Author

Cristina Escobar

La Casa De Las Flores: Paulina de la Mora

Part of me finds Paulina de la Mora aspirational. Yes, as the eldest daughter in Netflix’s La casa de las flores, she’s part of the Mexican elite, the moneyed class that folks gossip about and track. And yes, her biggest lesson (spoiler!) is to care less about what people think, hardly revolutionary I know. But it’s not really her wealth that I envy — it’s her style. I’m talking about her literal and figurative style. Her wardrobe could be my Pinterest dream board, all wide-leg pants and architectural tops. In my imagination, my hair looks like hers (I do have a similar cut) but mine’s never so artfully styled. And then there’s her ability to communicate so much through those big brown eyes of hers.

Obviously, I have a bit of a crush. But it’s not so much about how she looks, it’s about how she is. Paulina can storm out of a room with a shawl artfully draped in front of her without it falling off. She can call her siblings “dumb and dumber” and have it be somehow endearing. She can say “no hay dinero aqui” in her family’s sprawling mansion in one of the ritziest neighborhoods in DF and somehow make you believe empathize with her for a second.

Paulina’s ability to be so likable while being so absurd is at the center of her charm. We’re talking about a woman whose peculiar manner of speech ignited the #PaulinaDeLaMoraChallenge in which people try to stretch their words a la Pau. While her “¡Que bar-ba-ri-dad” will live in my mind forever, in the later seasons, I’m more struck by how she says “mi Paaaa-pa” and “mi Maaaaa-ma” like they’re her prized, lost teddy bears and not people with their own thoughts and feelings (and relationships outside of the one with their eldest daughter). Her elongated speech shows that she has time to spare and doesn’t mind taking up the space that comes with her stature. I love it, even if I won’t be imitating it any time soon. It’s all part of her obsession with the family legacy, the flower shop and the cabaret, the de la Mora reputation and the relationships that come with it.

Who’s obsessed with this family?

It’s not an obsession that serves her well. She’s so fixated on keeping up appearances that she can’t see the truth about younger brother Julian’s love Diego. No, he didn’t steal the family fortune. Yes, her mother took it to escape her familial obligations. And while that mistake lands her in jail for a time (how she manages to make her prison uniform look chic, I’ll never understand), it’s not her biggest misstep, not even close.

Pau’s real problems are in heading her own, small, nuclear family: raising Bruno and finding her way back to her ex Maria José. We met Paulina as a single mother who loves her son but is struggling in his teenage years to give him the structure he needs. Bruno drinks, leaves for days at a time without telling anyone (a major plot point in the first season), and is so unsure of himself that he later picks up a Spanish accent after a few months in Madrid. After years of doing it on her own, she needs help.

So when legal star, Bruno’s other parent, and Paulina’s ex, Maria José comes back to help Paulina get “mi Paaaa-pa” out of jail, everything starts to change for Pau. We learn that the two broke up because Pau couldn’t accept the fact that the man she thought she’d married was really a woman. But time heals a lot and now Pau can see the error of her ways. She apologies for how she reacted in an emotionally raw scene that made me like her even more: she owns her mistakes with her high pony, pearls, and understated tears no less (not to mention the AMAZING view of Mexico City in the back). And while the two eventually agree that Maria José should take Bruno back with her to Spain, Paulina decides to go with them and rekindle the romance of her youth.

Can you think of a better look to tell you ex you’re sorry about how you handled her transition?

From there the two have ups and downs (particularly around Paulina obsession with her family legacy) but it’s clear that Maria José is the person who knows Pau the best, sees her inside and out, and can best support her (no one else in the show is in her league, hence the dumb and dumber comment). And like all good telenovelas, La casa de las flores ends with a wedding — Paulina and Maria José tying the knot for the second time (Paulina wears an IMPECCABLE suit obviously).

So while she looks perfect in that angelic white, it’s Paulina’s imperfections that make her so compelling. Her disconnection from herself and her needs. And I’d argue that’s really what La casa de las flores is about. From the first episode to the last, one of the driving questions is around Paulina’s paternity — it’s one of the secrets in the suicide note left in the premiere and the final mystery to be resolved. Pau tries on each of her different Dads, fancying herself in their respective images. She emulates Ernesto’s business acumen, is intrigued by Salo’s Judaism, and finally finds peace in getting justice for Pato.

It’s with her flaws and idiosyncrasies that Paulina finally finds her purpose and resolution. She learns to be a true ally to the LGBTQ community, owning her mistakes and loving her new wife. She says goodbye to the old family legacy, not taking over for mother Virginia (by say running the floreria or managing the big house) but rather inventing a new path that sets her and her siblings free. It’s the age-old question in the Latinx culture — how to honor the collective without being stifled by it. Paulina figures it out by maintaining her signature sense of competence, leadership, and mischief. Now that’s’ what I’d call aspirational.

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The Emancipation of ‘Station 19’s’ Andrea Herrera

I’ve been rooting for Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Station 19. It’s not just that I love being in the Grey’s universe, having watched all 16 seasons and counting. Hell, I even went so far as to watch all of Private Practice. It’s also that the fire-fighting drama stars a Latina in Jaina Lee Ortiz as Andrea “Andy” Herrera. In case you didn’t know, Latinas are the least represented on-screen when compared to our population numbers. So when the rare opportunity to see someone who looks like me on TV pops up, I tune in.

And Ortiz is fun to watch. She’s charismatic and strong, the best firefighter in her battalion because of her smarts and experience. But Station 19 doesn’t seem to know what to do with her and the rest of her attractive cast. Yes, they enact Grey’s signature bed-hopping and love triangles but without the chemistry of that show’s couples. There’s the crisis-of-the-week too but somehow the fires on Station 19 aren’t as high stakes or suspenseful as the surgeries on Grey’s, even when the patients cross over.

All of which has solidified Station 19 as relatively mediocre TV, that is until the run-up to the season three finale. The show’s finally let Andy free in all her Latina glory. There have been nods to her culture in the past — my personal favorite was just how long it took for her to move out of her Dad’s house (we Latinos often live with our parents until marriage). But nothing like the concentration we’ve gotten in these last few episodes.

It started with “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” a mental-health themed episode that sees the fantastic Tracie Thoms come in as the station’s trauma counselor (request: can we have her every week?). In this episode, we learn of Andy’s salsa dancing past and watch her declare her love for Captain Robert Sullivan. Seeing her express herself through dance and have it work as a metaphor for these lovers’ passion was really something.

Next up was “No Days Off,” an episode that’d make AOC proud, comparing ICE to Nazis. In it, Andy, Sullivan, and her dad Pruitt debate immigration policy before intervening to help an undocumented worker. Sullivan, who is one of the show’s many Black characters, takes the hardest stand against ICE, letting the Latinx Herreras not be defined by the issue.

And all of this was leading up to Pruitt Herrera’s death, a truly momentous event for Andy. Her dad has been battling terminal cancer all season and when a fire-fighting effort goes awry, sacrifices what time he has left to save his daughter and her fellow fight fighters. In doing so, Pruitt proves himself to be the ultimate man of character, the Latino dad who’ll do anything for his family, biological and chosen.

Since then, we’ve been dealing with his death and Andy’s decision to marry Sullivan quickly and secretly so her dad could walk her down the aisle. By jumping from the care of one man (her dad) to the care of another (Sullivan), Andy’s never really been her own woman. She followed her dad into fire fighting and served under his leadership. She had some dalliances before coupling up with her station chief, but not many (not that her dad didn’t judge her sexual decisions harshly). In this, Andy’s the good Latina daughter, passed neatly from father to husband, sexual adventures brushed aside. The complication is that Andy’s beginning to question her decision and now has no Dad to talk to about it. If Sullivan is the type of guy who announces their relationship to their colleagues without Andy’s permission (as he did in a recent episode of this season) or that listens to Andy’s father about when she’s ready for a promotion rather than to Andy (as TWO men have done in three seasons so far), he may not be the guy for our girl. We don’t want another patriarch, however handsome and good-intentioned, trying to control Andy.

I’m rooting for her to chart her own course. That may be with Sullivan if she gets him to respect her and see her as an equal but more likely it’ll be without him. I’d love to see her, finally, in the leadership position, she’s been after and clearly earned. Mostly, I want to see her chase her own destiny and continue the legacy of Shonda Rhimes heroines like Meredith and Cristina, who didn’t let parents or lovers get in their way. Only then will Station 19 finally start living up to its potential.

This piece has been corrected. A previous version incorrectly identified the penultimate episode.

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Sex and Intelligence: ‘Vida’ Is Simply The Best

Season three of Vida premieres Sunday, April 26 on Starz. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Usually, shows about sex aren’t sexy. Remember HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, ostensibly dissecting the sex lives of three couples but managing to suck all the sexiness out of it? Or 2004’s Kinsey about the science of sex and how little we really know about it? Or middle school health for that matter? It turns out that analyzing sex can be like analyzing a joke — if you start explaining why it’s funny, it’s just not anymore.

But Tanya Saracho’s Vida manages to have insightful, smart things to say about sex, sexuality, and sexual politics while also being just plain hot. The result is quite possibly the best show on television — and certainly the one I’ll miss the most if no one steps in to make more episodes after Starz finishes running the third season. Make no mistake, the third season is just as good as the first two, finishing with enough of a conclusion to give the characters justice while keeping us wanting more.

What can we say? Latinas make the best content

But back to sex. The whole show can be read as a treatise on the subject with each character having her own Awakening-esque arc. Let’s start with activist Marisol, in some ways, the woman with the most traditional story. You know the one — girl tries to be “good,” takes care of her family, works hard, doesn’t have sex. But it doesn’t matter. For Mari, you could say the trouble starts when a video of her giving head makes the rounds (one she did not consent to film). As you’ll see in the third season, despite being her father’s nurse and caretaker, she’s left out of the will with the property going solely to her brother Johnny. It’s not right, but it’s a reminder that even women who play by the patriarchal rules lose.

The typical telling of this story would end there, Marisol powerless and betrayed, another victim. But not in Vida. Mari doesn’t just accept her father’s wishes, instead pushing Johnny to be added to the deed. She also pushes herself and her activism, even breaking with Los Vigilantes, her collective action group. Marisol isn’t defined by her “V-card” — it’s perhaps the least interesting thing about her.

Mari and Johnny are skeptical of the patriarchy

On the other end of the spectrum is Lyn — if Mari’s the virgin, Lyn’s the “whore,” the one wearing see-through dresses, the body of a yoga instructor, and a healthy sexual appetite. The image of Johnny eating her out in the premiere is forever etched into my memory. And so is the orgy. And a few other steamy Lyn moments. For, before dedicating herself to the bar, her sexuality was her greatest asset, getting rich men to provide for her. And it worked — she bought fabulous clothes and had amazing experiences. Until it didn’t. Lyn’s journey is away from the sexist ideal of womanhood to something more individual, more self-realized.

In season three, she rejects ex-boyfriend Juniper’s offer at reconciliation and eventually gives up on being Councilman Rudy’s polished partner. She focuses on making the bar the destination for Latinx culture and she’s good at it, booking the right acts and cultivating a certain aesthetic. The transition is subtle and on-going — there’s still plenty to learn but Lyn finds a way to be sex-positive without defining herself by a man or the ability to acquire the male gaze. Just don’t expect her to turn away from sex, romance, or love any time soon. In sex-positive Vida, Lyn’s sexual escapades are just part of finding herself and finding her way. No slut-shaming here.

And outside of patriarchy’s narrative of women’s sexuality is Emma. Her queerness is not defined by boxes or labels but that doesn’t make it idyllic. She struggles to connect, even when a great partner (Nico!) is right in front of her. Her sexual escapades are just (if not more?!?) hot than Lyn’s, whether it’s bath time with Nico, masturbating at her mom’s house, or fucking the contractor. Emma’s sexuality proves you can go your own way, but it won’t be easy.

Name a hotter couple, we dare you

So often, women’s sexuality is portrayed from the man’s point of view — who’s hot, who’s not, who gets their search for pleasure narrated and who’s goes unnamed. Vida doesn’t just reject the male gaze. It creates a new narrative around desire, one that sees Eddy as desirable as Lyn, Emma’s quest for romantic love as important as Marisol’s fight for her community. That Vida does so with a tantalizing sex scene practically every episode is simply proof that lust doesn’t have to center on the male desire, it too can be feminist.

A show that has this much to say about latinidad, gentrification, class, and colorism would usually be described as “serious” or “important.” It would be for auteurs and Latinx, preferably the limited subsection that is the intersection of those two groups. And Vida is these things but it’s more than that. It’s sexy and smart and for everyone. And I will miss it.

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‘Roswell’ is Fun and That’s All I Want Right Now

Every TV show does not need to be a complex piece of art. Ten years ago, we didn’t expect TV would have anything profound to say about the human condition. We believed the role of the “boob tube” was to offer an escape, titillation maybe, some time when our brains could turn off. Now, I like ‘prestige’ TV as much as the next, but there’s still a time and a place for TV that simply entertains.

And that time is now (thanks Coronavirus!). I just want to escape to where the stakes are low, the people are beautiful, and I don’t have to think too hard. For white people, there are a lot of these shows (I’d argue a whole channel worth of them on CBS). For the rest of us, the options are limited: the quirky friend on a white-centered ensemble show, too few seasons of brown drama before it gets canceled, the pressure to represent an entire community in just one sitcom…

Luckily, the CW’s Roswell, New Mexico avoids all of those traps. The show stars Jeanine Mason as Liz Ortecho, a 20-something scientist who returns to her podunk hometown and somehow gets enwrapped in a mystery involving her family, aliens, and a government conspiracy. The tone is light and fun and mirrors the viewing experience. This isn’t the X-Files where the future of the whole human race and reality-as-we-know-it is at stake. No, these aliens are (mostly) friendly and just trying to get home (like E.T.!).

Look, dorky white aliens at prom!

It is so soothing to watch a Latina heroine star in a show where the aliens are white and from outer space! It’s not just that the word “alien” has been weaponized against us, it’s also that BIPOC too often get cast in these roles — making us both others and erasing the ways our actual skin and heritage show up. Think Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy or Avatar, Lupita Nyong’o in Star Wars. They play aliens who are not visibly brown or black but who are decidedly not human, allowing these films to claim diversity without actually having to deal with. It’s not a good look and Roswell wholeheartedly rejects this option, making the white characters the others, the outsiders, the not-humans. It’s sci-fi from the BIPOC perspective and I’m here for it.

And that’s not the only way Roswell delivers politically while staying true to its escapist nature. Yes, the Ortecho patriarch doesn’t have his papers and yes, there’s a quasi race-war happening in Roswell, but the show doesn’t go too deep on that. Its takeaway is more “racists are hypocritical trash” than “let’s examine the dynamics of discrimination in America.” And it’s not just race — the villain on the show is the homophobic dad who beat his son (and hunts aliens) and the bad boy heartthrob is bi and equally appealing to both sexes. Even when the show does abortion, the stakes are clear: the show supports Lily Cowles’s Isobel Evans-Bracken’s decision to terminate as it dramatizes why we need better access to abortion. What a breath of fresh air!

Coincidentally there’s not just one Latinx character, but many, each one attractive with a cool job (doctor! scientist! restaurant-owner!). Scene after scene in Roswell, people with beautiful, big brown eyes look soulfully at each other as they speechify about their predicaments. Liz does this a lot as does her (spoiler) resurrected sister Rosa (Amber Midthunder). On the male side, hunky doctor (and Liz-ex) Michael Trevino as Kyle Valenti gets a lot of use out of his shiny big eyes (and biceps!) as does his cousin (sings “we know you get plenty of them”) Tyler Blackburn as vet Alex Manes. But they’re not hypersexual, not more “curvy,” “exotic,” or “spicy” than their peers. If anything, Liz and her peers are the girls (and guys) next door, the ones we relate to and root for. It’s delightful!

The show’s use of nostalgia makes it all the more comforting. Roswell, New Mexico is ostensibly set in the current day but has plenty of throwbacks to its late nineties, early aughts roots from an alt-rock soundtrack (I haven’t heard this much Counting Crows in a LONG TIME) to the characters pension for statement belts and dark lipstick. Roswell plays with time, managing to be both a teen’s idea of what adulthood will be like and an adult’s remembrance of the innocence of teenhood. There’s a scene where two characters hook up, exclaiming how great it is to be an adult (unlike every real adult ever — we just complain). Likewise, the characters on Roswell are still crushing on who they went to prom with (or wish they had) — imagine if life was really that simple! Certainly, when I was listening to the Counting Crows, I didn’t know how much more complicated it’d get.

Is it though? Is it really?

Roswell is just fun, making the most out of its over-the-top sci-fi romance premise. I mean for the first half of the second season, our romantic lead (Nathan Parsons as Max Evans) is mostly dead (and so slightly alive!), waiting for his girlfriend and siblings to operate on his hurt alien heart. Is that a metaphor or what? Don’t overthink it — it’s just as deep as it sounds. TV like Roswell reminds us that it doesn’t have to be exceptional all the time and neither do we. Not in our regular lives, not in our viewing habits, not as Latinxs, not during a global pandemic. Let’s all just breathe out. And watch the hot BIPOC actors on Roswell (love that cameo by Gaius “Smash Williams” Charles) fall in love, make scientific breakthroughs, and wear silly outfits. It’s as good a way as any to spend your self-isolation.

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How Will the Rona Infect TV?

With everything going on, it can seem pretty silly to care about TV. But here I am, daydreaming about my shows. Like the rest of the nation, Hollywood is shut down for the foreseeable future — meaning if an episode wasn’t already shot, who knows when it’ll happen. But it’s not just a question of when, it’s also a question of how. What will the effect of the Rona be on TV? Will shows incorporate it into their plotlines? Do we want them to? We at latinamedia.co aren’t sure but we’ll be exploring what to watch during and after this crisis.

Certainly, medical shows a la Grey’s Anatomy will have to do a Coronavirus arc. How could a hospital drama possibly resist? And for Grey’s, they can’t let dramatic medical news go to waste. I can only imagine how hard it is to come up with new theatrics for our favorite surgical department after sixteen seasons and here’s an unprecedented health tragedy falling in their laps. My only question is if it’ll be one episode or one season. Really, Meredith, Bailey, and the team could do so much.

Outside of hospital shows, family sitcoms are well situated to write about this time. One Day At A TimeBlack-ish, and The Simpsons, shows that already take place in the living room know how to squeeze drama out of the domestic. Watching our favorite TV families exploring what it’s like to be stuck at home for who knows how long could be therapeutic. At least, I’d expect some good laughs as Lydia runs out of makeup or Bo teaches everyone how to wash their hands (again). There’s joy as well as fear for those of us privileged enough to self-isolate and I’d like to watch my favorite TV families laugh and love and cry through it.

And of course, there’s the political show. Since Trump took office, many shows have failed to match the absurdity of reality, their out-of-this-world plots suddenly seeming tame in comparison to the actual headlines. The exception is The Good Fight — they’ve satirized and weaponized the Trump Administration’s failure to great effect, finding ridiculousness and humor throughout. Imagine Riddick Boseman suing the federal government for more ventilators. Defending the mostly brown and black people who will fall victim to the disease. Continuing to lampoon the failures of the White House, just now with a Coronavirus spin.

As great as that would be, the genre I think that’ll give us the most insight into our current predicament is science fiction. Hear me out. Remember when Battlestar Galactica did a whole season on the occupation in Iraq? It had more to say than most ripped-from-the-headlines plots because it was able to take on the whole story, unencumbered by the details. Instead, it focused on the human costs and the emotional reactions. And it totally worked.

So who will be able to comment meaningfully on this moment? My hopes are with dark and nuanced shows. Maybe the fourth season of Westworld could do it. It could be a computer virus or a biological one (or one the jumps from humans to robots). It could unite the two groups and divide them, creating new castes of those with the disease and those without. It could ask what is the moral way to respond and how much should we sacrifice for the herd (the eternal question around Maeve and her daughter). It could ask what we are willing to change and who we are willing to collaborate with. And it could continue to expose who is valued and who is treated as expendable — the show’s true forte.

There’s something about the fictional future that seems best able to handle our unprecedented present. Let’s just hope we get there.

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Maybe Watch ‘Killing Eve’ Without Your Man Friend

There’s a secret world of women-stuff most heterosexual men have no idea about. But Killing Eve incorporates (and takes seriously) secret nods only women understand, mixing them with the James Bond-esque type of globe-trotting intrigue you might be accustomed to sharing with a dude. But like watching sex scenes with your parents, let me recommend avoiding the awkward and watching Killing Eve’s third season (out Sunday!) without your (straight) male isolation partner.

I mean, aren’t some things better left between us ladies? Take the plotline in Killing Eve’s first season where Villanelle steals Eve’s suitcase and sends it back with beautiful, sumptuous clothes that compliment Eve’s body and express her personality better than anything she owns. It manages to be the ultimate flex, compliment, and shade all at once. Villanelle is showing off her wealth and good taste, she’s demonstrating to Eve not just that she really sees and understands her but that Eve’s selling herself short. It’s a complicated message and it sets the stage for the intimate and nuanced connection that women crave and fantasize about. I don’t know any hetero relationships where such a thing would be even vaguely possible (for the woman, men get this sort of care all the time). Do you really want to have to explain why those clothes are so seductive? So dangerous? So hot?

And it’s not just the clothes (or the makeup — the razor in the lipstick was another beautifully nuanced symbol). It’s also in the way Killing Eve explores and uses food. In season two, Villanelle goes undercover as Billie to spy on tech billionaire Aaron who might be killing those in the way of his data empire (spoiler: he is!). Along the way, he develops a fascination with Villanelle but maintains his distance, treating her to several elegant meals. The catch? He sits with her and watches her eat pappardelle and more, but never so much as gets a plate himself. It’s a clear sign that he’s an evil neurotic and it says just as much about Villanelle as it does about him. What kind of woman would eat those meals by herself? Flaunt all the conventions around gender and food? And with such gusto? A psychopath!

Food may often be used as a metaphor for sex (remember those Carl’s Jr. ads?) but Killing Eve pushes the envelope by focusing on the female side of desire. Villanelle isn’t just hungry, she wants a certain kind of dining experience and she gets it without the traditional and overplayed phallic symbol. And while Villanelle’s obvious allure may seem like something you’d rather not to discuss with your man-sexy-times-person, it’s really Eve’s choices that make the whole thing unbearable awkward. She has what’s supposed to make us heterosexual women happy — a loving husband (who cooks no less) and a nice home. But all that domesticity is boring as hell when the allure of a beautiful, dangerous love object is clearly within reach. Eve tries to have both, shielding Nico from the bloody details (the stabbing) but trying to bring some of the excitement home (remember when they have sex while Eve is thinking of Villanelle and Eve thinks it’s great but Nico hates it? Yikes!). So are you ready to have a frank conversation about how marriage is a trap for most women? How most of us don’t find our fulfillment in doing the dishes and boosting a man’s ego? Yes or no?

And the list goes on from there. It’s the food, the fashion, the sex, even the violence reads differently with women as the aggressors and only sometimes the victims. We women are conditioned to see ourselves as potential victims, learning all sorts of ways to avoid male aggression. But on Killing Eve we see both feminine power unrestrained (Villanelle) and female invisibility (The Ghost) resulting in violence and the experience is… freeing? Watching Killing Eve is both scary and tantalizing at the same time. Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of Fleabag fame) and led by a different woman writer each season, the show mines women’s experiences, methods of communication, and worldviews to create something new and sexy and seductive. So maybe let your male partner watch it. But be prepared to have him understand you better in ways that might not be totally comfortable.

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One Day At A Time in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s a global pandemic and we’re all stuck at home, scared. I know I’m alternating between feeling overwhelmed, bored, and helpless and none of these is a good look. And I’ve been working from home for years with a partner who also does. In so many ways, social distancing shouldn’t be a big deal for me. I’m an introvert. I already have a wardrobe of working-from-home clothes (elastic waistband “pants,” no underwire bras). I stream TV professionally.

And yet, it’s hit me hard, this new normal. My kids are too small to entertain (or feed) themselves and it’s enough to make even the most patient person go nuts. I’d like to go to the grocery store without feeling like I’m entering a biohazard zone. I miss at least having the pretense of a social life. But one thing, one show is getting me through this: One Day At A Time. Well, One Day At a Time and finding ways to contribute to society without getting within six feet of another human — but that’s another subject altogether.

Hopefully, you’ve already watched the first three seasons (available on Netflix) and are tuning in with me at the show’s new home on Pop TV. Maybe you just remember hearing about the campaign last year to keep One Day At A Time after Netflix canceled it. Maybe you tried to watch it and couldn’t get into the in-front-of-a live-studio-audience aesthetic of old (I’ve been guilty of that one myself). Or maybe you have something against Rita Moreno, in which case I would ask you to stop reading because this is not the place for you.

But whatever your situation, the time to watch One Day At A Time is now. First of all, you’ve got time. But more than that, couldn’t we all use a little refresher and reminder on the importance of family? Being stuck together may have our fuses running short but that doesn’t mean we can back away from these relationships. One Day At A Time offers a primer on how to do just that. Take season one where Justina Muchada’s Penelope and her mother, Lydia, as played by national treasure Rita Moreno, navigate the dynamics of a grown mother-daughter relationship. A good Catholic, Lydia wants photos of the Pope everywhere while Penelope just wants some peace. The two grapple with who controls the household and whose work is more valuable (sound familiar?) — Lydia makes the breakfasts and does the laundry while Penelope makes the money and worries about the finances (both women nurture the kids). In the end, they compromise by listening to and appreciating each other. Lydia adds a photo of Penelope’s inspiration (Serena Williams) next to the Pope’s and Penelope learns to appreciate Lydia’s unpaid labor. Certainly, that’s an (on-going) lesson for us all.

Plus, One Day At A Time demonstrates just how much and how much fun can be had within four walls and a small cast of characters. Yes, the Alvarezes do leave home (notably to Penelope’s work and her always-hilarious support group) but the bulk of the story happens at home with just the four of them (plus Schneider for comedy I guess). And a lot happens! They face down racism, sexism, classism, and more. They learn to love themselves and each other more. They encounter big structural obstacles (like the VA!) and small personal ones (class projects! first dates!). They grow and they tease and they nurture. It’s lovely.

And it’s filled with hope. And in these intense and scary times, that’s what I need. This show provides me a breath of fresh air, a reminder of the goodness taking place in other people’s living rooms, and a laugh when I need it. I’m taking the global pandemic one day at a time with One Day At A Time and I recommend you do too.

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Four Times ‘Party of Five’ Made Us Cry and Take Action

Party of Five is a tear-jerker. The original show had its premise of orphaned siblings learning to take care of each other. With this reboot, the parents aren’t dead but deported. Layering typical teen storylines with the anger of being betrayed by your country, it is ripe territory. The first season made me cry all the tears, but don’t for a second think the show was just trauma porn. No, Party of Five inspired righteous anger and action-oriented empathy so let’s revisit the moments that meant the most.

1. The Pilot

No kid should have to go through what Val goes through

The Acosta parents get picked up by ICE, spend time in detention, have their day in court, and are bussed across the border in the pilot. I cried. A lot. The scene where they get picked up in front of their children was the thing of nightmares. As the mother of young kids myself, I am haunted by the pain involved in deciding to leave their baby in the States. But the moment that hist me the hardest was Valentina’s testimony. She’s just a kid, a middle schooler, and there she was, up on the stand trying to convince a judge that taking her loving parents from her will represent “exceptional and unusual hardship.” She convinced me.

Val pouring her heart out and the best immigration attorney in LA aren’t enough to convince the judge. He literally says “my hands are tied,” despite being the decision-maker. A white man seals their fate. It’s infuriating, especially watching it in an election year. We set the laws of this country. I vote for the judges in my county. We must do better and change these hurtful practices so the real-life Acostas don’t have to go through this agony.

Get involved with changing the courts.

2. Lucia’s Speech

Lucia’s words break my heart with their devasting honesty

“Cruelty is the point” has become somewhat of a refrain about the current administration and so it makes sense the phrase popped up in Lucia’s unplanned speech in Party of Five’s seventh episode. In “Speak for Yourself,” Lucia organizes a fundraiser for an immigrants’ rights group and one of the activists challenges her to tell her own story. Here’s what she says:

I was remembering how my father shaved every morning. No matter what. Weekends. Vacations. Even when he was sick. He used to sit me on the counter, so I could watch him use his gleaming straight razor. The detention center was the first time I ever saw him with stubble. And when I went to kiss him, his cheek next to mine, it felt like a stranger’s and stupidly, I said something.

And the next time, there he was — from a distance, his old self, clean-shaven. But up close his face was raw. Covered in tiny cuts. He laughed it off and said he couldn’t find a mirror. But these past few weeks, learning about the conditions in these places, I realized that he was lying. There was probably one dull disposable razor that made the rounds from cell to cell. From father to father. Each man afraid of his children not recognizing him. Every man ashamed of appearing to be just a creature in a cage, deprived of every necessity that allows us to feel human. It’s on purpose, of course. There aren’t supply shortages or inadequate funds. Cruelty is the point.

It speaks for itself. Help protect immigrants’ rights.

3. The Acosta Parents Separate

Our government nearly destroys this once strong American family

At the end of the penultimate episode of the first season, Gloria Acosta tells her husband she wants to separate. Losing her kids has destroyed her sense of herself, her role in her family, and maybe her relationship with her husband. She doesn’t want to be a wife if she’s prevented from being the mother she is.

Gloria’s angry and ready to burn the whole thing down and I don’t blame her. What made this revelation so brutal was not the divorce — parents separate all the time — but rather the complete devastation wrought by our government. All season, the Acostas had been fighting for their family, an imperfect but loving group who need and respect each other. With the parents’ impending separation, the dream, the vision, the narrative of this once strong family crumbles. Even if its members could reunite, there may be nothing to put back together.

Support immigrant families.

4. Emilio is Not to Blame

Emilio is doing everything he can for his siblings

Oldest brother Emilio spends the season adjusting to his role as a caretaker for his four younger siblings. He gives up touring with his band, hanging up his guitar in the family restaurant. He stops hooking up with random women and tries to build more stable relationships. But it’s not enough to transition this early 20’s Dreamer into the parent the traumatized Acosta kids need. Rafa gets lead poisoning. Val runs away, making it to the border before getting caught.

As a result, Emilio finds himself in state-mandated parenting classes in the season finale, listening to other parents identify what got them there. But as Emilio says, “I am not the problem. What this country, what they did to my parents, and to their children? That’s the problem. That’s never gonna get fixed in here.” And he storms out. If only we could opt out of the government’s disregard for our families’ well-being so easily.

If you share Emilio’s anger like I do, help overhaul the system.

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Racing the Enigma of Netflix’s “You”

A brown woman lays unconscious on the sidewalk. Blood pools beautifully from her head. In the corner of the shot, you can see the green foliage from the park she was running in. In the next season, a different, once beautiful woman lies on the ground. She’s surrounded by her own blood with a gash on her neck running from one side to the other. You see one close shot after another of this carnage.

What is the point of these visuals in Netflix’s You? What are they telling us about Joe Goldberg, the world he inhabits and our own? Does their beauty or cruelty help you excuse his behavior? Are you rooting for him? And if so, is it because or in spite of them? That’s the question at the center of Netflix’s You, the psychological thriller told from the stalker’s perspective.

Joe seems created to confuse. He is, after all, a certain type of female fantasy — the rare man who reads (and loves!) books portrayed by Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl fame. He’s the type of guy who’d do anything — and I do mean anything — for the girl.

The question is — do you want such a guy? After two seasons, the characters on You are split. Joe spends the first season in pursuit of one Guinevere Beck, a blond MFA student played by Elizabeth Lail. Beck, as she’s called, falls in love with Joe, unaware that he’s not only stalked her but he’s also killing the people in her life that could keep them apart. When she finds out, she wholly rejects him, to the point where he kills her for fear of getting caught.

In the second season, Joe meets his match in Love Quinn, a Los Angeles health-food heiress played by Victoria Pedretti. Love is a stalker/serial killer in her own right and doubles down on Joe when she finds out he has the same predilections. Her season ends with the two moving in together, with a baby on the way. Nevermind that the fantasy of a female serial killer sets up a false equivalency between the genders, pretending that men and women hurt their partners equally (when men do so more often and more severely).

What these white girls have in common is the shared understanding of the preciousness of their feminity. They both see themselves as something to be protected, particularly by the men in their lives. You see this in Beck’s rejection of her father — when his addiction made him unable to protect her, she pretends he’s dead. When Joe shows up in her life and all sorts of strange things start happening, she remains oblivious. Love is not so naive but she continues to use her femininity as a shield — both to avoid becoming a murder suspect as a teen and later to avoid Joe’s violence, thanks to the embryo growing inside her.

The women of color don’t enjoy any such delusions. Natalie Paul’s Karen Minty escapes her relationship with Joe unscathed but she knows something is up. She tells Beck “Turns out, you’re my ‘get out of Joe free’ card” and “maybe he’ll do whatever the hell he did to Candace” (he buried her alive). Karen doesn’t become an object of Joe’s violent obsession but she still knows that something’s wrong with him. Beck doesn’t or at least, not until it’s too late.

Likewise, Carmela Zumbado as Delilah Alves and Jenna Ortega as her sister Ellie turn out to be more reliable judges of character. Delilah starts out suspicious of Joe but eventually ignores her suspicions and sleeps with him. It’s not long though before she finds out the truth and dies for her trouble. Ellie, meanwhile, is the only one who even comes close to holding Joe accountable. It (at least) stings when she tells him “I hate you. You brought the Quinns into our lives, and you’re the reason Delilah’s gone. Dead, right? She’s dead… you ruined my life.”

There are multiple lenses to see Joe, the white girl way that says he’s desirable as the ultimate caring boyfriend and the WOC way that sees him as charming but ultimately knows something’s not right. So where do you fall and does the show invite you there? The thing is, You is told from Joe’s perspective, so you could argue that its white gaze (and the patriarchal, racist nonsense that comes with it) is purposefully problematic. Joe may think he’s feminist because he calls out “toxic masculinity” but stalking and killing women certainly disqualifies him, right?

If you take this view, you have to admit that Joe isn’t just sexist but racist too. Just compare how different the violence is presented depending upon the race of the woman. We never see Joe murder Beck, despite it being a major plot point. His violence against Candace is similarly hidden for a long time. However, we see the blood spill artistically out of Peach Salinger’s head after Joe attacks her. The camera zooms in on the brutally murdered body of Delilah more than once. Why do we need to see the gash on her neck, the blood around her body so many times? The white women are afforded more dignity because, in the land of You, theirs is the only womanhood that is to be sought after and protected.

It’s the typical treatment of black and brown bodies and it reveals Joe’s bias. The show’s white creators have said they’re interested in the way Joe’s whiteness gives him a pass. It allows him to go undetected and perhaps for white audiences to remain sympathetic. If you saw him brutally murder Beck could you stay on his side? If the camera panned slowly over her murdered body multiple times, would you still root for him? It’s hard to watch You as a Latina and not feel like the show, whether told from Joe’s point of view or not, is discounting my personhood. Like it doesn’t take the violence against the Candaces and Becks more seriously than the Delilahs and the Peaches. That it doesn’t believe that Love is more valuable than Karen.

In the end, inhabiting Joe’s mind and world view is not a useful exercise. We get too much media from the white devil’s perspective — we don’t need more. You’s been renewed for a third (and hopefully final) season. In it, I hope Ellie exacts some revenge on Joe and Love and all their glorious whiteness. Next, I hope the Ellies and Delilahs, the Karens and Peachs get the story told from their perspective. And then, we’ll get to see something truly transgressive.

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Marvel’s Runaways: We Can All Be Heroes

Symbols are tricky. I remember one of my English teachers giving us instructions for a poetry assignment: don’t compare homework to peas just because you didn’t like them both. The similarities need to be deeper. The comparison needs to provide insight. This bit of wisdom is strangely connected to Marvel’s Runaways, Hulu’s recently concluded teen superhero show, because, in the end, their lazy symbolism made the show a miss for me.

The show’s creators were clearly trying to be smart and not make the same mistakes many teen shows have. First, there’s the makeup of the main group: six teens, four girls and two boys. That gender split is rare on any show, let alone in the comic book genre that’s known for its male leads. And gender’s not all — in terms of sexuality and mental health, the show depicted relatable story arcs and likable characters inhabiting a range of identities. Good job. Checkboxes crossed!

Perhaps Runaways’ most meaningful nod to advancing representation is in the race of our six principles. There’s a Japanese-American girl, a black boy, a Latina girl, and a Latina actress playing a white girl in addition to two white, white characters. This diversity reflects the show’s Los Angeles setting which in reality is about half white, 10% Asian, 10% Black, and about half Latinx of any race. The show’s good intentions couldn’t be clearer then when they changed a “Molly Hayes” to “Molly Hernandez” to get that Latina in there.

Molly’s the heart and the muscle of the group

Unfortunately, it’s the execution where the show gets a bit wonky. Take Karolina, the white girl of the group. She’s got long, flowing blond hair and favors hyper-feminine bohemian clothes. A half alien, her superpowers include glowing in a sparkly rainbow gradient, flying, and shooting what looks like light. She grew up as the only child in the first family of the Church of Gibborim and when the church’s members see her in her rainbow glory, they declare her the new messiah. That’s a lot of positive symbolism: light and goodness and you guessed it whiteness all wrapped into one.

And it might have been forgivable if the other blond girl, crossing over from Cloak and Dagger, didn’t also use light as her superpower (while her counterpart is a Black boy who uses… darkness). Similarly, Karolina is paired with Nico, a Japanese American girl who uses witchcraft, a magic staff, and “darkness” to accomplish a range of things from disappearing bad guys to invisibility spells. When Nico’s really in full force, the skin around her eyes turns black and cracked like a midnight desert ground.

In Runaways’ third season, Nico and Karolina break up because Karolina believes the “darkness” is consuming Nico. It’s not a good look to stereotype the Asian character’s power as coming from evil sorcery (in the comic books it’s even worse with Nico’s power growing out of self-harm) and the white character’s power centered around light and God.

Light and darkness kiss (but don’t make grey)

The light/dark dichotomy is the worst but it’s not the only symbolism problem. Take our Latina superhero Molly. Her power is super strength, which is cool but still bases her body as the only tool at her disposal. Why can’t a Latina be more than her physicality? Or consider for a second that the boys don’t actually have superpowers at all. They’re just really smart. Isn’t it a bit weird to have them be so good in the stereotypically-male fields of STEM (one’s a hacker and the other an engineer), that it equates to a superpower, while the girls all get their strengths from their bodies and/or magic?

I don’t love it. And before you say, “well that’s how the comic books were,” let me say that’s nonsense. First of all, they did change things from the original (Molly being Latina, removing the self-harm bit) and they could have gone further. Or, and this is an important one, they could have picked less problematic source material! We’re finally getting comic books from the POC-perspective. Why not make one of them into your next TV show?

The thing is, I want Marvel’s Runaways to succeed even with these issues. I hope Disney+ gives it more seasons after its Hulu cancelation. There’s so much potential — we could learn that Gert is adopted and actually is Latina like the actress who plays her. We could see Nico’s power re-positioned not as darkness but as something else — as was hinted at in the third season when she comes back from studying/learning about magic. We could see brunettes being filled with light and blonds using “darkness.” Hell, we could break away from the whole light-dark colorism nonsense entirely. And if it doesn’t happen on Marvel’s Runaways, it should happen soon on some other show. We can all be heroes. It’s time Hollywood wise up to that fact.

I’ll miss you, friends!

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