Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming, and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
For numero 26: Carlos Santos plays Chris Morales, the fun-loving cousin whose Michelin-chef aspirations get derailed when he lands at his family’s East L.A. taco shop in Gentefied. (The 10-episode series dropped on Netflix: Feb. 21, 2020)
With new show production all but stopped for the foreseeable future, a feel-good dramedy is a welcomed TV event – like a 12-pack of TP landing on your doorstep.
Except this delivery is not a mirage, but a refreshing reality for Netflix subscribers looking to visit a Latinx world unlike any currently portrayed on screens right now.
Gentefied is about a family living in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, struggling to keep their grandfather’s taco shop afloat in a neighborhood where gentrification has become a reality. Nobody sums up this dichotomy better than Chris Morales (played by Santos), who starts the series working as a chef-in-training at top-tier restaurant Mangia. Chris’s culinary talents are on display in early episodes as he becomes a favored son of sorts while sucking up to the head chef. Much to the chagrin of the numerous Mexican line cooks he works with.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, for Chris depending on how you look at it… things go south for various reasons. One of which has to do with his caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation from “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) into a full-fledged Latino with pride and awareness of his culture.
It’s these moments when we get to see what Santos is made of as a comedian and actor.
His steady decline into this new world only brings him closer to his cousins and his Mexican roots. In fact, there’s a hilarious episode dedicated in part to Chris enduring challenges to prove his Mexican-ness at the hands of his cook colleagues. It involves blind taste tests to identify various strains of jalapeno, tequila, and other Mexican spices and ultimately ends with him being carried out of Mangia sideways, in a fit of drunken male bravado and national pride.
In episode four entitled, “Unemployed AF,” Chris takes time in between gigs to further spiral while attending a rave and doing a smidge of drug-induced posterior nudity. He further bottoms out when he concocts a smoothie consisting of Cheetos, spray cheese, and hot sauce while uttering the sacrilegious sentiment:
“It’s just food.”
It’s reminiscent of that scene in Caddyshack when the drunken priest, recently struck by lightning, proclaims “There is no God.”
All throughout, Santos performs the role of Chris with perfect aplomb. His fresh choices and quirky sensibilities are on display in full-force, the more up-against-a-wall his character gets. Ultimately, Chris is a cultural contradiction – someone who seems to want to run from his roots – but realizes along the way where he comes from and his obligation to make things right by the people who raised him.
A sentiment that could resonate particularly well right now for some in quarantine, who may be fretting over how best to take care of elderly parents.
Making people laugh is something the Puerto Rican-born Santos has been doing since college. That’s where he put aside his plans to study engineering to dive headfirst into his standup comedy, getting his bachelor’s degree in theater arts.
From the get-go, he was dedicated to improving his comedy chops. Upon moving to L.A.. he joined up with Second City Improv and eventually became part of the Upright Citizens Brigade (aka UCB, which recently underwent “massive” layoffs).
Along the way, he’s been able to keep his act together, which involves everything from self-deprecating humor to timely stuff rooted in racial stereotypes. Here’s a gig Santos performed at The Ice House several years ago, for a quick taste.
As with all stars-to-be, there always a moment you can point to, a “break” if you will. Santos’ can be traced back to MiTRL (the Latin version of TRL) on MTV Tr3s back in 2006. That’s where he got to play Carson Daly (so to speak) as lead host, interviewing notable celebs like Jessica Alba, Ricky Martin, and Beyonce.
In between this gig and his more recent bona-fide breakout in Gentefied, there have been some notable roles like in the Blair Witch-y indie film Ghost Team One (2013), the web series Equals Three (2016) along with guest stars in 2 Broke Girls (2016) and The Last Man on Earth (2018), a now eerily prescient comedy starring Will Forte and Kristen Schall, about a virus that wipes out the human race.
This all before landing his role as Chris in Gentefied, his definitive entree into mainstream culture, courtesy of the ‘Flix. It’s where Santos’ star is certain to rise, as the series has gained positive reviews as it gets found during quarantimes.
Speaking of, if you like what you see in Santos, know he also contributes regularly to the Spanish Aqui podcast with other Latinx comics. That’s where he can be heard pondering plights of the Latinx community – all while making people laugh.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.