Season 2 of the idiosyncratic Netflix dramedy On My Block went out with a flourish—like, literally. Before the final credits rolled, best friends Monse (Sierra Capri), Ruby (Jason Genao), Jamal (Brett Gray) and Cesar (Diego Tinoco) were rolled up on by an unmarked van in broad daylight, blinded by what looked like black pillowcases, and kidnapped.
Needless to say, when Season 3 finally dropped earlier this week, it opened with the camera trained squarely on a pair of white-gloved hands sharpening a huge silver chef’s knife, polishing it to a mean gleam, and carefully setting it in the the middle of a red velvet-lined serving tray before porting the whole business out to the lush private veranda. There, Cuchillos (Ada Luz Pla), the Santos’ secret head honcho, was holding our unlucky teen heroes hostage so that she could task them with tracking down a presumed-dead Lil’ Ricky. It was clear the show was about to seriously level up.
Cut to eight episodes later: Cuchillos is dead, Spooky (Julio Macias) isn’t, and Monse finally feels confident in the the fact that, even if she leaves her friends behind to go off to a fancy boarding school on the other side of the country, their Core 4 bond will be just fine. And then it’s two years later, and the Core 4 is no more. Worse: Cesar has taken his brother’s place as the head of the Santos—the very fate the Core 4 fought so hard for the first two seasons to keep him from. The very fate that Ruby got shot trying to fight on his behalf, and that Olivia (Ronni Hawk) died for.
Of course, for all this feels like a shocking bummer of an ending, Season 3 brought with it plenty of classic On My Block joy—first and foremost from Ruby’s weirdo neighbor Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia), who was officially promoted to series regular after last season, and whose secret toolkit of skills of both spy and friendship variety up everyone’s game. Just as much of a secret weapon, though, is Ruby’s blunt-smoking Abuelita (Peggy Blow), whose continued role as the team’s weak-bladdered (but fleet-fingered) getaway driver is as fun to watch as her weird (but genuine) best bro-ship with Jamal. Then of course there’s the elevation of Spooky as a three-dimensional character whose skewed relationship with morality/fatherhood is given both depth and context by the return of his and Cesar’s dad (Ian Casselberry), not to mention the addition of Kendra (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) as Jamal’s unsettlingly odd stalker/love interest. And there’s Ainsley Riches (Mallory James Mahoney) as the entitled hellion behind a viral(ly bad) “Friday”-esque vanity track, whose remix music video the friends sneak onto the set in one of their many failed attempts to find Lil’ Ricky. (There are bedazzled plush hamburger costumes involved.) Overall, an excellent season.
And yet … that ending.
Personally, we’re into it. The show could hardly move forward if all of the conflicts the Core 4 resolved stayed resolved. (And anyway, having ourselves been both 15 and then, two years later, 17, we understand all too well how easy it is for foundational childhood friendships to fall apart, slowly at first, and then all at once. Sorry, Ashley! Sorry, Amanda! Sorry, Christy!) But still, we wanted answers—if not for our own sake, then for that of the show’s deeply devoted fans.
And so, we got series creators and Executive Producers Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft on the phone and—even though Lauren was calling in sick from home—kept them there until they’d explained themselves to our satisfaction. No rest for the wicked!
(Kidding: Wicked or not, if you feel sick, please rest and STAY HOME. Your community, both locally and across the world, thank you.)
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. All bad Ocean’s 11 takes our own. All good Ocean’s 11 takes, too.
Paste: So, we’ve got to start at the end. How long have you had this end goal in mind? We know you’ve talked previously about how you generally have the next season’s story broken before the previous one is done—was that the case here?
Lauren Iungerich: We knew what Season 3 would be when we were finishing Season 2, we just didn’t know how it would end. We had a beginning, a middle, and a potential end, and the potential end—finding Lil’ Ricky—ultimately, we realized as we were developing the story that it would be better not to find him. It had started to feel a little too silly, and also we [didn’t know] what that would mean in terms of future storytelling, and keeping the Roller World mythology alive. We don’t want to tread water; we want to keep telling great stories. But we also want to keep it thematically resonant, and going on a fishing expedition to find someone is always tricky.
Eddie Gonzalez: Absolutely. And because the season all takes place during the summer, you don’t have the ability to rely on things that are happening in the high school—which would all feel so small, anyway, compared to what’s at stake: You’ve got to find Lil’ Ricky.
Iungerich: That last visual, of Cesar [leading the Santos], was actually the idea of one of our writers, and it sort of broke open, like, oh my god, what if we did this? What if we went two years forward? How amazing would that be? And I think that ending is such a great place of resetting, because the idea of this show has always been, you know, what Mario said in the pilot: You have to stick together in order to survive. And so what does it look like for these kids, who are each other’s chosen family, when they’re not together? And how do we get them together again, if they are meant to be together?
Jeremy Haft: Yeah, we definitely have a lot more story to tell. And as opposed to just going year by year by year, by jumping two years into the future, we were able to figure out a great way to pull the kids apart, and now the question going into Season 4—if we’re fortunate enough to have one—is, how did they get there? Are they going to get back together? So yes, we have a ton more story to tell, and this propels us to a great, exciting place.
Gonzalez: And the other thing is, you know—as you can tell, we love cliffhangers. This, I would say, is an emotional cliffhanger more than anything else. So that’s a great launching point for a Season 4, if we get a Season 4.
Paste: So we guess before we move on, this is the right place to ask about that very thing. Do you have any word, officially, on a fourth season?
Gonzalez: We don’t have official word, but what I would say is, you know, in our heads? This isn’t over. We have a lot of stories to tell. And we may end up telling those stories to just the three of us! But no, we don’t have official word, but we definitely don’t see this as the end.
Iungerich: Exactly. How we ended this season—we knew Monse was going to leave, she needed to leave. So in order to reset things, and actually see somebody have the opportunity to change and not be Schmuck Bait, we needed to make sure we told that part of the story. But in terms of the finale, if people are thinking, oh my god, are they really ending the show like this? We would not end the show like this! We hope the audience will always give us enough leeway to know that there will always be something positive that comes from our team. And also, knowing we were ending this way, we had a good feeling that our audience base will be strong enough to carry us through to a fourth season, and we’re still very hopeful of that. I think Netflix is hopeful of that!
Paste: Well, we’re glad to hear that. That said, things in the TV world can change on a dime, and even though we would hate the prospect of no more On My Block, we could see this ending being the ending. Because it does work as a launching pad for all sorts of new stories, but also, having been the same age as these kids once, we can recognize too that there’s a kind of bittersweet truth to it.
Gonzalez: I think that’s absolutely right—bittersweet is exactly what it is. And I think sadly, it’s also realistic. Growing up in that community, you see these kids who have a shot, but then unfortunately—whether its familial issues, or societal issues, or financial issues—they take a certain path. So I know there are going to be audience members who say, no, I don’t want it to end this way. But unfortunately, that just happens in communities like where I grew up.
Haft: That said! We don’t plan on this being the end. We have a lot more stories to tell.
Paste: To get back to that, let’s circle back from the beginning and talk about Cuchillos, the main catalyst for this season’s overarching story. Where did she come from? Why is kidnapping kids to make them do a job clearly meant for adults? We mean, we have some thoughts about why a grown-ass woman in charge of an established neighborhood gang would turn to a bunch of teenagers to find a missing person, but we’d love to hear from you guys how you came to that point initially.
Iungerich: There’s a little foreshadowing, a little Easter Egg, at the end of Season 2, when the kids are taken. If you listen really closely, when we head to black, you’ll hear these knives being sharpened—and cuchillo means, well, obviously. But we wanted to see a woman in power! In power, and at the head of the Santos. And this notion of going after Lil’ Ricky, she’s putting this task on these kids because they’re seemingly so clever and so smart that they’ve been able to do what no one else has been able to do, which is find the Roller World money. Therefore, maybe they can do the thing she’s been wanting to do, which is find Lil’ Ricky.
Gonzalez: This is a woman with a lot of resources, obviously. However, despite her resources, what these kids have is they have these brains, they have this ability to go out and do this. They were able to find the Roller World money—that makes them different from anyone she can go out and call, than any shooters, than any hitters. She had the cops under her! But all those people, and she couldn’t find the money, and these kids did.
Haft: Adding to that, one thing we all talked about is how these kids are under the radar. No one is going to see four kids and be like, oh, they’re up to something, as opposed to big burly guys, or guys with guns, or the cops. Our four kids are under the radar, so for them, trying to crack a mystery, who’s going to suspect them of trying to do something like that?
Paste: We were thinking, too, that they’re just young and credulous enough that it doesn’t occur to them until extremely late in the game that they are completely disposable, that even if they do find Lil’ Ricky, she can just get rid of them.
Haft: Yeah, I think it’s when they’re sitting around the kitchen island at Rosé’s that they finally realize that, oh yeah, no matter what happens, they’re screwed. Exactly.
Paste: Drilling down into some more specific character beats this season, are there any arcs—Ruby’s crush on Jasmine, Jasmine’s growing into a real person, Jamal having much internal growth beyond mysteries, whatever—that particularly stand out for you guys?
Haft: Yeah, we definitely wanted to see, as an example, Jamal explore a different side of his personality. Jamal has always been a dreamer, the ultimate optimist, so this was something we wanted to explore. Like, what’s Jamal like in a relationship? And that was a lot of fun, but ultimately, while he had a great time, he still ended up coming back and being the Jamal who helps save the Core 4/Core 5.
Gonzalez: Because his purpose found him.
Haft: Right, right.
Gonzalez: For me, I would say it’s Spooky. All of our characters have so many layers to them, but I think the audience is just going to absolutely love where we’ve gone with Spooky, because they can relate to him. For him to say look, I had to become this dad [to Cesar] without ever getting to be a kid is so powerful, and it’s going to be so resonant with our audiences. So to be able to see that, and to see his relationship with their estranged father, and to show these cycles that create so much damage, I would have to say I’m most proud really proud of that development in that character.
Iungerich: I think the thing is, you always want to take who you see as the villain, or as particularly complex, which is exactly what Spooky is. Kids are scared of him, but they love him. He’s got this different code of morality. And to be able to take him down his foundation, to see the loss of his father and that love, to see him at his most vulnerable—we’ve never seen Spooky be vulnerable. And that was something that was from the get, we have to do this.
And it’s the same with Jasmine, who could be construed as a caricature. To then see her be a real girl… we saw pieces of that in Season 2, but then to see that relationship develop with Monse this season, and for Monse to connect with a girl again [after Olivia] and really bring Jasmine into the core so that she’s not just a Ruby-friend, she’s an everyone-friend, that was something special.
You know, the point in telling these stories is not to be superficial. It’s a lot of hard work to dig, but we’re always looking to explore those deeper things. And that’s why this season was so challenging—we’re on a goose chase, that this crazy, powerful woman has put into the hands of these kids, and, like, why is she doing that? But the fact that she does tells us something about her character. And then, even though they do realize, holy shit, even if we do do this, we’re loose ends, the person she turns on is Spooky, who then steps up to try to protect the kids—that’s all interesting, and also lets us start to shift gears in this world we’ve created.
Paste: On the subject of goose chases, it looks like we have time for one more question, so we’ll make it this: If you could drop these characters into the kind of Ocean’s 11-style heist movie where all their skills could be put to use for the pure joy of stealing something ridiculous from equally ridiculous rich white people—no threats of death or dismemberment nipping at their heels—who would have which job? (The most classic of these jobs being The Mastermind, The Coordinator, The Backer, The Hacker, The Gadget Guy, The Con Man, The Burglar, The Pickpocket, The Muscle, The Driver, The Inside Man.)
Note: Chaos ensues.
Haft: Okay, going with Mastermind first, on the count of three, Eddie, Lauren and I are all going to say who we think the Mastermind would be. Let’s see how well we know each other. So 1… 2… 3…
Gonzalez: I would say The Hacker is Jasmine.
Iungerich: Jasmine, for sure. But I think Jamal is way more The Mastermind than Ruby
Haft: Okay, I’m also Jasmine. But I don’t know! I still feel like it’s Ruby!
Iungerich: Ruby’s never solved anything! That’s why I’d say it’s Jamal.
Haft: Jamal is the leader!
Gonzalez: Jamal IS the leader.
Iungerich: Abuelita is definitely driving this thing. Or she’s The Con Man.
Gonzalez: I guess our team is smaller, so there’s going to be a lot of multitasking.
Haft: Oh! I like that. Abuelita’s The Con Man, I’ll go with that. Okay, give us another.
Paste: We have Spooky down as The Muscle.
Haft: Okay, but Abuelita also fought in la guerra sucia, in Mexico, so Abuelita’s also kind of the muscle. And the ammunition.
Iungerich: Good point, Jeremy!
Paste: You know, the more we’re looking at this, the more we’re feeling like Abuelita could just fill every single role. Gadget Guy. Con Man. Burglar. (She got Chivo’s saliva, after all!)
Iungerich: Oh, for sure.
Haft: Yes, Abuelita’s our senior citizen Swiss Army knife!
Well, there you have it, folks—a Freeridge heist team of one. No smug billionaire’s jewels (literal or euphemistic) are safe.
Seasons 1-3 of Abuelita’s 6 (aka, On My Block) are available streaming on Netflix now.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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