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Should ‘Young & Hungry’ Have Made Light of Immigration Issues?

Young & Hungry is a sitcom; you’re not supposed to take it too seriously. You’re supposed to laugh at the characters’ crazy antics and use its humor as an escape from the real world, and then you’re supposed to turn off the TV once it’s over and not think much about it again.

I couldn’t do that this week, though.

“Young & Mexico,” this week’s two-part episode in which Gabi takes Sofia on a last-minute birthday vacation to Mexico, was supposed to have the same brand of humor as all the other episodes: Gabi has a wacky plan, Sofia is the voice of reason, everything goes wrong but works out in the end and nobody learns anything so we can do it all again next week. The change this time around is that Gabi’s wacky plan involved smuggling Juan Carlo, Sofia’s weekend fling, across the border as a “surprise” because Sofia was sad that she would have to leave him.

Uh, what?

I’ve had my issues with Gabi’s cluelessness before, and I know that’s, like, the point of her character, but even with all that in mind, this particular plan was a step too far. It was a hundred steps too far.

We’ve all been keeping up with the news about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and the unfathomable suffering it’s led to for separated families (many of whom are still not reunited). Of course, I know how TV shows work—this episode was written and filmed before the family separation policy became the center of national conversation. But the fact that they still chose to air it, or even wrote it the way they did in the first place (because immigration policies were still hurting tons of families before “zero tolerance”) shows immense ignorance or indifference to the plight of others.

Let’s get a little more into the events of the episodes themselves: Gabi helps Juan Carlo sell some souvenirs on the beach so he can spend more time with Sofia before they have to leave. When she gives him the money she made, he’s ecstatic: he can FaceTime with Sofia for a whole month! Gabi asks, “Why only a month?” because she doesn’t seem to understand that things cost money. I had to roll my eyes here, because she’s often marketed as a #relatable broke post-grad—there’s even jokes earlier in the episode about her only having $22 in cash. Of course, she was still able to pay for a whole weekend at a fancy hotel in Mexico, but, like, whatever, suspension of disbelief!

This is when Gabi says, “I wish we could just pack you up in our car and take you with us!” And, well, that’s how we end up with Juan Carlo hiding under a blanket in the trunk while grinning Gabi sits next to Sofia and tries to contain her excitement.

Crossing the border is not as simple as hopping in a car with two American girls and playing hide-and-seek for an hour or two until you’re home free. It often involves trauma and terror, and the real stories are worth reading. But there’s no place for trauma and terror in Young & Hungry, so instead we get Juan Carlo’s head popping up from the backseat and an, “OMG, keep down, we gotta surprise Sofia!” The fact that Juan Carlo would even agree to do such a thing shows how little the shows’ writers know or care about the Mexican immigrant experience.

Gabi is surprised by the Border Patrol, which makes me like her even less as a character because it’s clear she probably hasn’t picked up a newspaper in several years. There’s even a scene at the beginning of Part Two where a Border Patrol agent checks their car. Gabi tries to flirt her way out of it, because Gabi. Everyone in the car is scared, but it’s obvious that none of them are thinking about the real, actual consequences for what happens when an undocumented immigrant gets caught crossing the border—it’s more of an “oh, no, Sofia will lose her potential boyfriend!” type of scared. The Border Patrol agent finds a mango in the trunk and is all, “You can’t take that to the U.S.!” and everyone laughs. Because this is all just so funny.

They do find Juan Carlo after Gabi accidentally opens the trunk, because Gabi. But it’s an “oops!” moment, nothing more. Worst of all, we later see Gabi and Sofia lamenting the fact that they won’t see Juan Carlo anymore, and Sofia’s relationship with him is over. Neither of them seems all that concerned that in reality, he would be detained, possibly charged and undoubtedly terrified. An American woman’s love story is surely more important than an immigrant’s safety, right?

Gabi recruits Josh to help Juan Carlo get a work visa, and somehow… that actually plays out. Like, Juan Carlo comes to America the next day. In isolation, I don’t even have that much of a problem with the unrealisticness of whatever “rich white dude” magic Josh uses to get Juan Carlo a work visa and for him to show up in Sofia’s apartment in 24 hours. Because, like, whatever, suspension of disbelief! But this episode doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it aired during a national conversation about the inhumanity with which immigrants, particularly those at the Mexican-American border, are treated, and to handwave it off and be all, “Oh, it’s totally easy to get a work visa when you have a good lawyer!” made me pause the show for a good minute to take the longest deep breath of my life.

And after all that trouble, do Sofia and Juan Carlo even get their happy ending? Nope! Because here’s Nick Walker, fancypants immigration lawyer and total asshole, who’s just so much hotter. Gabi and Sofia initially request his help with Juan Carlo, and he shoots them down without even an ounce of sympathy, despite the fact that cases like this are what he’s dedicated his life to. The reason? He wants Sofia for himself. And he gets her. He literally predicts that after three days, she’ll be over Juan Carlo and running to him, and it takes her only one. Juan Carlo at this point is... where? Is he safe? Is he left stranded in this foreign country with no home or friends or anything? I don’t know! But, like, whatever, suspension of disbelief! We don’t care about him anymore because he’s apparently not as cute as Nick.

In short, this week’s episodes were a total mess. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this way—if the retweets made by the Young & Hungry Twitter account are anything to go by, plenty of people found this absolutely hilarious. But if a sitcom is truly supposed to be an escape, they shouldn’t have chosen to handle an issue like this. And if they do actually want to discuss topical issues—which they could, as lighthearted shows like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat have—they shouldn’t have fumbled it so badly.

Erica Kam

Columbia Barnard '21

Erica is an Editor at Her Campus. She was formerly an Associate Editor (2021-22), Contributing Editor (2020-21), Wellness Editor (2019-20), High School Editor (2018-19), and Editorial Intern (2018). She graduated from Barnard College in 2021 with a degree in English and creative writing, and was the Senior Editor of Her Campus Columbia Barnard (2018-21). When she's not writing or editing (which is rare), she's probably looking at food pictures on Instagram.
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