Author

Cristina Escobar

Finding Love and Pandemonium on “The Good Place”

In “Pandemonium,” the season three finale of The Good Place, the show makes explicit its most radical idea yet: love. Specifically, love as what gives life meaning. As Janet, the all-knowing robot says, “If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.” This euphoria, the way the world stops spinning when you’re in love, this is the answer to the “randomness and pandemonium” of the human condition.

It’s a nice idea and backed up by the show’s emphasis on relationships. At one point in the finale, Michael encounters Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani together and says “Look at the four of you all together.” And as the camera shows our quartet, the four humans at the center of the show, I was struck. A group of friends, sometimes lovers, on an amazing adventure together. The Good Place succeeds because of the relationships. It is the drama of each character’s interactions that allows the shows to delve into the Big Ideas it’s known for. Without them, it’d be like watching a textbook.

That’s not to say that I don’t find the romance between Chidi and Eleanor a bit overdone. I’m not particularly interested in their will-they or won’t-they plotline but the season three finale got me (spoilers ahead). In it, we see the happily together couple face a new dilemma: Chidi’s ex Simone will be one of the four new humans upon which the group must prove can improve to save all of humanity from ending up in the Bad Place. Convinced he won’t be able to teach her moral philosophy without their past interfering, Chidi volunteers to have his memories washed.

After the reset, his memories will stop at the moment he originally died, effectively erasing all his relationships on the show and particularly devastating to the new, happy couple. Unlike the previous resets, the other three humans won’t be losing the memories too. Meaning Eleanor will go on knowing and missing her relationship with Chidi while he’ll have no idea what’s happened. It’s new territory for the show that’s kept its four principles all in the same position over three seasons as they reboot, go to heaven, and discover hell altogether. Now Chidi will be on his own or more precisely part of the new group of people which includes Simone and doesn’t include Eleanor, Tahani, or Jason.

In addition, because of Michael’s fear of failure, Eleanor has stepped into the architect role, acting as the mastermind of the afterlife. Her new role further separates the group, disrupting the original dynamic of four relative equals even more. It’s certainly an interesting visual: to replace Ted Danson’s old, white man, the prototypical face of leadership, with Kristen Bell’s small, casual Eleanor. Let’s just say her T-shirt did not inspire confidence in her first few scenes as the architect. But wardrobe questions aside, Eleanor’s always been the natural leader in the group. Yes, Chidi has been the teacher but Eleanor started the lessons, built the relationships, figured out the rouse first, and got the rest involved. I’m excited to see what her leadership will look like with formal trappings, especially after watching its growth for all these seasons.

So I guess the remaining question is: will love conquer all? Specifically, can it conquer the structural barriers the show has set up for season four? Eleanor and Chidi have found each other through countless do-overs so there’s certainly hope for them. That said, sometimes they end up as friends (my general preference for the two). This time will be particularly difficult because Chidi will meet Simone and Eleanor at approximately the same time, making his chance of falling for either of his two (forgotten) exes pretty even. Plus, as the architect, Eleanor won’t be in the same group or situation as Chidi and the other humans, making it even harder. I adore Simone (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste of Killing Eve) and thought she was a great match for Chidi when they paired up earlier in the season. I’d still argue that she has more chemistry with Chidi than Eleanor. So who knows what will happen?

The problem with rooting for Simone though is that Eleanor and Chidi’s relationship is what makes them grow. It’s what turns Eleanor from a self-absorbed “Arizona dirtbag” into someone engaged with ideas, concerned about the feelings of others, and interested in doing good. It stops Chidi from being paralyzed by his choices and let’s him finally live. So can this same growth happen if their relationship isn’t romantic? If Eleanor and Chidi are just friends? I hope so. Love comes in so many forms it’d be frustrating for a show as smart as The Good Place fall into the damaging (and often sexist) troupe that only romantic love counts.

So whether they’re coupled or not, I hope Chidi, Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason keep changing because their development is what makes the show so dynamic. If these charmingly insufferable people can evolve, then there’s hope for the rest of us. I guess what I’m saying is, of all the big ideas, famous theories, and lesser known concepts The Good Place has dramatized, its presentation of love may be the riskiest. We’ll have to wait until next season to see if the gamble pays off.

FacebookTwitter
Judging Humanity with “The Good Place”

NBC’s The Good Place set up its next premise last night with “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife,” the 11th episode in its third season. Read our recap below (warning, spoilers ahead).

It’s always a good episode of The Good Place when Maya Rudolph is on, and “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife” did not disappoint. This episode, we saw Michael and crew meet with Maya’s Judge Gen in the Interdimensional Hole Of Pancakes (or IHOP to set up a slew of breakfast-franchise jokes).

There, they present Michael’s new (problematic from a timeline perspective) theory that modern life is too complicated for humans to ever earn enough points and encourage Judge Gen to go down to Earth to investigate for herself. She does and comes back with the best line: “I guess I’m black and they do not like black ladies down there.” Life on earth is complicated. We’re a mess. Something must be done.

Or must it? Judge Gen brings in Shawn from the Bad Place to present a counter-argument. His case against humanity? Limp Bizkit. Slavery. Enough said. Even Michael has to lament that we have “Nazis again somehow.” Perhaps humanity as a race is terrible, not worthy of redemption. It’s a great question and one The Good Place is poised to bring new insight to (adding upon the canon of other shows that have asked it such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, and all the other post-apocalyptic shows worth their salt).

The problem is that humanity hasn’t gotten worse over the last four hundred years or so. We’ve gotten better. We abolished slavery. We enfranchised huge portions of the world’s population. We defeated the original Nazis. Although, counterpoint: Limp Bizkit is still touring… Taken all together, the record challenges Michael’s latest theory, particularly in that it would need to apply to all of humanity for centuries and that just doesn’t make sense (think of the indigenous population of the Americas wiped out by European disease or the millions who died in slavery’s Middle Passage – surely the old point system would apply to them and some would earn their spot in heaven). No, the modern-life-is-complicated theory just doesn’t add up.

But it does set up the show for another great twist after a history of great, show-changing twists (remember when we learned Chidi and friends weren’t in the real Good Place? Or when they went down to Earth? Or when we thought we might get a plotline in the actual Good Place?). This time, we see Michael and Shawn agree to recreate the four human’s original experience with Judge Gen refereeing. The idea is to see if, removed from the interconnected boobytraps of modern-day living (Eleanor’s example: “There’s a chicken sandwich that if you eat it means you hate gay people! And it’s delicious!”), humans will show their natural, good natures. Here are the new rules of the game:

  • The people have to be the same general level of “badness” as the original four (or as Judge Gen says no “serial killers, dictators, or anyone who has managed a boy band”). And they will be selected by the Bad Place.
  • Michael gets to build the neighborhood and our four humans will help populate it along with a race of not-robot robots created by Janet with the help of her original model and ex/son/booty-call Derek.
  • The whole thing will take place in the backyard of everyone’s favorite 80’s lawyer (and somehow the only person to get CLOSE to entering the real Good Place in 400 years) Mindy St. Clair.
  • Michael and team get 100 Earth years to prove their hypothesis. With the first human in the waiting room and the clock ticking down, Michael panics, too scared to welcome his first guest, effectively spooked by the taunts of his old colleague Shawn.

And there you have it – the set up for the next season of The Good Place or perhaps the next scene. It’s hard to tell with this show. Regardless, the premise has legs and I’m excited to meet our four new humans. In “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife,” we get a glimpse at the first subject – he’s a basic, 30-something white guy played by Brandon Scott Jones (not sure why everyone who dies on The Good Place is SO young but anyways…). What strikes me about this is how none of the original four are white guys. In fact, the only white male characters I can think of have been literal demons (thank you Ted Danson, Marc Evan Jackson, and Adam Scott for your service).

What if all four of the selected humans are white guys and none of them can get past their privilege and learn something new? That would be a pretty hilarious point for the show to make although perhaps not the best TV. Also, for a show that’s clearly been intentional about diverse casting, adding four white guys seems highly unlikely.

So what will these four new humans be like? I’m expecting a new and diverse quartet that will challenge our original four’s bond. With Jason paired back up with Janet, I’m particularly interested in the four new guinea pigs giving Jameela Jamil’s Tahani something more to do than look amazing. Perhaps they’ll find someone as charming as the brilliant Simone Garnett played by Killing Eve’s Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Or as hilariously enigmatic as Rebecca Hazlewood’s Kamilah Al-Jamil. They both would be FANTASTIC choices that would help keep the original four in the foreground. With only two more episodes left, I’m just sad that we’ll probably have to wait until next season to do much more than meet the arrivals.

FacebookTwitter
A Whiff of the Good Place on “The Good Place”

NBC’s The Good Place made its midseason return last night with “The Book of Dougs,” the 10th episode in its third season. Read our recap below (warning, spoilers ahead).

“What kind of messed up place would turn away refugees?” This line came out of the mouth of Manny Jacinto’s Jason in the opening scene of last night’s The Good Place and made me guffaw (despite the fact I was watching on headphones next to my sleeping partner). Out of the mouths of babes, as they say…

Political commentary aside, this week promised us the chance to finally see the real Good Place after seasons of only imagining it. The episode delivered on just a whiff of that promise though, as our four helpless humans could smell heaven but not see, touch, or taste it. You see, they were stuck in a mailroom that while technically in the Good Place functioned more as a holding space, keeping them from their desired destination.

While there, we did learn some important stuff about heaven. It smells like your favorite place. The inhabitants are kind and trusting, easily fooled by Ted Danson’s Michael who gets most of the action this episode. They are also intensely bureaucratic, unable to take action on Michael’s assertion that something is amiss in the points systems for hundreds of years, bogged down by their ethical standards and rules of procedure. Think of it as what we used to complain about under the Obama administration.

While Michael is trying to save humanity, the humans are consumed by their love plots with Kristen Bell’s Eleanor finally consummating her relationship with William Jackson Harper’s Chidi. He gets into a mailman costume as foreplay and looks surprisingly good (hello legs!) but I have to admit, I am not invested in their romance. With Eleanor and Chidi, the premise is that they’ll each learn from and thus “save” each other but I find their intellectual connection much more interesting than their romantic one. Why waste our precious time with them setting up some boring off-screen sex?

The love triangle between Jason, D’Arcy Carden’s Janet, and Jameela Jamil’s Tahani was also in full effect with Tahani trying to smooth things over and only managing to make things worse. My favorite part of this C-plot is Janet’s journey to obtain and manage human emotions. It reminds me of Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation and I am HERE for it. It’s a struggle that is so relatable (who hasn’t experienced emotions as “embarrassing” as Janet says several times during the episode) but also new (I, for one, have never worried that my emotions will come “out of my butt” as Janet did last night). Her choice of Jason as a love-object leaves something to be desired but I guess she didn’t have a lot of choices. He is slightly better than her unstable, self-made BF from season two.

The big discovery of the episode wasn’t the smell of heaven, Eleanor and Chidi getting it on, or the continued awkwardness of any of the women being interested in Jason. Rather, it was Michael’s realization that the point system is not rigged but rather the world has changed with globalization causing every action to have such large unintended consequences as to preclude anyone from earning a spot in heaven.

This idea is interesting. The difficulty of conscious consumerism is such a fraught, modern problem. How can you tell which products are ethically sourced? Are there any even? Doesn’t it seem like in the complicated, global supply chain that everything has at least some negative consequence, whether it’s the carbon footprint, worker conditions, or animal testing?

These big questions are what make The Good Place such a gem of a show. Week in and week out, it manages to raise philosophical issues without getting pedantic or making its characters into symbols. I binge-watched the show to catch up to last night’s episode and it was an intense experience, having me question my choices like never before (for example, I went to donate to a charity but then the credit card information saved on my computer wasn’t working. To fix, I needed to stand up and get my card. I didn’t donate. And what that little incident says about me, my activism, and my ethical place in the universe has stuck with me in a way it never would have without The Good Place. I will go donate now… probably).

There’s a problem with this latest foray into examining the human condition though: the timeline. A few episodes back we learned that not even Harriet Tubman made it to heaven. And repeated last night was the timeline that no human has made it to heaven in the last 521 years. That puts us roughly at 1500, long before the Industrial Revolution, which changed how our goods were created, obscuring the methods of production and leading to the modern conditions of consumerism with the unintended consequences the show outlined (of course, the Industrial Revolution didn’t happen all at once and there are still cultures that abstain from the global market – The Good Place is erasing them by lumping all of humanity together). Regardless, the timeline doesn’t fit with the industrial revolution, the historical event that ties mostly close to the example Michael gave. So what was going on 521 years ago to lead to this increase in negative, unintended consequence?

Well, 1500 was the time of genocide in the Americas as European disease disseminated indigenous populations (we’re talking tens of millions of people dying in a single generation). Was the spreading of disease what sent these plagued people to the Bad Place? That’s a hard pill to swallow. What about the millions who died in the Middle Passage between Africa and the Americas? The rupture to their society was not of their making. How did their way of life change to fit into The Good Place’s model?

I’m afraid the only way the 521-year timeline makes sense is if you take a colonial, Euro-centric approach. Certainly, if you’re in the population that benefits from the slave trade or indigenous genocide, then your small choices (what cotton do you buy? How much do you love the newly introduced tomatoes and potatoes?) would indeed have unintended consequences. The problem is Europeans do not make up the entirety of humanity.

Of course, we don’t know if Michael’s realization is even correct. I’m hoping it’s not. I’d certainly hate to see a show that’s so smart on ethical questions and clearly intentional about diverse casting trip up and fail miserably based on a colonial understanding of history. Surely the show that brought us characters of color like the brilliant, Australian-based Chidi, the beautiful, globe-trotting, and rich Tahini, and the simple but sweet Jason isn’t saying what I think they’re saying. Right?

FacebookTwitter
Jane, Eve, Issa

Some 75% percent of our media comes from the white, male perspective and it all feels the same to me: tired. Men have been speaking for so long, it’s like they’ve run out of things to say (not that the prospect of repeating themselves is getting them to shut up).

Luckily, there’s a lot of amazing, women-centered media out there from comedies to thrillers to prestige dramas. To help you avoid the same old, I’ve pulled together the ten shows I’m most looking forward to in 2019 — that all just happen to center women (last year’ spoilers ahead):

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

The award-winning first season of Big Little Lies featured Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley as mothers in the elite community of Monterrey, CA, subverting the superficial suburban mom trope and portraying domestic violence in a more thoughtful way than I’ve seen before.

The second season, set to premiere in 2019, is a bit of coup — partly because the first season wasn’t supposed to be a “season” at all but rather a self-contained mini-series and partly because it was based on a book with no sequel. But the market talks and season two is bringing in none other than Meryl Streep, promising more of Zoë Kravitz’s character Bonnie Carlson, and (finally) featuring a woman director. Count me in.

Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife

Taking place in 1960’s London, each episode (for seven seasons and counting) of Call the Midwife features at least one birth, depicted with unusual candor, sympathy, and heroism. The show has not been great on race (the first two plots with Black characters featured interracial babies born of affairs between Black men and white women) but Call the Midwife added a Black nurse in season seven and has since been clearly trying to address its wrongs.

Centered on women and our bodies — both the act of giving birth and the physical nature of nursing — Call the Midwife dramatizes aspects of the human experience we rarely see. With season eight coming in 2019, tune into this show for beautiful costumes, a warm vision of humanity, and women as nurses, nuns, and mothers.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Round Up

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This musical comedy exploring mental health issues and the false romance narratives that bombard women, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend manages to leave you humming and thinking. This year will complete its final and forth season and lots of questions remain: what does a happy ending look like when it comes to mental health? Will Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca end up with one of her past flames? Or would she be better off alone?

As I’ve written before, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a feminist project, featuring a diverse cast and re-writing the rules of who can be loved. It’s also one of the least watched shows on television so it’s good to support and show content makers that audiences will tune into quality, feminist content. Plus, there’s lots of salty pretzels.

The Crown

The Crown

Netflix’s budget-busting juggernaut, The Crown, is back for a third season with a new cast as the Queen and her royal family age. I’ll miss Claire Foy’s ability to be emote without emoting, simultaneously expressing power and insecurity. That said, I trust the show creators to cast well again and this time hopefully without a gender pay-gap from the beginning.

I’ve learned a lot of history from this show as the Queen engages in nearly seven decades of world events. And while the colonial perspective can be rough (who cares how the monarch feels when its millions of brown people risking their lives for their self determination?), the show explores the difference between public and private personas beautifully while offering a unique insight into privileged British life.

Grey’s Anatomy

Set to become the longest running medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy will finish up its 15th season and probably run the first half of its 16th in 2019. Shonda Rhimes is no longer involved in the day-to-day but seasons 1-7 veteran Krista Vernoff is at the helm and bringing the show back to its old stalwarts: love-triangles, extreme medical situations, steamy hospital romances. I love Grey’s and having it made it this far, plan to see it to the end.

Grey’s Anatomy has always featured a diverse and inspiring depiction of leadership, excellence, and sexuality and that hasn’t changed. And as the titular Dr. Grey has gone from starry-eyed intern to widowed, award-winning physician, these fifteen years have allowed us the rare treat of watching a complicated woman’s evolution and continued adventures, sexual and otherwise, into middle age.

Insecure

Insecure

I’m excited for the fourth season of Issa Rae’s Insecure, coming out in 2019. Following a group of “basic,” 30-something Black women in LA, Insecure deserves all the awards for its hilarious exploration of identity, romance, and what it means to be a striving Black woman. It’s fixed everything you hated in Girls and Sex in the City, somehow making you nostalgic for your old, shitty apartments and ringing humor out of racial injustices large and small.

Season four promises to be just as good with the group’s lives only getting messier as Issa and her best friend Yvonne Orji’s Molly Carter date roommates and Issa seemingly going into business with her ex’s current partner. Bonus points of you watch live with Black Twitter.

Jane the Virgin

It’s Jane the Virgin’s final season and I’ll miss the Villanuevas. This Americanized telenovela started with an accidental, artificial insemination and has built upon this fantastical premise to explore motherhood, class, racial identity, Catholicism, and immigration to name just a few. The original love triangle seems to be back with Brett Dier of Michael Cordero fame returning in the season four finale to mess up the expected proposal between Justin Baldoni’s Rafael and Gina Rodriguez’s Jane.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more thoughtful, fun, and heartwarming portrayal of Latina identidad on television. In fact, the show’s secret weapon seems to be its compassion for all its characters — mothers of all stripes and types, people rich and working class, women with hugely different attitudes toward sex — allowing the viewers to sympathize with each end of spectrums we normally find so polarizing. Also Jamie Camil is an international treasure.

Killing Eve

Killing Eve has everything spy aficionados could want: globe trotting, international intrigue, double crosses, and murder. Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, the bored M16 operative, became the first Asian women nominated for a lead actress Emmy and is set to host the Golden Globes. Her talent is met by Jodie Comer’s diabolical assassin, Villanelle. The binge-able BBC hit is now on Hulu and season two is slated for release in 2019.

With all the trappings of a traditional thriller, the woman-ness of Killing Eve is unmistakable. Both the killer and detective are women and that opens up new avenues of psychological intrigue like when Villanelle, obsessed with Eve, fills her suitcase with beautiful, perfectly fitting clothes and sends it to her house, managing to fulfill a female fantasy and threaten her love object at the same time. The sexual tension between Eve and Villanelle further heightens the drama (particularly in contrast to Eve’s relatable but boring relationship with her husband) as does the female-gaze of the camera work. With Oh and Comer signed up for the second season, 2019 is sure to bring more of the steamy, pulse-racing fun.

Shrill

Based on the book by the same name by Lindy West, Shrill is set to premiere in 2019 starring and co-written by Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant and produced by Elizabeth Banks. Those names are enough to get me excited — especially because I love Lindy West. She came up as a journalist under Dan Savage, helped pioneer Jezebel, and has since graduated to a feminist New York Times column and writing best-selling books.

Shrill is West’s memoir, telling the story of a fat young woman who’s striving to improve her life and career but not her body. All of which makes it the perfect vehicle for Bryant and I can’t wait to catch it on Hulu.

Vida

Vida

Latinas are the least represented demographic in media so a show that’s Mexican, queer, and ambitious has me tuning in. Starz’ Vida follows two Latinx sisters returning to Boyle Heights to take over the family business after their mother’s death. There, they confront gentrification, their mother’s lesbianism, and aspects of their own identity.

Picked up for a second season in 2019, Vida is clear in its intention to expand the portrayal of Latina and Latinx experience on TV. Latinx show creator Tanya Saracho has spoken out about how she uses her success to lift up la raza and the show even has a Latina behind the camera in Carmen Cabana — this despite the notoriety of cinematography for how few women fill its ranks even in the sexist entertainment industry.

FacebookTwitter
Am I Missing The Point of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”?

I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This feminist-musical-dramedy manages to make me laugh, think critically about society, and hum its original tunes days after watching. The show centers around Rebecca Bunch, a woman with profound mental health problems, who is trying to figure out who she is in love and life. I’ve never consumed a piece of media – book, movie, podcast, TV show, you name it – that more meaningfully takes on mental health issues with this level of compassion, clarity, and humor.

The show is feminist at its core. It centers women with the most important relationships being between Rebecca and Paula. And while both these women are white and straight, the show widens with their circle of friends and coworkers to include the panoply of Southern California’s diversity. The West Covina of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is rich with Latino, Asian, Black, White, and mixed-race characters who also happen to be straight, gay, and bi while of different ages, weights, and socioeconomic classes. You know, like life.

And when it comes to romantic relationships, the show disrupts the usual tropes. Yes, the plot of the first two seasons revolves around Rebecca trying to win the affections of one Josh Chan. An Asian American man, already Josh is not your usual love object: on screen Asian men are more likely to be discounted as possible romantic partners or erased entirely. And while he blessedly does not end up with Rebecca, Josh remains attractive throughout the show. Further subverting the typical romance narrative, his most attractive feature is NOT his bulging biceps (although him carrying a desk with a single arm in a recent episode was impressive) but rather his large heart and sweet nature. And taking it to the next level is the fact that Rebecca and Valencia (Josh’s girlfriend at the start of the show and thus, Rebecca’s primary rival) end up as friends. No women as natural enemies here.

Now in its fourth and final season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has shown Rebecca outgrowing her obsession with Josh Chan and learning to define herself outside of her relationship status. This progression is central to the show, evidenced everywhere from the show’s title to its theme song, which changes each season. In the first song, Rebecca is called the crazy ex-girlfriend of the show’s title and so defined from the male point of view. In season two, she’s taken the reigns but her identity still revolves around Josh (the refrain goes “you can’t call her crazy, ‘cause when you call her crazy, you’re just calling her in love!”). By season three, Josh is out of the picture and Rebecca’s theme (and the season) is all about what it means to be “crazy” aka mentally ill. Now, in the fourth and final sequence, the opening song doesn’t feature love or craziness at all but rather Rebecca sitting on a bench being somehow hard to define. She’s come a long way baby.

So yes, I’d argue watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an inherently feminist activity. Particularly because the show remains among the LEAST watched shows on prime-time, network TV three years running. Except, watching this final season, I can’t help hoping that Rebecca ends up with Nathaniel. Yes, I know I just said the whole point of the show is for Rebecca to learn that she doesn’t need a man! And I’m into that. But I still want her to get back together with him. And for those of you who aren’t watching, no Nathaniel isn’t some feminist-sanctioned ideal mate. He may be the exact opposite – straight and skinny and white and rich and an asshole. He’s privilege embodied and has the entitlement to prove it. The show’s creators joked they cast him because they thought having at least one “typical” character (aka a conventionally attractive white guy) would up their ratings.

So how could this woman-centered, gender-equality love fest have me turning to Roxane Gay for comfort about the state of my feminist card? Am I a Bad Feminist? How could I possibly be rooting for Nathaniel to end up with our girl Rebecca? Well, to start, they have a lot in common. For one, he’s just as messed up as she is. They both have done terrible things like ordering hits on people only to back out later. They both have terrible family lives. Rebecca’s deadbeat dad and overly critical mother are matched by Nathaniel’s withholding, perfectionist parents – with both kids still stuck in the trying-to-earn-withheld-love cycle of self-hate. And they both have bought into false narratives about what will make them happy. Rebecca’s spent all four seasons chasing damaging ideas about what love and success looks like for a woman, believing the right guy or promotion will solve her inner turmoil. Likewise, Nathaniel tries all these extreme masculine things to feel better (or nothing at all) like a survivalist camping experience to name just one of the more ridiculous. Obviously none of it works. Fulfillment is not to be found in some sort of gender-essentialist identity script.

This similarity in their journeys makes me think they could be happy together. They could learn how to be better together. Isn’t that type of mutual growth the real relationship goals? Now Rebecca has done more work than Nathaniel. He’d definitely need to start regularly going to therapy for them to have a chance. But I could see that happening. After all, Josh Chan is learning how to turn his sunny disposition and propensity toward kindness into emotional intelligence via therapy – surely Nathaniel can experience similar growth. Also, Nathaniel’s already learning the old patterns don’t work for him and is trying new things. He recognizes that he needs love and that having sex, working out, and making lots of money no longer fulfill him. He’s trying to be kinder, opening up to Heather and Bert in a recent episode, practicing basic human decency at work, learning that doing the right thing can actually feel good. He’s on the path to change.

Now I’m not saying Rebecca would be completed by teaching some asshole guy how to be whole again. Or that she needs a relationship to be happy. BUT one of the things that draws me to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is how it leads with compassion for each of its characters, no matter how silly or unlikable.

In most shows, we wouldn’t be rooting for Rebecca, the crazy ex-girlfriend, not to mention the rest of the misfits that surround her: a middle-aged mom who looks like your neighbor, a bisexual male attorney who’s only real skill is parenting, a beefy surf bro who doesn’t surf. And yet we do because the show leads with compassion while unblinkingly portraying people who make mistakes and do bad things. It’s pretty revolutionary. And what’s more revolutionary than the feminist rehabilitation of the privileged white man? Not much. Certainly if we could change them, we’d have changed the world. So maybe that’s what I’m rooting for when I ship Rebecca and Nathaniel: the destruction of white patriarchal norms, replaced by empathy and hot, consensual sex. Or maybe I’m just a bad feminist.

FacebookTwitter
I Want to Live in Shondaland

I Want to Live in Shondaland

by Cristina Escobar

I want to live in Shondaland. Ideally, the universe of Grey’s Anatomy (and Station 19 and Private Practice). And not just because the God of Shondaland is a benevolent black woman. Or because Grey’s did a Dia de Los Muertos episode last week (and a voting episode the week before that).

No, I want to live Shondaland because I love its vision of humankind. You see in Grey’s Anatomy (and to a lesser degree Scandal and How To Get Away with Murder), we see people at the top of their profession, doing life-changing work. And what do those people look like? Yes, of course, they’re TV-level beautiful. But more than that, the doctors, lawyers, firefighters, and heroes of Shondaland are black and white and brown. Skinny and thick. Women and men, cis and trans. Christian and atheist and Jewish and Muslim. Some are addicts. Some are differently abled. Some are rich and some grew up as foster kids. There are no boards solely composed of old white men deciding the fate of the world. Instead, you have the beauty of all of humankind represented.

In Shondaland, POC characters like Olivia Pope may “have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have” but they rise to the challenge. The Doctors of Grey-Sloan Memorial exist in a true meritocracy, where previous generations (thanks Dr. Richard Webber, thanks Meredith’s mom) fought the good fight and pathed the way for this hard-earned present.

That isn’t to say that Shondaland’s fictional today is post racial. It’s not – there’s still discrimination of all kinds. In Grey’s Anatomy, we see it in the ways patients try to navigate a dysfunctional insurance system that leaves them picking between bankruptcy and life-saving medical treatment. We see it in Dr. Jo Wilson’s powerlessness in the face of domestic violence. We see it when patients and colleagues underestimate Dr. Miranda Bailey (remember when she messed up that white supremacist’s tattoo? Or had a visiting doctor running around the hospital trying to find the “Nazi”?).

I was particularly impressed when the show delved into the reason a (good) white doctor Amelia Shepherd believes a white intern (Dr. Jo Wilson) over a black intern she works with more closely (Dr. Stephanie Edwards). It may be implicit bias but Amelia doesn’t get off the hook easily as another black doctor (Dr. Maggie Pierce) holds her accountable and asks her not to make Edwards pay for mistake twice by forcing the issue of forgiveness. That’s what happens when you have several black characters, not just one. Those are the types of issues you can delve into when you’ve been passing the Bechdel test for 15 seasons. This nuance is so rare on TV where race and discrimination issues are usually either A. ignored or B. treated like a completely black-or-white issue with racist villains against justice-seeking (often white) freedom fighters (pun intended). We’ve got to get deeper in the stories we tell about what it means to be a person of color and Grey’s+ does that, week in and week out.

Now, I’m not saying Shondaland is perfect. It certainly mirrors some of the problems of today. It erases nursing for one, having the doctors do the work that nurses and other medical professionals do in real life. And since nursing is so tied to womanhood and femininity, this privileging of “doctor” over “nurse” reinforces our broader privileging of the “masculine” over the “feminine.”

Shondaland in general and Grey’s in particular romanticizes relationships between unequals, relying too much on young woman falls in love with male superior (see also Scandal). If there’s anything we learned from #MeToo and Bill Clinton, it’s that it’s actually pretty unsexy to sleep with a subordinate. And, of course, to live in Shondaland is to live in a world full of terrible tragedies and deadly violence whether it’s plane crashes, shootings, or bomb explosions. Lots of bad stuff happens and it happens at an alarming frequency. I’d have to worry about what crazy, once-in-a-lifetime type tragedy would happen to me every year.

And yet despite the increased risk of death, near death, and general drama, I’d live there if I could. It’s the leadership porn I so desperately need in the Trump era. You see, Shonda Rhimes writes about teams of diverse people who achieve great things. Teams with leaders like Dr. Miranda Bailey and Dr. Richard Webber. These are the people you want to be running your hospital, to be your teacher or boss, or dare I say leading the country. They tell you the hard truths, keep the bigger vision in mind, and act with integrity. They make you laugh and they falter, humans with their own quirks, regrets, and weaknesses. Yet, fundamentally, they are good people who are rewarded for their hard work and strong character. Doesn’t that sound like the universe you want to live in too?

FacebookTwitter
On Teenage Witch Reboots: “Sabrina” vs “Charmed”

Witches are having a moment. And not just because it’s Halloween. The witch trope is everywhere as female power is being reimagined, reclaimed, and re-vilified in the media, religion, and of course politics. We have a  President who has reporters running around investigating which is really the “greatest witch hunt in history.” Then, there was the mass hexing of Brett Kavanaugh, which is hopefully taking further effect on Tuesday. Brujas even appear in our very own tagline here at Mujeres Problemáticas.

So it’s no wonder the media has delivered us not one, but two teenage witch reboots this October. Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina premiered on October 26 and follows Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men fame as Sabrina, the new and improved teenage witch. You remember the original with Melissa Joan Hart, Caroline Rhea, and Beth Broderick as three blonde witches living with their black, talking cat. Meanwhile, the CW premiered their Charmed reboot on October 14 writing all three of the witch sisters as Latinx (although not managing to cast three, actual Latinas). The original brunette trio was Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs in what they argue was a feminist show in its day.

Today, the The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the Charmed reboot position themselves as feminist TV, centering women, our power, and its consequences – aka they both have things to say. Yet, strangely, one of these shows is getting a lot more attention than the other. Any guesses as to which? Yes, you are correct, the blonds are getting 725 TIMES MORE ARTICLES. I did the math. Try it yourself. Do a Google News search for both shows and get some variation on what I got: a staggering 10.8 million pieces written about Sabrina and a much smaller 14,900 on Charmed. What gives?

Perhaps it’s that Netflix is a much more prestigious channel than CW. Netflix has won two Oscars, ten Emmys and five Golden Globes for shows such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Master of None, and The Crown. Meanwhile, CW gets passed over so much, it’s become a running joke with critical darlings like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continuing to get snubbed by most awards shows. But why? Maybe it’s not the quality of the shows but rather the gatekeepers who dole out awards don’t take seriously programming who’s intended audiences are young people, young women, and the oh-so-misunderstood young women of color? As mainstream an outlet as TV Guide said that if Jane the Virgin “aired on ABC, maybe it would’ve already gotten an Emmy nod.”

So if the Television Academy doesn’t take young women seriously, who does? Normally, I’d say feminists. Feminists are always arguing that society needs to pay more attention to what young women are saying, doing, and thinking. Yet, I’m pretty disappointed here too. Jezebel ran a thoughtful critique of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Bitch dived into the show’s feminist arguments. Neither publication managed a thousand words on the feminist ideas in Charmed, despite both publications being aware of the show (Jezebel covered the build up the CW premiere and Bitch listed the show as one of 14 to watch this fall). I imagine they had to pick. They couldn’t write TWO stories on teenage witch reboots and they picked one.

They picked Sabrina. And so did everyone else. Maybe it’s because of Kiernan Shipka’s larger presence, compared to the three relatively unknowns in Charmed. Looking at the numbers, Kiernan has 838K followers on Instagram and 67.2K on Twitter. The Charmed stars have about 650K on Instagram and 82.7 on Twitter COMBINED, making their social media presence less than Kiernan’s. On the qualitative side, Mad Men was a groundbreaking and critical darling while the Charmed stars are coming from shows you’re less likely to have heard of or in parts you’re less likely to remembers. Of course, parts for women of color are much harder to come by – overall, women get just 40% of the speaking roles on television and only 33% were women of color or just 13% overall. None of the Charmed stars would have been even considered to play John Hamm’s daughter.

Sabrina vs Charmed

But I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s that Netflix’s PR machine is 725-time better than the team at the CW. I don’t think it’s that Sabrina came out all at once, allowing TV writers to binge watch the whole thing, while those wanting to write on Charmed have to wait for weekly installments. Those things may play a role. But the underlying reason can be found at the intersection of racism and sexism, clearly the extra penalty women of color pay for existing in this society.

Rarely do you get such a clear example. Here we have two eerily similar shows. They’re released weeks apart. They’re both reboots of early 00’s hits. They’re both about TEENAGE WITCHES. It’s pretty darn specific. Yet one show centers a white girl and her experiences while the other features Latinas. And that show gets taken more seriously. It takes up more space. It is deemed more “feminist.” There’s no getting around it. Race is the key difference. And that’s fucked up. As we say at Mujeres Problemáticas, it’s hard out here for a bruja.

FacebookTwitter
Hi Fall TV: I’m Latino and NOT a Criminal

Dear Fall TV:

I’m writing to let you know that I’m Latino and not a criminal. Also I exist. Hi!

So before you can say “Latino Magnum PI,” I want to let you know that I’m also not part of the criminal justice system. I’m not a perp, victim, cop, DA, or personal investigator. Crime’s not really a big part of my life. One time my wallet was stolen. It sucked. BUT it was hardly a defining experience. Also, I’m not part of the drug trade. I’m not a mule, addict, dealer, mob boss, or corrupt politician profiting off the people’s suffering. True, I have been known to smoke weed from time to time but that hardly makes me a candidate for the Latino reboot of Friday.

That’s why I get so frustrated when so many of the Latino roles I see on TV have to do with drugs, crime, or the oh-so-stereotypical drug-crime combination. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Karla Souza as Laurel Castillo, one of the law-student co-conspirators on How To Get Away With Murder. I’m thrilled that la raza gets an unheard of TWO parts on Brooklyn 99. But I’m frustrated that when it comes to “prestige” drama, we only get leading roles if it’s Mayan MC or Narcos.

Brooklyn 99 gif: "Your entire life is garbage"

The fact is Latinos make up 12.5% of the American population. Yet, we’re only 5.8% of folks on TV. It’s even worse if you’re a woman (hi ladies!) because then we’re dealing with not just racism but sexism too. For Latinas like me, the numbers stack as 6% of the population in real life, but just 2% on TV. That makes Latinas the least represented ethnic group when compared to our numbers in the population. It’s not good.

It’s particularly not good when you realize how many of those small numbers of roles are wasted on the Latinos-as-criminals trope. You see a good 50% of Latino immigrants on TV are portrayed as having committed a crime and a quarter of all Latino storylines are crime-related. This despite the fact that Latinos and Latino immigrants ARE NOT more likely to commit crimes. Don’t believe everything you see on TV people (or that you hear the President of the United States say).

You can see why I’m so frustrated. It’s like TV, politics, and the powers that be are all trying to sell me the message that my family and I either A. don’t exist or B. are gangbangers. Neither of which is true (see the beginning of letter).

Now Fall TV, I do want to give you some credit. It’s not all bad (even if statistically it’s horribly). I am a witch, so good job on the Latino reboot of Charmed. At least you got that one right.

But seriously folks, can we get more Jane the Virgin’s? What is this universe where a show about being accidentally artificially inseminated rings the most true to the Latinx experience? And, of course, Jane isn’t even on this fall – we have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. In the meantime, I’ll be comforting myself with America Ferrera in Superstore, Gabrielle Ruiz on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the original GOAT EGOT Rita Moreno on One Day at a Time. Because those are the women representing Latinas as regular, interesting humans on TV. It would be great to see more of us. Thanks!

Sincerely,
Cristina (no relation to Pablo – I’m not even Colombian. My family’s from Durango (Mexico, not Colorado)) Escobar

FacebookTwitter
Older Posts