Before Gloria Calderón Kellett landed on developing “With Love,” a holiday rom-com, as the first title under her overall deal with Amazon Studios, she took six months to “sit in my feelings to figure out what was the new thing that I wanted to say,” the writer-producer-director recalls.
Calderón Kellett had spent the last few years on a roller coaster of emotions with her multicamera reboot of “One Day at a Time,” which first launched on Netflix in 2017, only to be canceled by the streamer after three seasons. Fledgling cabler Pop TV picked up the show for a fourth season, which ended up truncated after the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on production, and that network canceled the show months later (and has since gotten out of the originals game altogether). For all that complicated business, though, she was still creatively fulfilled by the art she was making on the show.
“When I started at Amazon and they were like, ‘What is your dream show to make?’ I said, ‘I just made it,'” Calderón Kellett tells Variety. “I really left nothing on the table with ‘One Day at a Time’; I made exactly the kind of multicam that I wanted to make, and it felt like a great opportunity to go back to other genres that I’ve been on before. Now I have a chance to grow artistically and try those mediums out.”
So she took a few months to regroup and find a story she was just as equally passionate about telling. She knew whatever came next would be the same kind of “salve” that “One Day at a Time” was because she wants to create shows that make people feel good about themselves and good about the world. (“All of my stuff is always going to be like a hug,” she notes.) But she also wanted to further stimulate conversations among family members.
With “One Day at a Time,” she points out, she was able to tell stories about queer kids coming out, mothers not losing their sexuality, colorism and so much more. After that show, she began thinking about what happens years later.
“What does it look like when everybody’s fine with the gay kids? Now the evolution is bringing somebody home, having them confronted with what it really looks like to hold somebody’s hand and kiss them, and they’re the same sex. What is that conversation? When you get over all this stuff, the love is what’s left,” she says.
“With Love,” which streams on Dec. 17, centers on a Latino family that gathers together for Christmas in the premiere episode. Jorge (Mark Indelicato) is the one bringing someone home for the first time (his onscreen boyfriend is played by Vincent Rodriguez III), while his sister Lily (Emeraude Toubia) struggles to make a new, lasting connection after a recent breakup. Their parents (Constance Marie and Benito Martinez) are out of sync with each other after decades of marriage, and Aunt Gladys (Calderón Kellett) is just perpetually single. As the five-episode series goes on, the story follows the family through a calendar year, checking in on them on other key holidays, including New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, before coming full-circle and closing things with the next Christmas. At that point, someone’s relationship has enough forward momentum to move to the marriage stage. (Which couple will walk down the aisle is not answered in the finale episode, but Calderón Kellett says a big family wedding would be the arc of a second season, should Amazon Prime Video grant the show a renewal.)
Calderón Kellett pitched “With Love” at the top of 2021. The idea was born out of missing her family during the winter holidays of 2020, when the pandemic kept them from seeing each other, as well as her “Instagram feed being full of trauma consistently happening to Black and brown and queer people.”
“I was watching all the Christmas movies that I watch every year, and this is not new information, but it is a really white Christmas, for real,” she says. “I want all of the things I’ve gotten to see through a white lens, I want to be able to experience through Black, brown and other identities.”
This includes creating a grandmother character who starts the series asking her grandson and his boyfriend about being gay, and calling in other family members to ask questions, too. “It all comes from a sweet space of trying to connect with [her] grandkids and trying to understand them,” Calderón Kellett notes. She also wanted to flesh out the parents’ romance because she’s never seen “50-year-old Latinos talk about what it is to sustain love — not just fall in love, but stay in love” on TV before.
“Even my character, Gladys, in a Latino family would be made fun of as the spinster. She doesn’t give a fuck; she’s completely fine being single. These are little tidbits that you don’t get to see in the community. We have a trans character walk into a bathroom where their cousin is peeing and they change and it’s not a big fucking deal; nobody cares,” she continues. The show also has conversations around the differences of coming out as queer today versus decades ago, and the kind of support offered in both times. It was all about, “How much can I get away with that you get to feel the normalization of what this looks like when people are just being kind and loving and accepting?” she says.
Calderón Kellett is also using her new platform at Amazon to continue creating opportunities for people of color behind the scenes. “With Love,” for example, hired only women of color directors, including Meera Menon, who also executive produces, and Hiromi Kamata. The show also employed a female director of photography, Sandra Valde-Hansen.
“‘With Love’ is really a show about linking arms with other disenfranchised groups and all rising together,” says Calderón Kellett.
Creating such opportunities will be a constant among all of Calderón Kellett’s titles, as she wants to continue to branch out into new genres and formats. The next title she has in the works is “The Horror of Dolores Roach” pilot, based on the podcast of the same title. Compared tonally to “Sweeney Todd,” it centers on the titular Dolores (Justina Machado) after she is released from prison after 16 years into a gentrified Washington Heights, where she no longer has any family or friends. While “it’s very dark — about the prison industrial complex and about how Black and brown people are categorically put in prison for crimes that now white people make a ton of money off — weed crimes,” Calderón Kellett says, it features themes of layered and non-stereotypical characters that will start conversations that she is passionate about.
“Generally speaking with my work, it’s making up for 200 years of lack,” she says.