Natasha Kline's 'Primos' is an ode to childhood summers spent with her cousins

As a child, Natasha Kline saw every summer as an opportunity to reinvent herself.

A self-described shy, artsy introvert, Kline would approach the extended break convinced that she would pick up a new skill or be otherwise transformed in time for the start of the new school year.

But “it never really happened because my mom is like the fun aunt,” says Kline during a recent video call. “She loves having a house full of people so she’d be like, ‘I invited your cousins over for the summer.’”

These summers Kline spent with her cousins served as an inspiration for “Primos,” a new animated series launching with a two-episode premiere July 25 at 8 p.m. Pacific on the Disney Channel (with two new episodes airing weekly at 9 a.m. Saturdays starting July 27). The first nine episodes of the show will be available to stream on Disney+ starting July 26.

Created by Kline, “Primos” follows Tater Ramirez Humphrey (voiced by Myrna Velasco), an imaginative free spirit bursting with creative energy who is ready to spend the summer of her 10th birthday sorting out her goals and dreams. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her mother has invited all 12 of her primos — cousins — to spend the summer at their home and share her room.

“Tater is a really big dreamer,” Kline says. “Her family is a little bit more grounded than she is.” Kline describes Tater’s sister Nellie (Melissa Villaseñor) as a realist, and the relationship with her mom, Bibi (Michelle Ortiz), as loving and supportive. Her dad, Bud (Jim Conroy), however, “is a bit more trepidatious with her. He’s worried because she is such a big dreamer.” The “Primos” cast also includes Angélica María as Tater’s grandmother and Cheech Marin as Tater’s grandfather.

At first, Tater is none too pleased with the surprise arrival of her cousins and how that affects her own plans. Kline says Tater’s stress was real “and was coming from a genuine place,” having experienced similar surprises growing up.

“Initially, it was always like, ‘oh, gosh, everybody’s coming over again. How am I going to get my life together?’” Kline says. “But by the end of the summer, it was just such a joy to have them. … I never got a six-pack or became an amazing horse trainer or learned 50 languages, but I did feel supported and loved by my family and I became who I am because of what they added to my life.”

Born in Los Angeles, Kline grew up in various towns throughout the Inland Empire (“Mostly in Fontana,” she says.) She says she was the quiet kid in class with a sketchbook open, concentrating on her drawing, and knew from a young age that she wanted to be an animator.

Kline had longed to make a show like “Primos” since she was a cartoon-loving kid in the ‘90s and realized she wasn’t seeing any Mexican American families like hers on TV.

“My family, like a lot of L.A. families, is multicultural,” Kline says. “My immediate family is bicultural. And I wanted to see that on the screen — the different skin tones and the different cultural threads that can be woven through in a huge family.”

“Primos” is set in a fictional L.A. neighborhood inspired by the Inland Empire towns that Kline and her art director Ivan Aguirre grew up in. Even the palette in the show is meant to resemble the hues they remember from the hazy summer smog days of the ‘90s, adding the specificity of their experiences and memories.

The Ramirez Humphrey family dynamic is based on Kline’s own. Like Bibi, Kline’s mother (also named Bibi) had always supported her dreams and artistic aspirations. Like Bud, Kline’s father had trouble envisioning the viability of her chosen career until she had landed her first gig on “South Park.” And like Tater, Kline’s immediate family also includes a brother and a sister. Though Kline has 23 cousins compared with Tater’s 12.

Because “Primos” is such a personal project, Kline acknowledges that the backlash the show received after its opening credits were shared in an online video last June was “painful, at first.” Among the elements the online audience called out at the time were the theme song’s Spanish being grammatically incorrect, the name of the show’s fictional town being a reference to earthquakes and even the yellow tint of the skyline. The yellow coloring has often been used by Hollywood films and TV shows set in Mexico to establish a sense of otherness.

“I made the show because I did want to connect with my roots and with my heritage,” says Kline. “That was the first time I ever got feedback from the public, so it was very interesting. … But I think the way that people react to things is valid.”

Rather than dwell on the negativity, Kline brushed off the experience as just another part of making a show.

“That’s the nature of the beast,” says Kline. “When you’re an artist and you’re making something for the world, the hope is that you get feedback. I was getting feedback throughout the whole process … from execs [and] from my crew [and] if I get feedback, I’m going to be thoughtful about it and proceed with that in mind.”

Among the changes the “Primos” team has made since the release of the video last year is to make it more obvious that the show was set in an L.A. neighborhood. Tater’s hometown was originally called Terremoto Heights, a nod to how earthquakes (and earthquake preparedness) are a part of living in L.A. It was also an allusion to the many cities and streets in Southern California that have names that come from Spanish words. The city is now named Hacienda Hills, as an homage to where Kline’s mother grew up.

“For me, this has always been an L.A. show,” Kline says. “So that was something we ended up tailoring because I love this city. I thought, if there’s anything we can lean into to make it more clear that this is what [the show] is about, then let’s do it. That was my original intent anyways.”

As personal a project as “Primos” is to Kline, it was also very collaborative. The show’s writers room was staffed “with people whose lived experiences really reflected the nature of the show [and] were excited to tell the stories,” says Kline, who added her crew was invested in the show because they saw themselves reflected on screen.

In addition to her professional collaborators, Kline reached out to her cousins to ask about memories of their childhood summers spent together to help inform some of the stories and characters.

“My cousin’s have been pretty darn excited about [the show],” says Kline, adding that some have asked about which characters they correlated to and which cousins didn’t make the cut. “Everybody made the cut. There’s a little bit of everybody in there. It’s a blend of everyone’s personalities.”

And for Kline, it’s only appropriate that she was able to collaborate with her cousins on a show that is a tribute to how much they have meant to her.

“Your cousins are like your first friends,” Kline says. “They loved me and they supported me despite how obviously nerdy and introverted I was. They just always were like, ‘Hey, you’re going to be amazing someday. You’re amazing right now.’ Feeling that support and that friendship from a very early age was really important to me developing into who I became.”

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