Author

Cristina Escobar

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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Saying Goodbye to “The Good Place”

I’m going to miss The Good Place. I loved escaping to a world where people are basically good, cruelty is bad, and fairness and justice are worthwhile pursuits. It seems like a pretty standard baseline but in Trump’s America, it’s not.

The Good Place premiered in September 2016, before the last presidential election when so many of us (myself included) thought a woman would be president. I didn’t watch the show then mostly because I didn’t think I’d need it. But now that it’s ending, I’m grateful I had it these last four years, as a reminder of the simple importance of goodness.

Take for example the value judgments around helping others. Does being a good Samaritan make you a sucker or a good person? In Trump’s America-first doctrine, it means you’re a dupe. Lesson one: everyone’s out for themselves. Don’t even think about taking a risk for the sake of others. Not only will you get nothing in return, but you’re also bound to be taken advantage of. Think of aid for Ukraine or even somewhere within the U.S. that does vote (or vote Republican) like Puerto Rico. Or the Paris Climate Accord. These were “bad deals” because the United States didn’t get “anything.” It doesn’t matter if they led to an overall good or not.

Eleanor starts off The Good Place with a similar attitude — she’s out for herself and herself only — something the audience is meant to understand as wrong. She doesn’t belong in the good place and has to change her ways. Soon she’s learning philosophy from Chidi and bringing Jason and Tahani into her ethics study group. Over the last four seasons, this clique has grown to include Michael and Janet as they work to redeem humanity and themselves. This group of unlikely heroes not only improve themselves, they change the entire system by which we’re judged, even fixing heaven itself. And they’re able to do it because they share some basic beliefs — like torture is bad.

In devising the new system, the group studies Judith Shklar’s “Putting Cruelty First,” which argues that cruelty is “society’s primary flaw.” When Eleanor declares, “we need to come up with a system that will result in the least amount of cruelty and suffering to those who don’t deserve it,” Chidi kisses her (on roller skates!). It’s a sweet scene and an ethical theory that’s easy to get behind. People shouldn’t suffer for no reason, right? Living an ordinary life shouldn’t result in an eternity of torture. And yet, here on Earth, that’s the way things work. We’re still separating families at the border. We’ve executed a foreign leader. Trump’s impeachment defense is basically to convince America that corruption is normal.

It’s like Trump’s a demon from the bad place, a devil in a skinsuit with a bad haircut. But instead of rallying against him, we’ve made him President. Now, he didn’t win the popular vote in 2016. But our system is built in such a way that the will of the people doesn’t matter. We’ve got the Electoral College, gerrymandered districts, and voter suppression — all to protect rural white voters’ preferences above all others.

What we need now is the courage to change the system. Upon realizing that no person has qualified for the good place in 500 years, Michael, Janet, and the four humans set out to figure out what’s happening and change it. There are lots of obstacles and, this being TV, all of humanity almost gets erased. But they don’t give up, they don’t sit by and let the injustice stand. They travel to hell and back. They sacrifice love and find it again. They stretch themselves, pushing past discomfort and doubt to achieve something more. It’s a lesson for all of us. And it’s one I’ll miss when The Good Placeconcludes its fourth and final season.

It turns out four years is enough to tell this story. Let our suffering not be eternal.

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“Picard” Has Me Missing “Deep Space Nine” More Than Ever

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my family. This was back in the days when I watched TV on an actual TV, wore hot pink Espirit shorts, and yelled “it’s back” to my dad so he’d stop cooking dinner and come in and watch. I identified deeply with Counselor Deanna Troy, although I was too young to have a crush on Riker. I liked seeing Geordi’s eyes in Reading Rainbow.

My family would discuss TNG (although we never called it that back then) over dinner, dissecting the show’s ethical quandaries and adventures. Later, I kept an eye out for Patrick Stewart, pleasantly surprised by his real-life pension for speaking out against violence against women and other atrocities.

So yes, I’m very excited about the upcoming show Picard. But it’s not the show I’d have made first. You see after TNG came Deep Space Nine and I’d much rather learn what Sisco is up to than Picard. Hear me out.

First of all, if you’re new to the Star Trek universe, I’m sorry. In that case, let me suggest you start with Deep Space Nine. If you try to watch TNG now, you probably won’t like it. The show’s still great but it doesn’t have the full-season arcs that modern viewers are accustomed to. DS9 (can I call it that?) did serial episodes when serial was still new, making it part of the vanguard of new television (a la The X-Files). This difference turns out to be a pretty big deal in today’s streaming world — one show is binge-able and the other is not.

DS9 also holds up better because it’s more reflective of the world we actually live in. For one, politics are complicated. In TNG, Picard was a fair, if imperfect leader. He was the wise patriarch of his ship in near-perfect control of his crew. TNG made pains to complicate this vision (see how Picard can’t play poker because of the distance needed to maintain his leadership or those episodes where the Borg take him) but the fundamental truth of it still stands. The idea of a lone, wise white man leading alternates between laughable and frightening today, depending on if the news cycle is covering Twitter misspellings or World War III.

Captain Benjamin Sisko was in a much more complicated position. He ran a space station co-leased between his Star Fleet/Federation of Planets and the neighboring Bajoran planet/people. As such, he didn’t have full control over his dominion and instead had to navigate a foreign society and power structure. Over the show, that relationship moved over time from close to tense to eerily close, like when the Bajorans decide Sisko is their emissary (the Bajoran messiah) and things get really messy.

Also, Sisko is Black. Avery Brooks portrayed Sisco with grace, authority, and a taste for mischief, allowing him to be fully human and an amazingly good leader. We see him struggle as a father, try out romance, and serve as a major player in intergalactic events. And while (human) races don’t really exist in the future that is Star Trek, Sisco’s blackness still matters. We viewers see it and note it. Though there are the episodes where the DS9 crew travels back in time via the holodeck (to when melanin meant something), the real importance of Sisco’s race is how he redefines leadership. It’s not a white guy this time and that’s for the best.

DS9 made waves at the time for its casting of a black man as its captain, but the show’s portrayal of gender is no less evolved. There’s First Officer Kira Nerys in the Strong Woman role. Nerys is tough and firey, a former revolutionary with a deeply spiritual side. While a militaristic woman may not be noteworthy today, it’s worth remembering that the main recurring female characters on TNG were caretakers — the counselor and the doctor — in traditional female roles. TNG’s Tasha Yar is more like Nerys but Yar dies pretty quick while we get to see Nerys change and grow. So another point for DS9.

DS9 also had my perhaps favorite character in the Star Trek universe: Jadzia Dax. Played by Terry Farrell, Dax is a charming risk-taker who’s actually two beings in one: a big slug thing that’s lived seven lifetimes in various hosts and an accomplished science officer who’s melded all those memories, voices, and personalities into one roguish personality. Dax has lived as both men and women, a fact the show keeps top of mind by having Sisco nickname her “old man” in reference to his friendship with the previous host. Talk about progressive! In Dax, we have a charismatic trans character who eventually MARRIES TNG royalty in Worf.

DS9 really had it all — characters that would push boundaries today, politics that made you think (and not just long for a bygone imaginary), an acronym that we used then and now. If the Star Trek captains were US presidents, Sisco would be Obama (and Janeway would be Hillary but that’s neither here nor there). Picard would have to be Lincoln — I wish we could pick someone more recent but it’s been a long time since there’s been a white man of unimpeachable character and competence in office. That’s just not the world we live in now. And re-imagining a white, male savior is not where I’d take the Star Trek franchise next.

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10 Women-Centered Shows to Watch in 2020

Have you seen the news? According to a new report, we’re getting more media from women’s perspectives than ever before — a whopping 10% of top-grossing films were directed by women last year, representing the highest percentage in 13 years. And while some activists are literally shedding tears of joy, everyone agrees there’s still a lot more work to be done (see how the Golden Globes completely shut out women directors).

So together let’s start 2020 with a TV diet that’s more like 90% women-led, 10% men and keep pushing the ratio in the right direction. To help, we’ve put together a list of the ten women-centered shows we’re most excited about in 2020. Happy watching!

Call the Midwife

This BBC favorite is now in its ninth season and for those looking for a Nonnatus-House fix, you can catch the Christmas special before the new season starts airing state-side in March. Call the Midwife is pretty much the only show that valorizes women’s bodies and work without sexualizing them. And it does this while championing political issues like abortion and mental health to create truly compelling TV. Although, it does make us sad to see women in 1960s London get better maternal care than Americans today…

The Good Fight

We’d watch anything with Christine Baransky in it. And the same goes for Audra McDonald. So we’ll be re-upping our CBS subscription when The Good Fight returns later this year. We’re fine with the departure of Maia Rindell (played by Rose Leslie) and hope the show spends its free time centering its black characters (and hey, maybe there will even be a Latinx or two!). Whatever happens, we know The Good Fight will continue its tradition of cutting-edge political commentary, making this entirely women-helmed show a therapeutic must-see in an election year.

Grey’s Anatomy

We’re still watching Grey’s Anatomy and we’re not embarrassed about it! The second half of the show’s sixteenth season will air in 2020, not to mention whatever they have cooked up for the likely seventeenth installment. The show has morphed from its early bed-hopping days (don’t worry there’s still plenty of sex) to taking on issues ranging from working motherhood to systemic problems with healthcare. But if anyone can fix our medical system, we’re confident it’s Dr. Meredith Grey.

Insecure

We named Insecure one of our top shows to watch in 2019 but then it didn’t come out! So count us even more excited for the fourth season, which both Issa Rae and HBO promise will be out in 2020. That said, we’re happy for Rae whose major movie stardom delayed the premiere. This season, we’re expecting Issa to give us more heartbreak, laughs, and insights as she and her crew celebrate the trials and joys of being young, black, successful, and female in Los Angeles.

Killing Eve

Did you see Jodie Comer in Star Wars? It was blink and you’ll miss it but that’s not what we’re most excited about. The villainess from Killing Eve is having quite the year from her Emmy win to her appearance in the coveted franchise. That said, we all know our national treasure (that we borrowed from Canada) is still Sandra Oh. And we’re excited to see these two back together again, particularly, because women make murder and espionage more interesting (thanks to creator Pheobe Waller-Bridge)!

Pose

Pose is beautiful, heartbreaking, and fun, set in New York’s ballroom scene of the late 80s, early 90s. While we’re glad the show has gotten Billy Porter that much closer to his EGOT (looking at your Oscar), we’re particularly enthusiastic that the show’s Afrolatinx stars Mj Rodriguez as Blanca and Indya Moore as Angel are getting their due. We’re expecting season three to be just as poignant as Blanca continues her recovery from AIDS complications and Angel braves the fashion industry as an out, trans model.

Russian Doll

The first season of Russian Doll was pretty much perfect so we’re having a hard time imagining what they’ll do in season two. That said, we trust this all women writers’ room and directorial team to deliver a stunning sequel. Netflix is cagey about the details but we can’t wait to see Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, Dascha Polanco, and Ritesh Rajan back together contemplating life and death. At the very least, we’re promised great music, costumes, and the rare depiction of the true diversity of New York City.

Shrill

Show creator Lindy West holds a special place in our heart from her writing days at Jezebel. Two books, a New York Times column, and one show later, we’re even bigger fans. Staring Aidy Bryant and Lolly Adefope, Shrill follows a young journalist and her roommate as they make careers for themselves in their plus-sized bodies that have nothing wrong with them except how society views them. With the bonus points earned for the abortion scene in season one, we’re sure Shrill’s second season, out this year, will deliver a tragicomic look at the reality of being a young woman in America today.

Vida

We think Vida is pretty much the best thing on TV. Created by Latina Tonya Soracho and following the Hernandez sisters as they deal with gentrification, sexual mores, and identity issues, Vida is as hot as it is compelling. Plus it bucks all the stereotypes of latinidad from how we eat our tacos to how we deal with generational conflict. Season two ended in a hell of a cliffhanger and we can’t wait to see what season three means for the bar, the sisters, and the entire neighborhood.

Westworld

It’s been a while since we’ve been to Westworld (we think it’s destroyed now) but we’re still excited to dive back into HBO’s sci-fi dystopia. Helmed by Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton, Westworld is the ultimate critique of patriarchy — exploring what happens when men get to live out their toxic masculine fantasies (surprise there’s a lot of rape and violence). In season three, the victims of these attacks are fully sentient and ready to fight back with their superior strength and knowledge. Plus watching Tessa Thompson kick ass is always a pleasure.

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Sleeping with Your Priest: From “Fleabag” to “El Crimen del Padre Amaro”

Pheobe Waller-Bridge created something rare and amazing with Fleabag — a show that completely inhabits a complicated (some may say “damaged”) woman’s perspective and finds humor and humanity. The second season won all the awards, and rightfully so, for its depiction of the relationship between our troubled protagonist and a Hot Priest.

Watching it, I was conflicted. Am I supposed to root for the relationship or want Fleabag to get the hell out of there? On one hand, the Hot Priest is in fact hot. He’s also adorable (see the thing with foxes) and really sees Fleabag (he’s the only one who notices her asides). But on the other hand, he’s not available! I mean, the man has taken a vow of celibacy. And he likes being a priest so it’s not exactly a surprise (spoiler coming!) that he picks God over Fleabag (although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one might choose Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s incredible magnetism over the Catholic God).

No matter what side you fall on though, Fleabag is notable for how it takes you through the relationship from the (white) woman’s perspective. We are with her as she first meets the Hot Priest, checks out his congregation, learns a bit about the Bible, and eventually, even, has sex with him. From Fleabag’s perspective, we see the pain and the pleasure of another manifestation of her self-destructive behavior. Only this time, it’s more poignant because she finally manages to forge a real connection, even if it’s doomed from the start.

Catholicism is harmless, horny, and hilarious when seen through Fleabag’s eyes

In her relationship with the Hot Priest, Fleabag’s happiness is at stake and we want her to have it. To her, the Catholic church is an oddity, a quirk of her family. It didn’t help commit genocide against her ancestors, destroying their sacred places and building churches on top of them. It doesn’t still influence the politics, economies, and culture of her homeland, providing social services in failed states while also upholding patriarchal anti-abortion laws. It holds no greater power than to thwart her love life.

Obviously, that’s not true for many of us. So when the story of transgressing the vow of celibacy is told from the Latino perspective, it looks really different. Take the 2002 sensation, El Crimen del Padre Amaro. It also features a hot priest (who didn’t/doesn’t have a crush on Gael Garcia Bernal?) who breaks his vow, this time with Ana Claudia Talancón’s Amelia. This Spanish-language film won all sorts of awards too, even becoming one of nine films from Mexico ever to get nominated for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film.

But while the set up’s and critical responses are the same, pretty much everything else is different. For one, El Crimen is told from the priest’s perspective. We don’t learn much about Amelia, other than that she masturbates to Jesus (¡Dios mio!). And even that tidbit is meant to just make her more desirable for Padre Amaro. She’s the early aughts version of a priest thirst trap, a Bible-thumping virgin who Amaro literally dresses up as La Virgin. And of course, things don’t go well for her. She gets pregnant, gets a back alley abortion with Amaro’s help, and dies.

Male gaze much? Amelia as the perfect priest-sex-object in El Crimen del Padre Amaro

So while the stakes for Amelia are life and death, they exist only to illustrate how far Amaro has fallen. The young father starts out good but his ambitions get the better of him as he forsakes his moral code for career advancement, betraying Amelia, his mentor, and his broader community. Meanwhile, we see the Church supporting cartels, curtailing free speech, and ex-communicating the only priest who puts the well-being of his congregation first. As Padre Amaro falls from grace so does the church, making the whole movie a critique of the church as a power-hungry hypocrite without a moral compass.

It may be worth noting here that El Crimen del Padre Amaro set the box office record when it premiered in Mexico.

Hot priests sell. Rewatching the film in 2019, I couldn’t help but wonder how different it would be from the woman’s point of view. Fleabag only half-answers that question, flipping the gender perspective but also transporting us to the colonial power. Certainly, a Latina would tell the story differently. But our stories are so rarely told — we still struggle to keep critically acclaimed, feel-good family sitcoms (cough One Day At A Time cough) on air, let alone transgressive sexual narratives that risk angering the Catholic Church. So I may just be waiting a long time.

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Our Top 10 Shows of 2019

Our Top 10 Shows of 2019

by Cristina Escobar

2019 was the first full year of latinamedia.co and we were blessed with a bounty of riches when it came to TV. So many great shows centered women, people of color, and even the oh-so-elusive women of color. Here we’ve ranked our top ten shows of the year. Our criteria? How much we liked it (duh), its overall quality (based on our scientific quality meter), and how smart it was when it came to matters of gender, race, sexuality, etc.

10. The Good Fight

The Good Fight is the perfect show for the Trump era. It tackles breaking news and longstanding conspiracy theories (the pee tape) with equal amounts of the sincerity and absurdity of this moment. This year’s season three saw the ever-wonderful Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart join, lead, and eventually quit a #Resistance group, with her firm Reddick, Boseman at times supporting and at times detracting from that work. We also got more of Audra McDonald as Liz Lawrence (née Reddick) plus standout performances by Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn and Sarah Steele as Marissa Gold. Really, the only thing that would make this show better is a guest appearance by Alan Cumming, reprising his role from The Good Wife’s Eli Gold, aka Marissa’s scheming father. Well, that and broader distribution. Who pays for CBS?

9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

We were sad to see Crazy Ex-Girlfriend end this year but at least it ended on its own terms, pulling off a pitch-perfect ending. With original songs each episode, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend managed to be technically difficult without ever appearing overworked. We’re talking about the show with the most nuanced depiction of mental illness on television, thanks to numbers like “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal.” The show was intentional about its feminism (the entire premise), anti-white supremacy (see the casting of Josh Chan, Valencia’s arc, when we learn Heather’s background), and even a nuanced discussion about being bisexual (Thanks Darryl). It’s also jammed packed with jokes about Southern California, the law, and musical theater. We’ll miss Rebecca and crew but are excited to see what show creator Rachel Bloom does next.

8. Undone

With eight episodes just over the 20-minute mark, Amazon’s Undone could have been a long movie. Instead, it’s a beautiful, short, serialized journey into the mind of one Chicana. Alma, portrayed by Rosa Salazar, is bored with her San Antonio life and sabotaging up her relationships as a result when she starts traveling through time. It’s more than disconcerting at first but her dead, white father played by (Better Call) Saul aka Bob Odenkirk serves as her guide, helping Alma learn to master her power with the hope of avenging his death. There’s only one problem — it may all be in her head, part of the schizophrenia that runs in her family. With a diverse cast each delivering standout performances and cutting-edge visual techniques, Undone is prestige television at its best, engaging with Latinx themes like mestizaje to weave a wonder-filled narrative.

7. Pose

Created by Afrolatino Steven Canals in partnership with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, Pose is the real deal. The first season set records for the number of trans actors featured on a TV show and this year’s second season got rid of the obligatory white characters (we love you though Evan Peters and Kate Mara), making it even better. Pose made stars of Black Latinxs like Mj Rodriguez (congrats on the Critic’s Choice nomination!) and Indya Moore, not to mention opening the red carpet for Billy Porter, the winner of every unofficial fashion contest and of course, even official acting ones like the Emmys. And its writers’ room features the likes of Janet Mock and Our Lady J, demonstrating for those in the back, just how great TV can be when you authentically tell underrepresented stories.

6. Fleabag

Fleabag is topping a lot of lists and we love it as much as the next critic. Pheobe Waller-Bridge is an amazing talent, her comedic timing is impeccable and her writing on Fleabag (not to mention on Killing Eve) manages to be cutting, insightful, and hilarious. This year’s season follows Fleabag’s pursuit of the hot priest (Andrew Scott who you may remember as Moriarity in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock). The priest manages to be the perfect match for Fleabag — he sees her when no one else does, noticing her asides to the camera and matching her self-destruction with his own. Our only issue is how this very funny British lady gets to tell the definitive story of sleeping with your priest when her whole country left the church some 500 years ago.

5. The Good Place

Who would have thought a sitcom that regularly namedrops Immanuel Kant could actually be funny? It turns out the big questions of philosophy can make for great television in the right hands (specifically, Michael Schur’s of Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 fame). The Good Place delivers laughs with the stumpers, helped by the outsized charisma of its diverse cast. With an even gender split and featuring as many non-white as white characters, the six principles are loveable and flawed. We want to name a stand out performance but really all six (Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, William Jackson Harper as Chidi Anagonye, Jameela Jamil as Tahani Al-Jamil, Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza, D’Arcy Carden as Janet and Ted Danson as Michael) are all phenomenal and have fantastic team chemistry. We wish there was a Latinx in the mix but give The Good Place a pass as one of the only meaningful redemption arcs for women out there.

4. Russian Doll

We called it “perfect.” And indeed, Russian Doll functions as a neat little capsule of a show with eight short episodes filled with cool-girl aesthetics, rabbit holes, and memorable one-liners. One might think Russian Doll’s premise — a woman stuck repeating her 36th birthday and death shortly thereafter — could get tiring. Instead, the show allows so many ways to interpret Nadia’s plight (is she in a video game? A religious quandary? A cycle of trauma?) that we found ourselves constantly pondering new theories and eagerly waiting to hear, “Sweet birthday baby” just one more time. It helps that Natasha Lyonne appears to be playing a fantastical version of herself and is surrounded by people that actually look like New York — such as Charlie Barnett as Alan Zaveri and Greta Lee as Maxine A second season is forthcoming and we can’t wait to see how they expand on the perfectly closed and complex narrative of season one.

3. Schitt’s Creek

Schitt’s Creek has been getting a lot of attention since it migrated from Canada to the US via Netflix. We started off skeptical — rich-people-problems shows are not exactly our favorite. But after the first few episodes, Schitt’s Creek proves itself to be something greater and by this year’s third season, we’re seeing the Rose family in their most interesting iteration yet. They both have and haven’t changed — they’re still wearing their ridiculous avant-guard black-and-white outfits while still reconciling their worldly self-concepts to their new roles as citizens of Schitt’s Creek. But they’re also growing with David finding love and purpose in his store, Moira learning how to shine productively in the local theater scene, Johnny using his work ethic and experience in something worthwhile (the hotel), and Alexis learning how to value more than just status and appearance as evidenced by her getting an education and turning down that PR job. With the Roses, Schitt’s Creek has created fully fleshed out people who grow and change without betraying their problematic core. It’s a wonder to watch.

2. Jane the Virgin

We love Jane the Virgin. Yes, it ticked all of our boxes by centering Latinas as we see ourselves, family-oriented with big dreams, trying to find love and happiness while navigating the intricacies of class, religion, race, etc.. We’re talking the human condition here and Jane had lots of that, resisting stereotypes even as it revealed in its telenovela cheesiness. We particularly loved Jaime Camil’s Rogelio De La Vega who managed to be hilarious, desirable, silly, and vain all at the same time. Jane ended this year with a heartbreaking opening arc (really, Michael coming back from the dead couldn’t be more devastating) and concluded by taking care of the Villanuevas with commercial and personal success all around (how can I get a book deal like that?). We’ll be rewatching this one for years to come.

1. Vida

Vida was the best show of the year. Sexy. Thought-provoking. And most importantly for us, Latinx. In season two, the Hernandez sisters (Mishel Prada as Emma and Melissa Barrera as Lyn) are back in Boyle Heights for good, determined to make the bar and building profitable as they figure out what it means to make a new life in the old neighborhood. This year continues the trajectory of the first, exploring gentrification, racial identity, and sexuality with complexity and nuance. Season two is our favorite so far, with visually stunning set pieces like the after-hours party and sex scene between Emma and Roberta Colindrez’s Nico. It also benefits from being able to complicate many of its characters, particularly Chelsea Rendon’s Marisol who struggles with her sexuality, beliefs, and ambitions that pits her both with and against the sisters. Luckily, Vida’s already been renewed who knows it may just top our 2020 list too.

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“Charmed” without Feminism is Terrible

I’m sad about Charmed or, to be more specific, season two of the Charmed reboot. Like the upcoming Party of Five update, this Charmed replaces the original white family with a brown one to create something new. I was excited and tore through the first season, telling everyone to watch it (not to say there weren’t problems — like only one of the three leads actually identifying as Latina). Despite my enthusiasm, ratings were not great and attention scarce. The powers that be at CW decided to reboot the reboot, replacing the showrunners and premise. I’ve been watching this season live and now that it’s a third of the way through, I’m ready to call it: it’s terrible.

The first season was billed as purposefully “feminist,” a slant that gave it much of its joy and depth. There were jokes about incels, manic pixie dream girls, and Roxane Gay’s twitter feed. There was also a withering look at rape culture, a re-writing of the Medusa myth, and thoughtful commentary on #MeToo. In the first season, feminism grounded both the show’s off-hand jokes and its larger themes. In the second season, the feminist point of view is gone. Yes, the premise is still three-sisters-must-save-the-world. But I’m trying to think of at least one joke from the last seven episodes and literally, nothing comes to mind. In contrast, I remember plenty of funny moments from the first season and I watched it months ago.

Part of the problem is the change of setting. Last season took place on a college campus. Universities are ripe landscapes, a mecca for youth to ponder “big” questions, debating what society should look like. The second season, in contrast, takes place in a co-working space. And while the show takes jabs at the “visionaries” who work there, the budding entrepreneurs don’t say a thing. Instead, the show focuses on those who serve them — the admin personnel, the guy who runs the boxing gym, the woman who owns the (witchy) boutique. Centering these folks could be an interesting class commentary but the show doesn’t go there. In fact, it doesn’t really go anywhere. Without the backdrop of campus politics, it doesn’t have a way to make its drama-of-the-week about anything more than the plot at hand.

And that plot is not particularly interesting. Without broader meaning, Charmed needs actually compelling characters, relationships, and mysteries and it doesn’t have any of that. Rupert Evans who plays Harry was crushworthy a la Giles of Buffy in season one but his taboo romance with Macy this season is hard to care about. They don’t have much chemistry and without his role as the antiquated department chair of Women’s Studies, his personality seems to have evaporated. He’s just an above-average-looking white guy. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

Moreover, one of the central tenets of Charmed is supposed to be the “power of three,” that it takes three people, our three sisters, working together to solve the world’s problems. This collectivism demonstrates a different type of power, not of the rugged masculine power of individualism but rather the feminine power of working together But in season two, only Macy has magical powers while her sisters have lost theirs. Mel and Maggie are figuring out ways to contribute but it’s Macy’s show now. She’s at the center of most of the adventures and while I like her character, I don’t like the dynamic — one hero, some sidekicks. It’s been done. On pretty much every show ever. Without the power of three, there’s nothing that separates Charmed from other supernaturally inclined teen shows

In fact, even the Latinx premise is largely gone. They didn’t do a lot with it in season one — mostly it was just the coquitos they served in the Christmas episode — but they did explore identity. Macy was raised by her black father and identifies as Black, having not known her mestiza, Latina mom. Maggie and Mel grew up with that mom and both identity as Latina when the show starts. Later, when Maggie learns she actually shares a father with Macy and not Mel, she begins to question her racial identity, joining a Black student group and trying to figure out her place there. In season two? We don’t even get the whiff of a coquito, let alone the bigger questions.

Watching this season, I keep waiting for some of the fun to come back. To see the jokes and social commentary and personality quirks that made the first season so much fun. But it’s just drudgery now, like the faux cheer of a co-working space. Season two is a spell that doesn’t work — incantations in accented Spanish, three actresses who don’t interact very much, romance without any sex appeal, demons who are not deliciously evil or even compellingly bad. Charmed has given up on what made it charming. The magic’s gone.

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“Grey’s Anatomy” Tackles Its Biggest Drama Yet: Motherhood

“For what it’s worth, I hated maternity leave, too. And I am an excellent mother.”

Dr. Miranda Bailey drops this line in the premiere of Grey’s Anatomy’s 16th season. She’s speaking to new-mom Teddy Altman who’s hanging out in the hospital with her newborn on her maternity leave. Dr. Altman’s both bored and overwhelmed, struggling to meet her baby’s needs (diapers are tricky, babies need to eat all the time, and you can forget about sleeping) and her own expectations (aren’t women supposed to naturally love the opportunity to take care of their babies full time?).

This episode premiered just a few weeks after I’d given birth to my second child. Watching it on my own leave, I couldn’t help but relate to Altman. She acknowledges her privilege, saying “There are women the world over who would kill for the privilege of being able to stay at home with their newborn baby and know that they have a job to come back to.” And then she adds, “I know that I should be grateful, but I hate it… I have a brilliant mind with no opportunity to use it.”

Early motherhood is so physical — it’s about feeding, cuddling, worrying, and diaper changing. I’d describe these tasks as somehow hard and boring. I’d forgotten what it’s like to spend all your energy caring for a little creature who can’t so much as smile for six+ weeks. And that’s not counting the physical roller coaster that is life in the weeks after giving birth. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s also not something that most professional experiences prepare you for. Mine certainly didn’t. Writing, working in an office, running my own business — none of those things gave me a leg up. You can’t set goals or project manage or write a beautiful phrase to nurture a newborn. You just have to be physically there and let concepts like “return on investment” leave your brain or you’ll go crazy.

Since this was my second, I knew some things about baby care. I’m a skilled swaddler and diaper changer. I know all the breastfeeding tricks. I even know, in my body and mind, that this phase will pass. That the baby will turn into a toddler and then a kid. I know the specific sweetness, the sorriness, and the joy of childrearing. And yet, I still felt overwhelmed, exhausted, bored, and helpless, all combining to give me the distinct impression that I was failing. Watching this episode, I marveled at Bailey’s confidence. I longed for the day where I too can say “I’m an excellent mother” and believe it.

Bailey’s been a force from day one. She might no longer be “The Nazi” but she’s still the hardass I root for even when she’s wrong (see the episode this season where she originally refuses to help Meredith keep her medical license — I was with her the whole way). Bailey’s son is also in high school. She’s had some time to grow into her maternal role. When she was a pregnant resident or divorcing her husband, she was noticeably less confident. Nonetheless, there she was, in season 16, loudly declaring her skill as a mother. It was classic Bailey — from a different character it could read as arrogance, but from her, it was just a statement of fact, a reminder of who she is.

A few episodes later, Bailey learns that she’s pregnant again and the doubts start to creep in. The pregnancy hormones make even the chief of surgery burst into tears. Her feet are swollen, her body tired. She wonders if she’s crazy to be doing this again. Our hyper-competent heroine seeks out also-pregnant Dr. Amelia Sheppard for advice. The pairing is telling. Sheppard often feels lost and out of control — she’s the opposite of Bailey. But she imparts some tricks (like pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth to stop the tears) that Bailey desperately needs. Pregnancy is the great equalizer. It turns out that a new baby is enough to rattle even the most self-assured women and mothers.

This season of Grey’s has zeroed in on motherhood like never before. Grey, Sheppard, Altman, and Bailey, four of the show’s six leading ladies, have all had plot points about motherhood. In a show with this many seasons and this many couples, we’ve seen pregnancies and babies, miscarriages and abortions, but something feels different now. It’s not just the sheer number of mothers, it’s also the show’s willingness to dive into the realities and nuances of what it looks like to be a high-achieving, working mom.

You see in seasons past, we’ve generally had one pregnant doctor at a time, first with Bailey and later with Callie Torres (miss you!), Meredith (she’s three kids in), and April Kepner (pregnant twice). But when more than one character is pregnant/caring for a newborn at a time, you get to see the diversity in (professional) women’s experience. You get to see how their personal strengths and weaknesses play out in the context of motherhood.

Watching these admirable women struggle, I am comforted. They may be world-class surgeons but their mothering is not Instagram-perfect or an all-fulfilling, sappy, emotional quest. It’s a meaningful part of who they are but it alone doesn’t define them. It’s a rare and nuanced depiction. It’s also one of the only portrayals of motherhood that makes me feel both seen and hopeful.

I find Bailey aspirational in so many ways, including the way she claims motherhood and the way she’s redefining it for herself. Watching this season, I’m not just rooting for her, I’m rooting for myself and all the moms out there (both in and out of Seattle Grace). Let us all be able to declare, truthfully, that we are “excellent mothers.”

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Making Peace and Rooting for Love: the End of “The Good Place”

There’s a certain “cool girl” factor in saying I watch The Good Place for the Big Ideas and not the relationships. “I don’t care about Eleanor and ChidiI’m team Jane (not Rafael or Michael), I’m so glad Rachel Bloom ended up alone.” And while I’d argue feminism is the reason for this (women are more than their romantic entanglements), there’s still a whiff of “I’m not like other women” condescension to it.

So I’d like to come clean and admit I’m rooting for Eleanor and Chidi in this, the final season of The Good Place. Yes, there are plenty of shows that frustrate their romantic leads, pulling them apart and then back together again. And yes, what makes The Good Place different is how it explores philosophical ideas from Kant to Aquinas. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy both the cliche sitcom trappings and the larger questions about the meaning of life. The combination is what makes The Good Place so genius after all.

This is a show that’s reset itself every season (if not more often) and has managed to do it well, creating believable obstacles for its main pairing. The first season we didn’t know our lovers were really in hell, the second we knew but they didn’t, on the third they were down on Earth having a second go at life, and now in the fourth and final season Eleanor is running “the good place” and Chidi, memories wiped, is just one of four humans who don’t know what’s going on. Throughout it all, Eleanor and Chidi are pulled to each other, falling in love despite their many differences and even greater obstacles.

Watching Eleanor keep her feelings for Chidi secret this season finally got me. Before this, I found their romance somewhat annoying, even rooting for Simone as a better match. This may seem cruel to Eleanor and Chidi shippers, but you have to understand, I have a complicated relationship with Eleanor Shellstrop. You see, I too, am “just a girl from Arizona.” I love all the jokes about my home state and its vapid inhabitants. But while no one’s ever called me a dirtbag (at least not to my face), Eleanor’s failings hit a little too close. Certainly, her sins are exaggerated but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a kernel of self-truth in them. For example, in high school my friends and I made T-shirts shaming a rival girl at another school. It wasn’t quite Eleanor selling the “dress bitch” T-shirts to humiliate her roommate but it wasn’t too far off either (we were both wrong).

So it’s a bit hard-won, this rooting for Eleanor’s happiness and growth. Chidi represents both and seeing her doing the work without him finally got me in her corner. It helps that in this final season we’re less exploring Big Ideas and more plot-focused. The big question of the season is, ostensibly, can humans improve? But we already know the answer having seen our four original insufferables (plus demon Ted Danson) change for the better. This new set of humans may offer some interesting test cases, particularly in Brent Norwalk, the embodiment of white male privilege. How do you goad someone to improve who thinks they’re perfect? Is there redemption for racist misogynists?

But overall we’re free to focus on the plot — how to rescue Janet, Tahani’s quest for growth, Eleanor’s heartbreak, etc. And with this new focus, I can’t help but root for Eleanor and Chidi to end up together. Simone doesn’t need him, she’s doing fine. And maybe Eleanor doesn’t either. She’s growing into her leadership role, rising to the occasion of saving all of humanity. But just because she doesn’t need him, doesn’t mean she can’t still want him.

And I want them to end up together. I’m predicting a happy ending to The Good Place with humans having access to heaven again and love finding a way. It’s the reward us girls from Arizona deserve for leaving behind our dirtbag ways.

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