© 2021



This half-hour comedy/drama series is based on true tales from writer and creator Samuel Garza Bernstein’s eccentric, globe-hopping, non-binary upbringing. Sam is reimagined as DANNY LOPEZ née RIZIK—a gender fluid 10-year-old with a burgeoning sense of his own power. It’s 1974. Being non-binary isn’t a thing yet, but Danny’s identity isn’t contingent on anyone else’s nomenclature. And taking on a new last name, from Rizik to Lopez, becomes an integral part of his identity. He thrives, losing himself in idiosyncratic fantasies and musical interludes.

He aims to shape the world around him so his inner and outer lives mesh into one. Danny’s father is IVAN RIZIK, a Jewish cowboy from a wealthy family in San Antonio. Ivan is magnetic, volatile, kind of hot, and probably bipolar. In real life he really did look like Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born. Ivan fancies himself a socialist—though he never shrinks from exerting the immense privileges he enjoys as a White son of wealth. He’ll travel to other countries to support left-leaning activists fighting the oligarchs, but he gets there flying first class and stays at a Hilton.

Two years before the start of the pilot, Danny's parents split up. His mom, LINDA RIZIK, has custody but Ivan takes Danny and older brothers JAKE and JEFF to live in Cairo, along with AMY RIZIK, his new wife, and the boys’ new stepmother—who is so young she still has braces and pigtails. In Egypt, Ivan is there supporting the Palestinians, both as both an act of conscience and a giant fuck-you to his own Jewish dad. Cairo is an adventure. There are air raid blackouts. Movie theaters run pre-show propaganda films of soldiers setting kids on fire with napalm. Danny develops an innocent crush on a Palestinian compatriot.

During the Middle East adventure, Danny never knows where his mom is—they have no contact. He fantasizes about her all the time. To him, she is a glamorous movie goddess, beautiful, and magnetic. He pretends to BE her. This is where musical fantasies first come in. Danny is a star. Just like the pretend stardom of his mother.

He is convinced they share a special, secret bond that is deeper and more powerful than her ties to anyone else. She belongs to him and he will be with her again… Danny doesn’t confine his gender non-conformity to his fantasy life.

When the family returns to Texas, in events that take us through the pilot, Danny discovers that his supposedly White mother is an undocumented Mexican immigrant with a fake name and a fake birth certificate.

Her parents brought her across the Rio Grande when she was seven and then abandoned her. She was raised by a White family as their servant and took their name. She was light-skinned. No one questioned it. But her birth name is VERÓNICA LIN LÓPEZ DE LA PEÑA.

Danny is thrilled with what he perceives as an exotic turn of events. He tries on the new name, pretending to be his third identity, Verónica Lin López de la Peña. He wonders if Ivan will let him change his name to Danny López de la Peña, or maybe just... DANNY LOPEZ. Maybe he can make Ivan believe taking on a Latino name will make him more of a socialist.

Of course, this turn of events means that Linda should be envisioned in another way. Also in the pilot, another, even more amazing revelation: Danny and his brothers find out that Linda isn’t the birth mother of Jeff and Jake.

They have a different mother, a secret mother. Ever since Danny can remember, his deepest, unspoken desire has been that his mom will belong only to him. And now she does. More evidence that he can make the universe conform to his wishes.

In real life, and in retrospect, it should have been fairly obvious that writer/creator Samuel Garza Bernstein (then just Samuel Bernstein) and his two very white brothers were not full siblings. That’s Sam in the middle. In the family, there were no negative connotations to being Mexican, which is why the hiding of her origin was so inexplicable. Although... when the family lived on ranches, they would employ undocumented migrant workers who lived in a row of houses. Sam always thought they looked like slave quarters.

Danny knows nothing about Linda's family. Her own memories of her parents are vague. But Ivan's parents HELEN and LENNY RIZIK are regular characters. We meet them at the airport in San Antonio. Helen passes the time by embarrassing Lenny loudly—taunting him about his sexual performance with his mistress.

They are appalled that Ivan would take three Jewish boys to Egypt in the middle of a war. He may be their son, but they are clear-eyed (and quite vocal) about his character flaws. They think those kids should be with Linda, regardless of who gave brith to whom. Amy, the boys' stepmother isn’t really THAT young, though she does look exactly like Eden Sher from a few years ago.

From the outside looking in, people think Danny and his brothers lead a wonderful, exciting life. And it IS exciting. In the first scene of the pilot Danny is by himself in the middle of the night, in the upstairs lounge of a 747. He pours himself a rum and Coke and dives back into Valley of the Dolls. He is in his secret world. Currently, eight episodes are outlined. In the first half of the season, Danny is forced to stay with Ivan, first in San Antonio when the family stays with his grandparents, then on a ranch Ivan decides to build. There are ironies and contradictions, such as the fact that the families who live on Ivan’s ranch doing manual labor are, themselves, undocumented immigrants, just like Danny’s mother, and many have “anchor babies”—which is what Danny is if you think about it—and Danny does. In the second half of the first season, Danny triumphs and moves in with his mother in Austin. Yet it isn’t the bedazzled fantasy Danny has so long imagined. He struggles to accept she is a real person, not the glamorous star he created. Danny’s Austin adventures will include sixth grade with “normal” children—a new and exotic experience. Fantasy keeps Danny alive. But his journey is to find his authentic self within that fantasy and settle into his true identity.

Danny may reject Ivan on any number of levels, but he has grown up with Ivan’s individualism as the norm. In terms of family dynamics and interpersonal relationships, Danny is like a tween MacGyver, fashioning emotional tools out of thin air to emerge as the unlikely driver of events.

This is a family where the inner and outer lives of the parents and kids are colliding—forcing them to lead double lives. Tragic? Sad? Not necessarily. Living a double life can be a blast for a kid, whatever the circumstances; allowing him to veer between fantasy and reality with a sense of mischief and even glee.

The musical numbers emerge from Danny’s fantasy projections of how he sees himself, how he perceives the world, and how he works through narrative and emotional dilemmas. Intertwining Danny’s fantasies with his real life is not always linear. He can pop in and out of his secret worlds in a matter of seconds.

The show is set in the ‘70s, but everything about it feels modern. It’s fast. Binge-worthy. And outrageous without trying too hard. Right at home with the way we live now and what we watch.