Author

Cristina Escobar

Four Reasons Why Charmed is Heir to Buffy’s Legacy

I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched it live, made sure I hadn’t missed an episode with the DVDs, and read all the think-pieces I could (and there are a lot). Not to mention science says it’s good for you — watching shows like Buffy (aka shows with kickass female leads) has a proven positive correlation to less gender bias in boys and men. In fact, with so much media out there, I’m pretty much only watching shows that fit the Buffy-mold: woman-led, woman-centered.

But can any show really pick up where Buffy left off? I mean, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a cult favorite for a reason, right? But I think it’s possible. And the show that’s doing it is the CW’s remake of Charmed.

You probably missed Charmed when it originally aired (to be clear I’m talking the 2019 reboot here). It didn’t get a lot of press. And what it did get was negative (the original stars weren’t happy, it uses cross-racial casting). Those critiques are valid and interesting and worth pondering. But it’s lack of critical acclaim (when they cover it at all) speaks much more to bias in criticism (old, white, male) than the show’s actual merit.

Charmed, now with its first season available on Netflix and a second season set to premiere later this year, is carrying on the Buffy legacy. Let me walk you through it:

1. Same Premise (and Mentor)

Both shows are about young women who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing to save the world, thanks to a set of new powers they didn’t see coming. Buffy first discovers her powers in high school (although we see her go to college+) while Charmed’s trio of Maggie, Mel, and Macy (let’s call them the 3 M’s for short) range from undergraduate to post-doc. They’re all in that figuring-out-who-you-are stage of life. It’s just that now their coming-to-age story includes defeating monsters each week and handling the season-long threats to life as we know it.

With the fate of the world resting on their young shoulders, the shows start with them learning how to control their new gifts (while navigating romances, school, and work). Enter a helpful, white British guy, representing a secret society of guardians who say they’re there to help our young heroines. Should we trust this far away bureaucracy? Both Buffy and the 3 M’s have their doubts. But is Giles/Harry a positive, crush-worthy if stiff, figure? Yes and yes. And with that premise, we’re off and running.

2. Humor Breaks Up the Darkness

Buffy and Charmed are campy and dark. The contrast of ugly demons with of-the-moment outfits is funny, dynamic, and telling in both shows. The idea that HQ for saving the world would be your mom’s house is pretty great. And the contrast between the villains being literal demons, while the superheroes are girls worried about losing their virginity is wonderful. Add in a bunch of puns and some general enjoyable silliness (see Charmed’sTouched by a Demon” or the Buffy-bot episode), and you have humor counterbalancing the serious, literal darkness surrounding our heroines.

Charmed even goes the extra mile by loading up on feminist in-jokes with Harry’s claim to fame being how Roxane Gay retweeted him once (but you have to scroll back a lot because she’s “quite prolific”), plus jabs at incels, manic pixie dream girls, and the like. It’s the updated Buffy humor you’ve been waiting for. Plus demons. Lots of demons.

3. (Intersectional) Feminist Intentions

Of course, plot and style is just part of what made Buffy so great. The key to its rabid fandom and staying power has always been its actual feminism — its centering of a small, young woman as worthy of our attention, admiration, and consideration. Charmed does the same thing, pushing the envelope by imagining that young woman as ::gasp:: not blond. Maggie, Mel, and Macy are Latina/Afro-Latina with a range of skin colors and hair textures. Sometimes their racial identity takes center stage (say when Maggie learns the truth about her dad) and sometimes it’s just in the details (they drink coquito at Christmas). But it’s always there, just like Buffy’s whiteness. Centering women of color pushes the argument further, allowing us to see more people as worthy of the supernatural feminist destiny we all crave.

Then there’s the presentation of sexuality. Buffy won accolades for its LGBTQ representation (I’m still shipping Willow and Tara) and Charmedtakes it to the next level by having one of its three principles be queer. Mel gets two women love interests in the first season and her romances are just as steamy, important, and complicated as her hetero sisters. Neither show assumes straightness and that’s how it should be.

Also on the sexuality front, both shows deal with female virginity and Charmed comes out ahead. Buffy famously lost her V-card to Angel, causing him to turn evil and setting up a multi-season arc of brooding heartbreak. The tragic costs of Buffy’s sexuality are pretty retrograde and while she eventually gets to have sex without consequences (which male heroes seem to always enjoy), nothing ever matches up with that first romance. Macy, on the other hand, starts the show a virgin not because she’s pure or religious but rather because she’s standoffish. That said, with the help of her sisters, she comes out of her shell, makes a real connection (after overcoming some magic roadblocks), and has sex. It turns out not to be that big of a deal. Because it’s not. Pretty cool, huh?

4. Charmed Picks Up Where Buffy Leaves Off

Remember how the final season of Buffy ended with Buffy changing the rules of the universe so there’d be more than one slayer? It was just too much for one person, however strong, to bear. Score one for collectivism, zero for individualism. Charmed starts there: we’ve got the “power of three,” which requires not one, but three powerful women (sisters no less) to save the world. They have to negotiate collective decision making (do decision have to be unanimous or just two-against-one?), their competing priorities (who’s practicing witchcraft versus at their job versus with their partner?), and their different personalities (because different people have different ways of solving problems). All things Buffy could ignore when she wanted to.

Charmed’s collective approach reflects its Latinx premise nicely, moving us away from the limited, bootstrap narrative attached to so many of our (white, male) heroes. In Charmed, we have a show that builds on Buffy’ssuccesses and takes us into 2020 and hopefully beyond.

So if you miss Buffy or just finished Stranger Things and want more young people + fantasy/sci-fi, let me recommend Charmed. It’s pretty delightful.

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We Are Changemakers: Attending My First #WeAllGrow Summit

Have you ever been in a room where every single person is impressive? Maybe when you started college or that fancy new job. Now imagine that room and instead of being intimidated, you feel welcomed, valued, and seen. Last week, I attended the #WeAllGrow Summit and found myself in exactly that situation.

Everywhere I went, I met amazing women. The poet I admired. The podcaster I can’t wait to start listening to. The journalist who is speaking truth to power. The artist whose work I’ve already started supporting. I’ve never been part of a community like that before and I have every intention of replicating it not just via my social media feed but also IRL with the chingonas in the Bay.

We came, we grew, we presented.

So would any of these amazing women be interested in hearing me speak? Spoiler: yes! Suited up in our #MakeLatinasVisible T’s, LatinaMedia.Co Co-Founder Nicola Schulze and I led a workshop called “What A Hashtag Becomes A Movement: A How-To on Online Organizing.” We drew on our combined twenty years of experience of social justice organizing and marketing to host a conversation about how to build a successful groundswell online. In the end, we all came out just that much more energized to do this work and do it in community.

As a media critic, the highlight of the event for me was the panel featuring the Vida team and of course, the Q&A with Yalitiza (we’re on a first name basis now). Vida showrunner Tanya Saracho was hilarious, strong, and smart, challenging us to support each other and laugh at ourselves. Meanwhile the cast — represented by Mishel Prada, Ser Anzoategui, and Chelsea Rendon — spoke about the transformational nature of the show, how it humanizes Latinx people in a time when we so desperately need it (see the news coming from the border if you need some background on what I’m talking about).

Dear Television Academy — The queer brown show “Vida” deserves an Emmy. Period.

The conversation with Roma’s Yalitiza Aparicio had me (and the whole audience) in tears — multiple times. Remember before Roma, she’d never acted before and didn’t have Hollywood aspirations. But today as the first indigenous woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award and one of the rare Latinas to walk that red carpet, Yalitza’s an inspiration to so many of us. On stage, she spoke of her journey as an actress and dedicated her performance as domestic worker Cleo to her mother, who’d done that work in real life. I loved the story she told of her mother walking down the street at home and everyone congratulating her.

While Yalitza’s evident heart, sincerity, and insightfulness shone through, what really got me was when five women from the audience told Yalitza what seeing her on-screen meant to them. For Latinx people as a whole and more specifically, indigenous women, Yalitza’s success has meant so much. We’re talking about a woman who serves as the sole representation (and a positive one at that!) of a group that’s normally erased and when they do appear are usually stereotyped, othered, and/or demonized.

Yalitiza and the Changemakers, courtesy of Nicole Goldinez, @nicolegoldinezphoto

It’s an immense burden and one Yalitza shouldn’t have to carry alone. Yet she is alone for now and somehow manages this solemn responsibility with maturity and grace. As the women assembled spoke from the heart, we all cried — Yalitza, the speakers, the audience. To share this moment of being seen and appreciated, thanked and giving thanks, united and individually celebrated was so intense. I’m sure it reverberated out into the cosmos and I hope even the Hollywood moguls felt it.

The summit’s theme was “We Are Changemakers” and it rang so true. This is an amazing group of women who are changing the world and doing it together. It was a thing of beauty to be a part of and I left with the strengthened abilities, connections, and ganas to go make it happen!

Cover image courtesy of Maria Jose Govea, @thesupermaniak.

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“Vida:” The Millenial, Latina, Queer Show of Our Dreams

The second season of “Vida”is available to stream on the Starz app Thursday, May 23 with episodes airing weekly on the Starz network starting Sunday, May 26. The first season is available now on Starz and via the Hulu add-on. Warning: spoilers ahead.

The second season of Starz’ Vida is out this week and I’m so excited. If you missed the first season (because it’s on Starz, because you didn’t even hear about it because it’s on Starz), Vida is the millennial/Latina/queer show of our dreams.

It follows two Chicana sisters, Emma and Lyn Hernandez, who return home to Boyle Heights to bury their mother and decide what to do with the family business, a neighborhood apartment building and bar. Emma is the career-driven chingona, taking charge and ruffling feathers everywhere she goes. She also happens to be a lesbian. Lyn, meanwhile, is all drifting free spirit. She moves from man to man, business idea to business idea, with her good looks, overall cool, and loose morals (stealing a credit card in her deceased and debt-laden mother’s name — yikes) to live well beyond her means.

Soon, Emma and Lyn realize that not only is the bar/building vastly underwater with bills owed to greedy gentrifiers but their mother was married to her female “roommate” Eddy despite not even being out to her daughters. Newly widowed, Eddy has one-third share of the family business with the rest split between Lyn and Emma. Together, this unlikely trio has to figure out a way forward.

Created and led by Latinas, Vida’s baked latinidad into its every fiber and the results are amazing. There’s the all Latinx cast. The Boyle Heights setting. And there’s the way Vida truly centers family, identity, and a nuanced conversation about gentrification.

Created and led by Latinas, Vida’s baked latinidad into its every fiber and the results are amazing. There’s the all Latinx cast. The Boyle Heights setting. And there’s the way Vida truly centers family, identity, and a nuanced conversation about gentrification. The first season manages all this deftly, making Vidaread as an edgy, critical darling while being firmly rooted in the Latinx experience.

I particularly appreciated seeing Emma and Lyn navigate their identities in response to the question so many of us grapple with: are you Latina enough? Emma spends the first season confronting the idea that she hates where she’s from with several characters stating or implying as much. The truth is, Emma doesn’t hate Boyle Heights — she’s just estranged from it as her mother sent her away in a (failed) effort to stop Emma’s queerness. This rejection led Emma to build walls against her loved ones and her home. Yes, despite her prickliness, Emma learned formal Spanish, ensuring her ability to communicate in the neighborhood. And while her initial instinct is to sell the bar, she ends up picking another path. She figures out the predatory nature of the loans her mother took out and that selling would mean letting those folks win, so she decides to stay and use her college-educated business acumen to make the place profitable. Emma’s straddling two (three? multiple?) worlds and trying to figure out what pride in her identity means while also dealing with self-loathing as a rejected and isolated daughter.

What does it take to be “Latina enough?” Speaking Spanish? Being from the neighborhood? Never leaving?

You see, Vida doesn’t just have latinidad at its core, it’s also dealing with female sexuality in its many forms. There was A LOT of sex in the first season with Lyn and Emma each having multiple partners, plus a prolonged solo scene. And since this is Starz, yes, those scenes were erotic as hell. But take note — they didn’t rely on the usual male-gaze tropes of depicting women as objects. Instead, I saw sex scene after sex scene with different sets of participants (woman/man, woman/woman, woman alone), all centering female pleasure and the woman’s perspective. It was hot. And this rare, woman-focused depiction of women’s sexuality is made even more powerful by how it centers and values brown bodies not as sites of sexual gratification but as agents deserving of love and pleasure.

Building upon its depiction of sex and brown identity, Vida uses gentrification as its looming threat, powering the plot. Gentrification’s the reason Emma and Lyn stay in Boyle Heights instead of returning to their lives in Chicago and San Francisco after the funeral. It’s the reason Eddy isn’t able to be forthright about the books at the beginning and it lays the groundwork for her ending up in the hospital at the end. And, of course, it’s the menace Marisol and her group of activists are working against, a battle that puts her in conflict with the sisters.

This rare, woman-focused depiction of women’s sexuality is made even more powerful by how it centers and values brown bodies not as sites of sexual gratification but as agents deserving of love and pleasure.

Gentrification threatens all of Boyle Heights. For Emma, the conundrum is if you need to charge $8 a drink to pay your rent then you can’t stay a neighborhood place. But if you don’t charge that amount and lose your property, the next place that opens won’t cater to the original residence either. For the residence, it’s what’s pushing them out of their homes and wreaking havoc on their community. For the activist group, it’s how to hold back the tide of economic “development” that’s destroying the neighborhood and, to push the tide metaphor, like water always seems to find a way.

In other shows with big external threats, there’s often a clear answer. Is it war or monsters that threaten you? Then fight for your life. Kill your enemies and create your own bit of peace. Think Walking DeadLord of the Rings, even Mash. Is it a natural (or supernatural) disaster? Perhaps surviving is enough. Gather the people you love and try to make it like Viggo Mortenson in The Road or Helen Hunt in Twister.But what if you’re facing gentrification? Putting one developer out of business won’t end the threat, no matter how slimy and terrible they are. Surviving may mean moving, which here means defeat.

It’s not clear what to do or try to save when your enemy is gentrification.

The first season of Vida setup gentrification as the show’s primary danger, exploring the ways it works and why it’s so intractable. I’m excited for the second season to delve into solutions as Emma, Lyn, and Eddy work to save the bar. The answers aren’t clear but I hope we see them join Marisol and try to overthrow the system. I can’t imagine Emma tagging anything or either of the sisters marching in a protest (although I could see Eddy taking to the street). No, I envision Emma meeting with city council members to change laws while Lyn uses her charm to get the intel needed. Perhaps, working together, these women can push on all the levers needed to save Boyle Heights for its residents and for us. I’ll certainly be tuning into the second season to find out.

And even if we can’t find the solutions to gentrification in the show, Vida is doing its part in the real world. You see, the problem at the heart of gentrification is that the market and American culture at large don’t value actual Latinos. They want our food and our art and our labor but not our humanity. In fact, they don’t even see us. When compared to our numbers in the general population, Latinx are the least represented group on screen. And when we do show up, we’re usually criminals and drug runners. This is the country that elected Donald “Mexicans-are-rapists” Trump as President.

In its way, just by existing, Vida is helping to right these wrongs, displaying Latinas as the beautiful, complicated, fully human people we are. And it’s doing so in a way that appeals to the hipsters who wrote off One Day at A Timeand Jane the Virgin as too fluffy, inconsequential, or not for them. Take note and join me in watching, evangelizing and generally not shutting up about season two.

The problem at the heart of gentrification is that the market and American culture at large don’t value actional Latinos. They want our food and our art and our labor but not our humanity… Vida is helping to right these wrongs, displaying Latinas as the beautiful, complicated, fully human people we are.

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“Call the Midwife” Reminds Us What It’s Like When Abortion is Illegal

Usually, no one dies on Call the Midwife. And it’s definitely a good thing since the show focuses on giving birth. I mean, I for one, would not watch a dead baby (or a dead mommy) show. No, Call the Midwife uses death sparingly, unlike say Grey’s Anatomy where you can expect about a third of the patients to kick the bucket. So when in season eight Jeannie Tennant dies, I was surprised.

We first meet Jeannie as a new mother in Nurse Trixie’s dance class. She’s the mom who “got her figure back” and is weirdly good (even sexy) with a hula hoop. All this despite having two sons, the youngest one under a year old. Jeannie’s working part-time and saving to buy a house with her husband — this isn’t the typical 60s housewife the media loves to over-represent. Jeannie is a woman with a plan. She has her own agency and knows her strengths and limitations. But then she learns she’s pregnant again despite using protection (FYI/PSA: you have to get your diaphragm refitted after giving birth).

Jeannie doesn’t want a third baby. Trixie offers words of encouragement and so does the good Dr. Turner. But platitudes don’t help Jeannie. She’s a driven and dedicated mother but knows she can’t be a good parent to a third child. When the medical establishment fails her, she gets an abortion. In 1964 London. Where the procedure is still illegal and will remain so for three more years. Soon Jeannie turns gray and sickly, then a day or so later shaking, then cold under all the covers, and finally dead in the ambulance. Now, there’ll be no house for her boys, no mother to lovingly raise them. Jeannie dies but perhaps what hurts the most about this episode is watching all the points where she could have been saved by so many people with the medical knowledge to do so.

“When the medical establishment fails her, she gets an abortion. In 1964 London. Where the procedure is still illegal and will remain so for three more years. Soon Jeannie turns gray and sickly, then a day or so later shaking, then cold under all the covers, and finally dead in the ambulance.”

Call the Midwife has shown illegal abortion before with its many complications but this is the first time someone has died of it. In season two, we saw a mother of eight suffer from a poorly done procedure, barely surviving to tell the tale. Last season, Magda (Nurse Shelagh and Dr. Turner’s au pair) induces her own miscarriage after looking it up in the couple’s medical books. She collapses in the garden and is saved just in the nick of time (but alas, is their au pair no longer). Even earlier this season, we followed a woman through an abortion that ends with her losing her ability to have children.

Ill-fated Jeannie Tennant with her husband and youngest son

Clearly, the consequences of illegal abortion are bad — for women, mothers, and their children. With Jeannie’s death, Call the Midwife upped the stakes. This isn’t preeclampsia, which the medical community hadn’t found a treatment for yet. It’s not even the discovery that the drug thalidomide causes severe birth defects. Abortion is something doctors knew how to do safely in 1964 but chose not to. Because it was illegal. Because they could lose their jobs. Perhaps, because they objected. But whatever the reason, women suffered enormously, some even losing their lives.

It’s not clear what the nuns, midwives, and Dr. Turner actually think about abortion. Trixie wants to wring the abortionist’s neck but doesn’t offer an opinion on the procedure. Shelagh comforts her husband, reminding him that he was only following the law. Dr. Turner, one of the few men on the show, gets the most lines on the subject, telling the police by way of background: “Jeannie was unhappy. Jeannie was frightened. Jeannie did not want to have a baby… We see this all the time. Young, young girls. Exhausted older women. Mothers who don’t know where their next penny or their next beating’s coming from! And others who want to take control of their bodies and their lives. And all we can do is pat them on the hand and say ‘You’ll manage, everybody does.’ But not everybody does. Not everybody believes us. I’m so sorry, I can’t help you. But I’m even more sorry that I couldn’t help her.”

“Abortion is something doctors knew how to do safely in 1964 but chose not to. Because it was illegal. Because they could lose their jobs. Perhaps, because they objected. But whatever the reason, women suffered enormously, some even losing their lives.”

So would the inhabitants of Nonnatus House offer abortions if they were legal? If the show gets a few more seasons, we may be able to see. We only have to make it to 1967 for Great Britain to change its laws and allow abortionup to 24 weeks and after that for medical reasons. In Jeannie’s episode, we only see our favorite practitioners doing their job as good representatives of the state and its laws. In their practice, there are no options for Jeannie other than carrying that baby to term. In a later episode, we’ll meet the abortionist herself and hear her justification for offering these women dangerous, amateur services — she says she’s just trying to help, to provide something the medical establishment won’t even if some of her customers end up butchered along the way.

Call the Midwife airs in England months before it comes to the US so its ability and propensity to respond to American news is limited. That said, with the recent abortion bans in Georgia, Alabama, and other states, it’s hard not to feel like this season is directed towards us stateside. We know what happens when abortion is illegal. Women don’t suddenly decide to keep every unwanted pregnancy. They still terminate — they just do so risking their health and their lives.

We know what happens when abortion is illegal. Women don’t suddenly decide to keep every unwanted pregnancy. They still terminate — they just do so risking their health and their lives.

As Sister Monica Joan says “do you ask how the fish in the murk of the ocean finds the light? How the rat in the rubble locates the air? In extremis, necessity finds a way.” In this case, many women encounter preventable death and injury just to find it. The costumes and cars of Call the Midwife are cute, but as a woman, the nostalgia stops there. I don’t want to live in the 1960s — visiting for an hour a week or so is fine. Let’s not take our laws and our bodies back there. The price is much too high.

The clothes are cute but that doesn’t mean I want our lives or laws to resemble “Call the Midwife”
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The Complicated Intersection of Love and Excellence

Our relationships are supposed to make us stronger: “you challenge me to be better,” “I learn so much from you,” “you’re my best friend.” They’re all clichés you hear at weddings and see on anniversary cards. Yet, as a recent New York Times article reminded us, relationships don’t always turn out to be fountains of support and encouragement — particularly for women.

The stats show that despite what the fairy tales tell you, women are less happy when married and our earnings go down when we have families (while men’s remains unaffected). So for many women, the struggle between love and professional excellence is on-going and often ending in loss: careers suffer, relationships suffer.

So what’s a modern, ambitious woman to do? Where can we look for role models? Please don’t point me to the thousands of starlets and women business leaders who’ve answered the “how do you balance it all” question. That’s a dead end — I’ve never found anything useful there and I bet you haven’t either. Instead, let me present an unlikely source of knowledge and understanding: Shonda Rhimes’s Grey’s Anatomy.

Most medical shows have life-and-death as their central conflict (and Grey certainly has plenty of that), but for the last 15-seasons, I’d argue, the show’s central question has been how do you navigate the intersection of love and excellence, the ways in which they conflict and the ways in which they merge.

Hear me out. The show literally starts with young resident Meredith Grey sleeping with her superior. Their relationship — Meredith and Derek — propelled season after season of the show and arguably still does, even after Derek dies in season 11. Yet, it wasn’t all candlelight, love triangles, and steamy sex. There was also Meredith navigating how having Derek as her partner helped and hurt her career. It starts with her subverting the perception that she’s sleeping her way to the top. Then, there’s how she changes her specialty, giving up neurosurgery because it’s better for her relationship if the two don’t work that closely together.

In the later years, when Derek’s tapped by US government (this was under Obama mind you) to head a groundbreaking research product into the human brain, Meredith has to grapple with balancing Derek’s needs and her own. How can she fight for her career and the community she’s built in Seattle if they stand in the way of Derek’s destiny to save humankind? Unsure of what to do and even what to feel, it’s Meredith’s (real) person Cristina who has the solution. She says Derek may be very “dreamy, but he is not the sun. You are.” With these words of wisdom, Meredith goes ahead and picks herself. It’s a brave and somewhat controversial chose, particularly for us women who are taught to be self-sacrificing, especially in this sphere. Her stance works for her but it’s not easy — Derek, like so many real men, doesn’t just see Meredith’s worth and respect it. He has to be dragged into accepting her autonomy and her status as an equal. And he’s one of the good ones!

Of course, Derek isn’t all bad for Meredith’s career either. Yes, he gets her more time in the OR and research opportunities (even if they’re ill-fated), but he also serves as an intellectual partner, encouraging her to challenge herself. They draw that tumor on their bedroom wall and figure out how to tackle it together. They bounce ideas off each other and share successes and failures. It’s not as simple as him standing in her way. It’s complicated.

And Meredith isn’t the only one with complex relationship dynamics. Think about Cristina’s pension for sleeping with her mentors. Burke, Colin Marlow (her professor at Stanford), even Owen — she picks her partners because she finds their brains, their knowledge, their accomplishments sexy. They teach her so much, particularly Burke whose tremor and the ensuing cover-up send Cristina’s learning and skills at cardiothoracic surgery into warp drive. But the lines get murky when this extremely ambitious woman finds that her lovers’ wants don’t match her own (see having children). When you’re in a relationship with your mentor, breaking up means a broken heart and major career setbacks.

It turns out, aligning two separate people’s dreams and ambitions is not easy. Navigating this conflict is made more difficult in our patriarchal society that puts men’s needs above women’s, particularly when it comes to career. But that doesn’t mean these issues only exist for women in heterosexual relationships. Callie and Arizona deal with it, both about going to “Africa” for Arizona’s Carter Madison grant and then later co-parenting Sophia with Callie’s very heterosexual baby daddy Mark.

In a recent episode, we see Meredith’s latest love interest Deluca unsure how to navigate his colleagues and particularly his superior Richard Webber (and Meredith’s defacto father) knowing about his relationship with Meredith. Deluca brings his awkwardness into surgery, potentially letting his love life get in the way of his learning. The scene mostly plays for laughs — it is easier for men in this particular sphere after all — yet the conflict remains.

It turns out there is no easy answer for how to navigate the intersection of love and excellence. Remember that episode in season six “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked,” when the residents discuss “if you had to choose between the thing you love, surgery, and the person you love, which would you choose?” Of course, it’s Cristina asking the question (because she’s facing it with the Owen-Teddy-Cristina love triangle to end all love triangles). And of course, Cristina chooses surgery while Izzie chooses love. But the rest of the group is unsure. Meredith tries not to answer, advising her friend not talk about it. Cristina only sort of heeds her advice, declaring later to Teddy, “I choose surgery over a guy. I’m not gonna apologize for it, especially to you… I want to be great, and I want to learn from you. I choose my gift.” And the episode ends with a tense conversation between Meredith and Derek in which she tells him “in the choice between surgery and love, You chose surgery. You chose ambition today.” And he responds, “so did you… We’re the same.”

These discussions where we clearly name how our relationships hinder and help our professional ambitions are rare. They’re infrequent in real life and on screen — even broaching the subject can be taboo. But they are vital to address the gender gap at home and in the workplace. How else do we suss out our personal priorities, get the support we need (from our partners and friends), and make the best decisions? We can’t unless we know what we are facing. So let’s follow Shonda Rhimes’s lead and recognize the intersections of love and excellence. It’ll be good for all of us.

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Discovery: Where to Boldly Go?

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery ended with a major cliff-hanger: Michael Burnham and the gang catapulted through space and time and we have no idea where/if/when they will end up.

To get to this moment, they had to battle artificial intelligence hell bent on “destroying all sentient life,” chase down an emo Spock and deal with his daddy-issues, solve the mystery of Michael’s parents (including finding her mother alive before losing her again), and that’s not all.

Lots of questions remain: is Control really dead? Why did Spock and friends have to vow never to speak of Discovery again (other than the show’s creators trying to explain why we never knew Spock had a sister before)? And speaking of Spock’s family, how did Sarek and Amanda manage to visit Discovery on the eve of battle but not get any ships to help? Is Captain Pike really doomed to the horrible fate he saw in the time crystal? How can we get more or Rebecca Romijn’s Number One (hair, make-up, and attitude)? Will we see more of Ash Tyler and Section 31 (or in Georgiou’s spinoff)? Was all of season two just an extended Spock (or Borg) creation story?

But, for fans of Discovery planning to tune into season three like me, the central question remains: what is in store for Michael and the crew? The finale made it clear they could go anywhere in space or time. The only hint was the possibility of finding themselves on Terralysium again. Remember it’s the Earth-like planet in the far-flung Beta Quadrant housing the few thousand technology-less humans rescued by Burham’s mother from an earlier, darker time in human history.

There are some upsides to this possibility: We could see more of Burnham’s mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham (I guess the lady astrophysicists of the future still take their husband’s last names) played by the formidable Sonja Sohn. Every moment she was on screen was electrifying and her newly-resumed relationship with Michael certainly deserves deeper exploration.

We’d also get to see how the Discovery crew (all of them seemingly scientists, engineers, and computer lovers) would survive without technology. I can’t imagine the next season will consist of them learning to grow potatoes so there is a certain Battlestar Galactica-y appeal in seeing them figure out how to live without a network. In this scenario, Discovery could delve into questions about the role of technology in our lives: what makes us stronger versus what makes us weaker? What is essential and what are we better off without? How do you keep growing if the ways in which we grow (aka technology) end up destroying us?

Alternatively, if Control really is “dead” a trip to Terralysium could put Burnham and crew on more of a Voyagerlike trajectory, battling to get home (assuming the spore drive is unusable now). If that’s the way we go, Discoverycould focus on issues of identity when so many of the traditional markers are gone. Do they stay in uniform? How do they pick a captain without Star Fleet? What does this mean for our favorite mutineer? The list goes on.

Personally, having spent the first two seasons of Discovery in the decades prior to the original Star Trek, I’d like to see the show move from prequel to sequel. Wouldn’t it be fun to catch up with Sisco, Janeway, Worf, etc. in their later years? I hear Jean Luc Picard is getting a series along those lines — perhaps Discovery could jump-start that process by taking us first to Bajor. Let’s see what Kira Nerys is up to. I can’t imagine she had kids, but wouldn’t she be a hilarious mother/grandmother? Her future could provide such interesting context into what warriors do after the war, how societies build after they’ve met their Gods. Certainly, in these troubling times, our world could use the critique of capitalism that Quark and the Ferengis always provide. How would Michael and Saru and Tully even respond to our favorite large-eared aliens? It would be so ripe!

But as much fun as that’d be, the truth is, I don’t actually care about where or when Discovery goes. I do care that the show embeds in its journey the big questions Star Trek is so good at asking about humanity and progress and morality. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Star Trek nostalgia Discovery offers, bringing me back on-board the space ships with their form-fitting uniforms, far out noises, and familiar characters. But I LOVE Star Trek’s morally based storytelling, its optimism about humanity paired with its willingness to take a hard look in the mirror (remember how Generations premiered with Q putting the entire human race on trial?).

We’re in the era of prestige television — it’d be a shame for the Star Trek franchise to abandon what made it so good, so timeless, and so influential to begin with. Discovery hasn’t gone deep on the big questions yet but it’s not too late. Let season three boldly go into the intellectual, the nerdy, the moral quandary. It’s the biggest adventure of them all.

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“Someone Great” is the Romantic Comedy We Need

When I was pre-teen and teenager, the women dancing in their underwear on screen were white and super thin. Think Cameron Diaz and Kirsten Dunst. They had this carefree cuteness, this unquestionable right to be fearless, sexy, and the center of attention. All of us wanted to be them, as unattainable as that was for the vast majority of us.

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m watching Gina Rodriguez jam out in her choneys on Netflix’s Someone Great. This film is the updated romantic comedy we need, following Jenny, the 29-year-old music critic who’s T-shirt declares she’s “Latina AF.” She’s brown and proud, regularly using Spanish. And she’s just as plucky and beautiful as her white predecessors. The camera spends some quality time on her thighs and I am here for it. She’s talented and driven, landing a new job that will move her to San Francisco from New York and give her a full staff to supervise at the ripe-old-age of 29. She’s not as squeaky clean as her earlier, romantic comedy counterparts (or even Gina Rodriguez’s other alter ego Jane Villanueva), doing a wide variety of drugs on the sidewalk. But she’s still romantic, seeing her love story as star crossed and using her power as a writer to express her feelings poetically in voiceover.

And like all excellent romantic comedies, Someone Great features fabulous outfit after fabulous outfit. Throughout the day we spend with Jenny in New York, people keep remarking on her clothes like she looks ridiculous. But I’m here wondering how I can get her whole dated, grunge, barrio clothes now. And of course, the same goes for her friends, who manage to look stunning in every shot, including the obligatory getting-dressed-to-go-out montage.

In fact, in addition to Brittany Snow and DeWanda Wise as the best friends, Someone Great also delivers on the romantic comedy classic of the cameo. There’s Ru Paul as the over-the-top and top-end drug dealer. There’s Rosario Dawson as the boyfriend’s cousin who works at Vogue and manages to both sympathize and condescend to Jenny simultaneously. And as a nod and much-needed update to Sex in the City, Girls, etc., there’s New York itself, another romantic comedy staple, appearing browner but just as glamours as always.

Yes, seeing a brown-skinned, black-haired Latina get the full romantic comedy treatment — dance breaks, wardrobe changes, fantastic female friends — is so satisfying. Much of the tone of Someone Great is not joyful though, it’s sad. The film brilliantly portrays the late-twenties angst of Millenials. It is hard to be at the stage where you’re transitioning from all-night benders to farmers’ markets, from screwing the wrong person to declaring your love, from post-college bacchanal to full-fledged adulthood.

But usually, TV and film only allow male characters the kind of transgressive, lost, and sympathetic coming-to-age stories that Jenny and her friends get. Think of the era of the man-child film, embodied by Knocked Up. That was in 2007. Before even the flashbacks of Jenny and her crew. There were so many of those films. Meanwhile, unmarried women’s existence past 30 was only just getting to be fun and not tragic on screen, thanks to Sex and the City. TV’s made some great strides since then. But it’s taking romantic comedies a long time to catch up or include brown people.

Something Great fulfills and advances the promise of earlier, feminist shows, giving us a new set of women that better reflect what the world and New York actually look like. And Something Great has the courage so many of its predecessors do not — it’s happy ending does not include a relationship. Jenny doesn’t get back together with her boyfriend. No new love interest appears to save her from her broken heart. She doesn’t even have bone it out as DeWanda Wise’s Erin helpfully suggests. No the “Someone Great” of this film is Jenny herself, choosing and finding herself. This is the romantic comedy of my dreams. Enjoy.

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Why the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Finale was So Satisfying

“Romantic love is not an ending.” So says Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch in her mic-drop moment of the final episode of Crazy Ex-GirlfriendNo, she doesn’t literally drop the mic, but she may as well — staring straight into the camera and letting all us viewers know that this lesson is for us.

After four seasons of critiquing the stories we tell about romantic love, the show delivers on its feminist principles, showing how a man will not complete Rebecca no matter how handsome, rich, or well-matched with her. In fact, we spend the opening sequence of the final episode in a Christmas Carol-esque dream sequence in which Rebecca sees her future with each love interest. In them, she gets what she always wanted — becoming a pretty bride, having a happy pregnancy, being the matriarch of a loving family — but in none of them is she truly happy. Greg, Nathaniel, and Josh each fail to complete her.

Because frankly, that’s not how relationships work. No partner will fulfill allyour needs. Yes, they can help you grow and be a source of great satisfaction but they will not fill the holes inside of you. Only you can do that — no matter what romantic comedies tell you. That’s the conclusion Rebecca and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reach — and I couldn’t agree more.

While in some ways, this ending was predictable (the show has always been clear about its feminist point of view), in other ways it was quite a surprise. After all, much of the final season focused on getting Rebecca and Greg back together. He moves back to West Covina, they get back together, break up, and seem to have the most real relationship. In the penultimate episode, Rebecca goes on a date with each of her three main suitors a la The Bachelor, the idea being that she’ll be able to choose afterward. Josh and Nathaniel pull out all the stops, creating beautiful, romantic moments. Greg originally plans to just hang out for his date but he gets spooked by all the fanfare his rivals dream up. He makes arrangements for a romantic balloon-ride (with Weird Al, no less), but his plans get ruined when his car breaks down. So Rebecca and he end up just hanging out, playing games while they wait for the mechanic. In this decidedly unromantic setting, he tells her “you’re the love of my life” and at that moment, they seem fated to be together. Just like in the actual Bachelor, the sign of real love is not who you can get carried away with but who you can find magic within everyday interactions. Despite being firmly team Nathaniel, after that episode, I figured Rebecca would end up with Greg.

And in most shows, she would have. Trailblazer and general feminist badass Mindy Kaling ended the Mindy Projectby reuniting Mindy Lahiri with her first love — Chris Messina’s Daniel Castellano — a guy who belittled her about her weight, demanded she quit the job she loved (while he worked the same one), and generally gave her hell. And this was a show that started with an explicit critique of romantic comedies and continued in that vein by making Mindy more vapid and problematic as it went on.

Sex and the City famously reunited Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw and Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in an ending. He literally goes to save her from an abusive partner! With all those relationships, sexual escapades, and heartbreak, the morale of Sex and the City seemed to be that friendship is as important as romantic love. The foursome of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte is the show’s one constant. Aren’t you more invested in Carrie and Miranda’s relationship than any other on the show? And yet, the ending didn’t back that up. Carrie needs a man for her story to end — whether you count the ill-conceived movies or not.

In most stories, feminist or not, leading ladies end up with their first, often forsaken love — Mr. Big, Daniel Castellano, etc. That’s why I expected Rebecca to pick Greg and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s creators did everything to lead me in that direction, from bringing him back to leaving Greg to be the last to be turned down. But despite the misdirection and the universe seemingly pulling another way, Rebecca picks herself.

Earlier in the fourth season, she realizes the law doesn’t make her happy, but she hasn’t yet found what will. The pretzel shop is fun but it’s not (spiritually) fulfilling. Instead, she has to find her true calling and who helps her do that? Not Josh, Nathaniel, or Greg. Paula. It’s through talking to her best friend that Rebecca sets out on her real adventure — telling her story through song-writing. In the intervening year, it is Paula, Heather, and Valencia who encourage her, giving her the support she needs to overcome her self doubt. This is a show that values women’s friendships, demonstrating their real value from beginning to end.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend concludes the moment before Rebecca publicly performs for the first time. In true Rebecca-fashion, she has a long wind-up, recounting her journey since moving to West Covina and what’s she learned since turning down each of primary suitors. She says “When I’m telling my own story for the first time in my life, I am truly happy. It’s like I just met myself. Like I just met Rebecca. I came to this town to find love, and I did… And now, for the first time in my life, I can say that maybe I’m finally ready for the other kind of love… But whoever it’s with, it won’t be ‘ending up’ with someone, because romantic love is not an ending, not for me or for anyone else here. It’s just a part of your story, a part of who you are.”

It’s such a satisfying conclusion. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of romantic love, but it does knock romantic love off its pedestal. Yes, we may talk about that type of love more but it’s not the most important type of love. Committing to a partner is not an “ending” but a stop along the journey. The door is still open for Rebecca to marry and have kids with Nathaniel or Greg (Josh, thankfully, has found his happiness somewhere else) but whether she builds a relationship with one of them, someone else, or no one at all, that choice doesn’t define Rebecca. It doesn’t define any of us. Instead, our stories are really about who we are, what we do, and how we manage to love ourselves.

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The Good Fight: Delightful, Problematic, Unflinching

The Good Fight is delightful. Taking place in the Chicago law-and-politics universe of The Good Wife, the show focuses on Christine Baranski’s standout character, the fiercely calm Diane Lockhart. The first episode starts with Trump’s inauguration and follows Diane as she loses her life’s savings in a Murdoch-like-scam. Forced out of retirement, she lands on her feet at a traditionally black firm, Reddick, Boseman.

Diane’s new status as an outsider — both within her own firm and as a representative of that firm in the larger legal community — matches Diane’s status in the new world order. The ridiculous of the news, the backsliding on issues Diane cares about, and the general sense of chaos, overwhelm her. She sleeps with a violent extremist, starts microdosing hallucinogens, and keeps a gun at her desk (covered in beautiful, silk scarves, naturally). She’s no longer in charge and doesn’t know how to handle it.

Of course, Diane Lockhart isn’t powerless. She still has that perfectly coiffed hair, a rolodex of high profile clients, and her fine legal mind. And she still has her whiteness — a particularly glaring privilege as the only white partner at a black firm.

Much of the drama on The Good Fight touches on issues of race with a recent episode, “The One With Lucca Becoming a Meme,” focusing entirely on the issue. This is a black and white world where Latinx and Asian people don’t seem to exist (despite Latinos overtaking blacks as Chicago’s largest “minority” group years ago). So we’ve seen racism on the show as police brutalizing black civilians, snide comments said to Cush Jumbo’s black Lucca Quinn as she dates (and has the child of) one of Chicago’s golden white boys, and of course, the need for a black law firm at all.

But this episode was different — this time, we are looking inside Reddick, Boseman and the results are not pretty. Nyambi Nyambi’s Jay DiPersia, the firm’s senior investigator, sends out salary data to the entire firm, revealing that even at Reddick, Boseman, the white people are making more. Managing partner, Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman, explains the disparity in two ways. One: times are changing. With Trump and associates in power, the no-bid system that awards contracts to minority-owned and -led companies may be going away. Hence, the need for all those white faces to begin with. Two: the market. Specifically, the idea that the firm must pay men and white attorneys more because they could leave and find hiring paying jobs elsewhere.

Times may be changing but the marketplace argument sucks in this show and in the real world. It takes no responsibility for fostering (let alone reinforcing) discriminatory pay practises, forever favoring the status quo. It also assumes a zero-sum game where men and white attorneys get paid less rather than women and black people getting paid more. In this argument, diversity doesn’t bring better results (as study after study shows) but rather is just a way to score cheap labor. Yet, Boseman is in charge and so his ideas, along with the implicit bias of the rest of the partners, set the rules. Watching his explanation go unchallenged, I had to wonder if the show’s creators believed it.

You see The Good Fight is rare because ALL the main characters are women or people of color. And due to the fact it is set in a black firm, most of the extras and smaller parts are too. Yet, of the four principles — Diane Lockhart, Lucca Quinn, Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell, and Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold — three are white women.

We see life outside Reddick, Boseman but only through Dianne, Marissa, Maia, and Lucca’s eyes — leaving Lucca in the odd position of being the sole representative of what it feels like to experience racism as a woman of color. In this episode, a white woman in the park accuses her of abducting her lighter skinned baby, going so far as to call the police. Lucca, of course, defends herself and the result ends up making her a meme: mothering while black. Yet, at Reddick, Boseman, Lucca is regularly the lightest skinned woman in the room. As such, she’s probably less likely to experience the effects of racism than her darker-skinned peers (although she would not be free of them). I’m not trying to take away from Lucca — she’s an amazing character who manages to be smart, wry, and fatal with the slightest of facial expressions — but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the primary black character is light skinned.

This dynamic of focusing on white women and one, light-skinned black woman in a sea of black talent makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I’m so glad Adrian got those great arcs in season two with his past student accusing him of sexual favoritism and his media-damning turn as a pundit. The episode about Jay’s immigration status was amazing on so many levels — the driving-while-black trope, the atypical face of immigration, the celebration of his artistic talent (in particular when compared to Melania Trump’s). And Liz is FINALLY getting more to do in season three with the heart-wrenching revelations about her father, the changes in her personal life, and her decision to join Diane’s resistance group.

With these subplots, The Good Fight seem to try to right its wrongs. In the episode where Reddick, Bozeman confronts its pay disparities, the white characters do not get off the hook. Maia is straight up fired, which I’m into, since she’s been smashing windows and generally being difficult around the office. In a great scene, Diane, Marissa, Quinn, Adrian, Jay, and a handful of other Reddick, Bozeman attorneys are all sitting at a conference table. As they discuss police brutality, Lucca notices that only the black people know the names of police shootings victims. Diane says she doesn’t think that’s true so Lucca tests her theory. It turns out the white people can’t name Laquan McDonald, but all the black people can. Reverse for Matthew Shepard. Ouch. Diane responds by returning to her desk and trying to memorize the names, Marissa asks Lucca if she thinks she’s racist while Liz and Boseman talk about tribalism.

It’s the type of lesson that could fall flat — yes, racism is complicated — but doesn’t because of The Good Fight’s unflinching gaze. This is a show that is willing to kill its heroes. Black-led doesn’t mean racism-free. Women-centered doesn’t mean kinder or softer. Losing the advantages of privilege is not unjust. Maya and Marissa will be fine. Indeed, where Jay didn’t manage to land another job after temporarily quitting Reddick, Boseman, Maya appears to get another gig right away. She can take her whiteness with her. So even while the show laments her firing, it allows for the possibility that it was the right thing to do — if such a thing exists.

So far, The Good Fight’s third season revolves around the changing nature of the firm’s identity. With the firm’s patriarch not only dead but disgraced, Riddick, Boseman no longer has a guiding light. Are they simply trying to make money? Trying to prove black excellence through economic success? Using their capital to fight for civil rights? They don’t know. And that ambiguity may mirror the show itself with its faults, insights, and humor. It’s a good fight, indeed.

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“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Valencia Is Who Latinas Need to See on TV

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend brought wit, perception, and whimsy to issues as varied as mental health, our culture’s obsession with romance, and, of course, gender norms. I’ll certainly miss it and I won’t be the only one. Of its many achievements, the show’s commitment to portraying the diversity of our communities is one of my favorites. I’ve frequented towns like West Covina and they are indeed comprised of a mix of races, ages, and body types. And in a media landscape where Latinas are the least represented group when compared to our actual numbers, it has been so refreshing to watch the evolution of Gabrielle Ruiz’s Valencia Perez across the show’s four seasons.

Valencia started off like so many Latina caricatures — the sexy other woman. She was the primary rival to Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch. The obstacle that was keeping her from finding happiness with Vincent Rodriguez III’s Josh Chan. And in many ways, Valencia was Rebecca’s opposite. She was the body-focused yoga instructor who placed a premium on looking hot even when that was not the most strategic thing to communicate (like at Thanksgiving with your boyfriend’s extended family). She wasn’t particularly book smart, failing to earn an invite to her prospective mother-in-law’s book club. And she’d lived her whole life West Covina, a hometown girl. In contrast, Rebecca’s a Harvard-educated, East Coast intellectual who has a whole bit about how much she like pretzels.

In most other TV shows, Rebecca and Valencia would be pitted against each other until one of them wins the man once and for all and the other exits the plotline. But in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, they become friends, both women loving and losing Josh and other paramours on their way to self-discovery. They become friends in Season Two’s “Why Is Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Eating Carbs?” which sees the former rivals both at a Burning Man-esque festival, accidentally taking psychedelics, getting overly hot and dirty, and bonding over their mutual disdain for Josh.

From there they become buddies, spying on Josh’s other girlfriends, yes, but also having their own adventures like forming a new girl squad with Vella Lovell’s Heather Davis, doing musical theater together, and even hosting a seance. The seance episode, Season Four’s “I Am Ashamed” was perhaps my favorite Valencia moment. In true bruja form (all of us Latinas are witches — didn’t you know?), Valencia is somewhat of an expert in the occult. That is until some spooky shit actually goes down. Then she’s begging Jesus for forgiveness. It was just so me, you, and every tia we know. Funny but warm. Playing up her Latinidad while staying true to the individual character. The type of thing that winks at the Latina audience while also making us feel seen. I loved it.

You see Valencia is a particular person. She’s not all Latinas. And over the course of the show, she grows. She doesn’t stay the vapid yoga instructor who’s got the man. She becomes a savvy businesswoman, starting her own party-planning firm and eventually moving it to New York. She gets over Josh and finds her next (and probably true) love in a woman, Emma Willmann’s Beth. Along the way, she struggles with her identity, trying to figure out who she is if she isn’t the girl who marries her high school sweetheart. In her last arc, Valencia is up to her old tricks, giving Beth an ultimatum: propose or she won’t return with her to New York. Except, Beth is not so easily manipulated as Josh. Beth rejects Valencia’s gambit, later reminding Valencia that she can propose. In that moment, you see the glee spread across her face: Valencia is in charge of her own destiny and she can get what she wants. You see, Valencia has grown but she’s still a romantic. She aspires to be a bride (even a Pirate bride if that’s her only choice) and sees a ring as a marker of success. However, her version of marriage doesn’t have to be patriarchal or limiting. She can have it all.

And that having it all is what makes Valencia and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so great. The show plays with, exposes, and subverts the stereotypes were used to seeing of race, gender, and how they intersect. It’s a freeing vision of identity that allows us to celebrate and poke fun, be silly and fallible, represent our communities while also maintaining our individuality. I’ve loved hanging out with Valencia and crew and we deserve more characters like her. Networks take note.

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