With the first seasons of The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series completed, Disney+ needs a new scripted original series to fill the void. The answer to this dilemma comes with the January 17th premiere of Diary of a Future President, a 10-episode sitcom aimed at families and the first Disney+ scripted series not based on a pre-established property. The show takes place in the present, but the narration is all past tense as we the audience explore the diary of Elena Canero-Reed, a 12-year-old who grows up to be President of the United States of America.
The premiere episode starts with Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) playing grown-up Elena in the White House. When she is reunited with her old diary, she opens to the first entry and thus begins the series. Young Elena is 12-years-old and in sixth grade. Her single mother (Selenis Levya, Orange is the New Black) is a lawyer who has started dating a colleague (Michael Weaver, The Real O’Neals) and hasn’t told her kids yet. Her brother Bobby (Charles Bushnell) is an 8th grader who’s a little too cool for his sister and Elena’s friendships at school are becoming complicated.
The pilot has some charming potential, but feels a little misguided on what it wants to be. In an effort to appeal to a wide primetime audience, it incongruously transitions back and forth between a middle school show with topics they don’t talk about on Disney Channel and a workplace romantic comedy between a Cuban-American mother and a nerdy love interest. The two plot lines intersect by the end, but the execution isn’t as effective as the premieres of Modern Family or This is Us, both of which introduced a dynamic mix of characters and merged them together in a creative way be the end of the first episode.
One thing the pilot does effectively uses Miami as a setting and its Cuban culture as a primary feature. The show not only stars an underrepresented Hispanic cast, but also incorporates Spanish into the dialogue appropriately. It never feels stereotypical or forced, it’s just this natural part of life for the Canero-Reed family and it’s one of the reasons I think the show will find an audience.
If the premiere episode were the only one I had early access to, I probably wouldn’t recommend the show. Having seen five episodes, I can confirm that it gets much better. By the third episode, it not only becomes laugh-out-loud funny, but the heart and emotion of the show becomes well established. It’s sort of like the early years of Boy Meets World in that the core of the show is about the transitional period between childhood and adulthood, but the execution is very different. And as funny as the show becomes, it also has a lot of heart and a fair bit of drama to it.
The show’s creator and producer, Ilana Peña, worked on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and fans of that show should keep an eye out for a hard to miss cameo by the show’s star, Rachel Bloom. I recommend that you give Diary of a Future President three episodes to impress before you give up on it. It’s not an instant hit, but Disney+ subscribers who stay with it will find a special story about coming of age and the meaning of family.
I give Diary of a Future President 4 out of 5 zebra bras.