “And then, a week later during the strike, we were picked up for Season 2, and I was like, ‘Oh, thank God.’”

“To get picked up when shows were still waiting to see what was going to happen to them was a huge vote of confidence from NBCUniversal,” George noted.

While Wolfe acknowledged the strain the labor disputes put on many striking writers, actors and the industry as a whole, she said the seven-month work stoppage enabled her to reflect on being a first-time showrunner and how she could be a better boss.

In the meantime, the first season of “Lopez vs Lopez” arrived on Netflix in fall 2023, which Wolfe said “changed the game” for the sitcom (Season 2 episodes will be available to stream on Peacock the day after their NBC premiere).

“It just opened up a whole new audience,” Wolfe said. “I just want to get this show out to as many viewers as I can. We’re the only predominantly Latine cast on network television — I want the world to see us, and I want a little Debby out there to watch the show, and be like, ‘Wow, I could be a showrunner one day.’”

Wolfe also called the cancellations of several Latine-led and created series — including Prime Video’s “The Horror of Dolores Roach” and “With Love” — due to the work stoppage “disheartening” since they didn’t really get “a chance to grow and develop.”

“There’s not enough people at the decision-making level that are Latine that get to make these calls. I’m hoping that changes, because you need an investment in your show,” Wolfe said, adding that she makes sure to train her writers on other aspects of being a showrunner.

Amid the lack of representation in mainstream media, Latine stars have made an effort to support “Lopez vs Lopez,” with the show’s guest star roster including Gabriel Iglesias, Rita Moreno, Danny Trejo and Jaime Camil, to name a few.

“I think our Latine Hollywood community is coming together in a way I haven’t ever seen in the 20 years that I’ve been around doing this,” Wolfe said, noting the uptick in events taking place. “We know how important it is to support one another because we don’t get a lot of these shots, and when we get these shots, we have to support one another to make sure that we last.”

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George Lopez and Mayan Lopez in “Lopez vs Lopez” (Nicole Weingart/NBC)

After being inspired by seeing George and Mayan work together on set in the first installment, Season 2 sees Mayan losing her job and joining the family business. As Wolfe said, “There’s a lot of stories that made sense to make them work together in the show.”

Season 2 also picks up following George’s decision to get sober in the Season 1 finale, diving even deeper into the comedy legend’s real-life sobriety journey, which was also shared by Wolfe and another “Lopez vs Lopez” writer.

“I’ve come a long way, and George has come a long way, so the storylines are coming from a real place,” Wolfe shared. “It’s not hard for us to talk about what we’ve been through, and we’ve had time to reflect on it. When you’ve had time to reflect on it, you can look back and see what’s funny about it, because at the end the day, we’re making a comedy.”

“I think what people like about the show … is that we’re able to be sweet and sour and still maintain the humor and maintain heart,” George said.

As George’s character gets acquainted with what sobriety looks like for him, the show draws from Mayan’s real-life experience of setting her expectations too high for her father: “I thought that it was going to fix everything and it didn’t, and it was kind of a mourning process.”

“It seems a little bit easier to just really go to those places because we wanted to say the truth … and have as much authenticity to the show [as we can],” Mayan said. “Debby really helps us find those moments and I commend her getting in the middle of a real father [and] daughter and trying to find and balance this real relationship and what can make it onto the screen.”

“Lopez vs Lopez” Season 2 premieres Tuesday, April 2, with back-to-back episodes beginning at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. New episodes will stream on Peacock the day after premiere.

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