Author

Cristina Escobar

The Hilarious and the Heart-Wrenching in “Workin’ Moms”

Women have whisper networks. We talk about handsy colleagues and compare paychecks. We discuss skin care routines and pass book titles back and forth. I learned about Netflix’s latest import (from Canada no less!), Workin’ Moms, through my network and immediately passed it on.

You see, Workin’ Moms hasn’t gotten the press coverage of Russian Doll or You. It’s more in the One Day At A Time bucket, forced to grow its own audience through the luck of the algorithm, assumed to only speak to a niche audience (like Latinos — 16.7% of the population, or working mothers — 12%, le sigh). And so, we real working moms are spreading the show amongst ourselves, relaying the fact that this comedy gets to some of the truths of early motherhood in ways we haven’t seen before.

Usually, early motherhood is skipped over entirely (look at this cute baby, now skip forward until they’re old enough to lead their own storylines), glossed over as a sacred and precious period (babies are adorable yes, but difficult to care for too), or portrayed in slapstick comedy form (dirty diapers are perhaps not so hilarious when part of your daily routine). Not so with Workin’ Moms.It’s about the good and the bad, the hilarious and the heart-wrenching of early motherhood. There’s the scene about trying to get your baby to latch. The one where you finally have good sex after the birth. The one where you realize you’re pregnant again and think, I cannot do this.

I’m particularly impressed with how the show presents motherhood as an affront to your identity. All the moms on the show deal with it. In the first season (the one on Netflix now — Canada’s on season three), Jessalyn Wanlim’s Jenny Matthews rebels against the role of motherhood, reverting to her college-aged self, wearing chokers, piercing her nipple, and flirting/hooking up with inappropriate men (aka not her husband, aka her boss and random younger men). Juno Rinaldi’s Frankie Coyne faces the chemical imbalance of motherhood with postpartum depression, unable to keep her job, her sense of self, and sometimes her grip on reality. Dani Kind’s Anne Carlson struggles to match her gruff personality with mothering, feeling jealous of her nanny’s easy connection with her prepubescent daughter and contemplating an abortion of her third pregnancy. Meanwhile, our lead, Catherine Reitman’s Kate Foster hides her promotion from her husband, a career advancement that would be a no-brainer without kids. Now it’s fraught and painful, a no-win situation that turns Kate’s professional dream turned into a nightmare when her son winds up in the hospital.

Throughout, we see the specter of motherhood, this role that is supposed to fulfill you but requires never-ending self-sacrifice, as what it is: really fucking hard. Society’s depiction of motherhood in movies and in the media doesn’t fit actual women with actual lives. So many of us mourn the life we had before kids, the one that allowed us more leeway to focus on ourselves, to grow our careers and interests. The one that included late night outs and bodily autonomy. The moms on the show and the ones I know in real life all want the best for their kids and are willing to work hard and sacrifice for them. But what if we sacrifice too much? When does it become counterproductive? Maybe older kids can recognize that their parents have needs outside of them, but babies and toddlers cannot. Their needs are endless and can consume you if you don’t create boundaries. It’s a pretty tough line to draw, made more so by a social narrative that says you’re supposed to give endlessly and like it.

Not that motherhood is all bad nor is the struggle to navigate its demands. On Workin’ Moms, we see Anne finally bond with her daughter and when they connect it manages to be satisfying, meaningful, and funny. When Kate gets her baby to latch and then later decides to stop struggling and switch to formula, I felt her success in my bones (really my nipples) and the bittersweet compromise in my soul. Each woman is becoming better, yet different people through the journey of motherhood. This show honestly portrays the growing pains of this weird, rewarding, and difficult transformation that is early motherhood.

Workin’ Moms captures much of what it is to be a new mother but it is not perfect. All the moms are relatively affluent, either paying for nannies or able to have one of the parents stay home. The racial dynamics are rough, focusing mostly on the white experience. Early on Kate (white) fires her Filipino nanny in a scene that made me cringe — it othered the brown woman while allowing the power dynamics to go unquestioned. In the show’s mother circle, the lone black woman is consistently played for laughs, made strange and unrelatable for no discernible reason. Yes, the show features two women of color, Jenny and Frankie’s partner Giselle, but neither of them takes as central of a role as the white women.

And then there’s the stay-at-home mom in the mother’s circle who’s made the villain, Katherine Barrell’s Alicia Rutherford. She has precious ideas about self-sacrifice and women’s role in the home. And the other women bond over belittling her. After all these years of mommy wars, it would have been refreshing to see a show that doesn’t pit one type of motherhood against another. We’re not actually in conflict with each other. We’re in conflict with a society that tells us we should find fulfillment in unpaid, undervalued work no matter our personality or predilections. Workin’ Moms generally rallies against this notion as do the real working mothers I know. Here’s to the next two season arriving in the US, hopefully not repeating some of the more tone-deaf moments, and continuing to show motherhood for what it is: beautiful, impossible, real. That’s a story worth telling.

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Godless in Trump’s America

Since the election of Donald Trump, it seems like our country has been in a never-ending debate about who we are and where we come from. There are so many places to look for answers but as a media critic, I, of course, look to TV. And in this moment of Bible-signing, border “crisis,” and macho, guns-out leadership, I find myself turning to Westerns for answers. They’re our own creation myth, the story of American exceptionalism, power, and whiteness.

Recently, there’s been some effort to update the Western with Netflix’s Godlessas the prime example. After all, it did win all those awards and premiere the same year as Trump’s presidency. I confess, my political leanings are such that I see some of Donald Trump in the show’s villain, Frank Griffin. The two men share a certain heaviness of body and jowls (sorry Jeff Daniels!). They also share a faux-Christianity that doesn’t require any respect for human life. And both of them are the type of leaders who collect crooks and lowlifes, seeing personal loyalty as the only meaningful virtue. I mean who would Michael Cohen et al. be in the old west but a band of gun-slinging outlaws? Am I right or am I right?

Of course, Frank Griffin and his men aren’t the only folks in Godless. The show’s marketing made quite the ado about its setting in a man-less town, positioning Godless as a feminist Western (which it is not). Certainly, there are strong women in the show. Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher is mesmerizing as the isolated widow with a good shot and mixed-race son. Her love life is central to the show, even as the creators betray in her a totally unnecessary and graphic rape scene. In it, we learn nothing new about the characters, already having learned that Alice has survived tough things. No, her rape is just an uncomfortable excuse to titillate the audience with Michelle Dockery’s breasts, combining violence with eroticism in a way that says MALE GAZE IS RAPE CULTURE in all caps.

And there’s my personal favorite, Merritt Wever as Mary Agnes, the town’s would-be leader who’s given up dresses and men as she holds her community together. Mary Agnes advocates for the women’s independence, urging her fellow townswomen not to make a business deal with partners who see their gender as weakness. In the finale, she organizes the women’s last stand, setting a strategy that will keep at least some of them alive. And along the way, we see her taking care of her brother’s kids and the hapless Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Whitey Winn. You see, Mary Agnes may have gone butch, even nabbing the richest, most beautiful and most experienced woman in town — Tess Frazer’s former sex-worker Callie Dunne — but the show takes great pains to let you know she’s still a nurturer and thereby a woman.

And these are the characters the show empathizes with — the white women of La Belle, New Mexico. Spoiler: People of color do much worse. Godless is clearly trying to rewrite the western to be less sexist and less white supremacist but when you’re counting degrees of racism, you’ve already lost. You see Godless relies on the same racist tropes that power the Westerns of the past, much of the media of today, and far too much of our politics, policies, and national conversation.

In Godless, we see a black town, literally called Blackdom, and its inhabitants as “others.” They’re introduced late (in episode three of seven) and portrayed as extremely violent in a violent world. You see the men of Blackdom (yes, I’m rolling my eyes each time I type the town’s name) are Buffalo Soldiers, black cavalry that fought with white, Anglo settlers in the Indian Wars. They weren’t guaranteed freedom from slavery even as they fought for white expansion — an interesting bit of history for sure. Yet, the show takes great pains to tell you these men were particularly ruthless and indeed we see the town’s leader beating his daughter with a switch. And that’s before all of the black characters are massacred in the wind-up to the real showdown: the white folks of La Belle vs the white folks in Frank Griffin’s gang. This is your typical racist use of black bodies and black stories.

Think that’s bad? Native American characters do not do better in Godless: they’re stuck in the magical sidekick trope, Native Americans who use their mystical powers to help the white people. There’s Duane Howard’s unnamed ”Shoshone brave” (his character name, not mine) who is maybe a ghost, maybe a vision, but either way exists to give Bill McNue encouragement and advice. And there’s Tantoo Cardinal’s Iyovi who uses her healing powers on the injured Roy Goode, who issues wise animal metaphors to guide her daughter-in-law Alice, and whose skills in hunting and other matters somehow serve as comic relief. Neither is what you’d call a humanizing portrayal.

Samuel Marty’s Truckee, the half Native American, half white, son of Alice only does a little better. He doesn’t have any magical skills or even propensity to “Indian” tasks like horseback riding. But he’s portrayed as a fish out of water, part of neither the white nor Native community, lost without a father or strong sense of identity. It’s the type of character that multiracial people have been rallying against for decades.

And last but not least is the show’s complete erasure of Latino characters. For a show set in New Mexico, it is odd that there is no one of mixed Spanish and Native descent. In fact, despite the action going to Taos and other Hispano centers in the area, we do not hear a word of Spanish, and there are no Latino characters. It’s a gross oversight that erases New Mexico’s past and present with a single casting decision. And in case you think the show reflects some actual moment in history — it does not. Godless takes place in the 1880s, a time when Anglo settlers were stealing land from Hispanos all over the state. None of that exists in Godless. We just see English-speaking White and Black people carving out a living in tough land, fighting with each other, and occasionally referencing offscreen Native Americans as menaces. It’s racist and completely inaccurate.

At the end of the day, the central conflict in Godless is between Jeff Daniels’ Frank Griffin and Jack O’Connell’s Roy Goode as they solve their differences with bullets, killing whole towns along the way. You see the women of La Belle, even the mighty Alice and Mary Agnes, are just the scenery for these two white men. So are the POC who manage to find their way on screen. And this is a Western trying to be progressive!

So when I look to Westerns to understand this moment in American history, it’s not for accuracy. The true story of the American West is a mix of germ warfare and white supremacy used to steal Native land first by Spaniards and then by Anglos. The heroes are not white guys with guns. They’re Native Americans fighting for their way of life. The villains aren’t white bandits. They’re white soldiers and lawmen who rigged the system and used their guns to ensure the existing population couldn’t overcome their cheating ways. But we don’t tell this story.

No, Westerns are not a view into our past but rather our present, how we got to the terrible place we’re in: centering white men, their experiences, and preoccupations to our peril. This false narrative about America and our birth in the West is hurting us all. It pushes the real story out of the frame, limits the personhood and agency of the vast majority of the population, and leads to seeing white toxic masculinity as the only viable model of leadership (looking at you Donald T).

Here’s hoping we can imagine a better past, present, and future. I’ll be reading the tea leaves, looking for a critically acclaimed Western that doesn’t center white men. Who knows? It could happen, but for now, I’m not holding my breath.

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The Case for Still Watching “Grey’s Anatomy”

It’s official. Grey’s Anatomy is now the longest running medical drama in TV history. With its 332nd episode, it surpassed the previous record holder, ER. I have watched every single episode, and some many times. I unabashadley love Grey’s Anatomy and no snark, hot take, or hip millennial opinion will get me to stop.

The show was wildly popular when it premiered with viewership peaking at over 25 million. Life was different then. Facebook was just for students, Twitter didn’t exist yet. George W. Bush was President. You get the picture. I was still in college, not a married professional with kids. The show spoke to my friends and me – the interns on Grey’s were who we wanted to be (but weren’t yet): brilliant, complicated, sexy, ambitious.

A lot has happened since 2005, both in the world of Grey’s Anatomy and (dimmer, less-just) real life. Along the way, people have stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy: its most recent season premiere had less than 7 million viewers. But, as one of the 7 million, nearly everyone I talk to has a Grey’s story. They remember the brilliant first few seasons and how they were transfixed with Meredith and Cristina’s love life. Perhaps they followed the on-set drama. They definitely have an opinion about Katherine Heigl. Regardless of when they stopped watching, these 14 million people still carry parts of the show and its worldview with them. And I’m here for that.

I’m not saying the show is perfect. There have been bad episodes, ridiculous arcs. Izzy’s sex-with-ghost plotline comes to mind. The episode when they first revealed Dr. Miranda Bailey’s mental health problem was not great. April Kepner’s introduction was rough between her awkward crush on Derek and how long it took for her to have an actual backstory.

I weathered these rough moments waiting for the more brilliant ones to shine through. And they do. Take the case of Dr. Miranda Bailey. She started the show off as so tough and exacting as to earn the nickname “The Nazi.” At first, we see her as her interns do – a slightly unknowable authority figure who expects the best of you. But as the show progress, we see more of her. We see her give birth in harrowing circumstances, losing her edge as her ability to control dissipates. We see that first mental health breakdown, the cost of always being strong and hyper-competent. And we see her take risks in her love life and as a mother – some that pay off and some that don’t. We’ve learned so much about her and the fascinating, complicated, strong woman that she is. That’s the type of nuance you get when you’ve stayed with characters for fourteen years, 330+ episodes.

Not that all the characters have stayed. Of the five original interns, only Meredith and Alex remain. Webber and Bailey are still there but that’s about it. Derek, Bourke, Addison, Callie, they’re all gone. I wasn’t sure the show could withstand the departure of Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang. More than Meredith’s relationship with Derek, the Meredith and Cristina friendship was the central bond guiding so much of the early action. They coined “you’re my person.” They fought and reconciled and supported each other. Without that central relationship what would be the show’s heart? (Certainly not Meredith and Derek. Derek never compared…)

Luckily, the show’s ambitions were always greater than the five original interns. For example, did you know that Callie Torres is the longest running LGBTQ character in TV history? She was introduced in season two and left in season twelve leaving a string of broken hearts behind her (including mine for no longer getting to watch her). Or did you see the recent episode in which a trans character outs himself by revealing the great lengths he went to change his sex on his driver’s license? Or the compassion for Dr. Sam Bello when she faced deportation?

And less you think Grey’s is just a lefty fantasy writ large, the show also explores what it means to be a Christian in a largely secular world with the much-missed April Kepner. It explores veteran reentry issues with Dr. Owen Hunt, advocating for better medical care for veterans while valorizing their service.

You see at the heart of Grey’s Anatomy is not a single relationship or person. At its core, the show is about love and excellence, the ways these things sometimes compete and also drive each other. It’s about challenging us to love each other better and not be divided by race, class, sexuality, you name it, while also acknowledging and decrying the unjust structures that make those divisions so strong. It’s about what we can accomplish when people at all levels compete and contribute. It’s about a world where women, people of color, and particularly women of color have their talent and skill recognized.

It’s this radical vision of what humanity can be at its best that keeps me tuning in. And I’ll watch for another 300 episodes if they let me.

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Six Reasons Why “Russian Doll” is So Perfect (Warning: Spoilers)

If you haven’t binged Netflix’s Russian Doll yet, you should. The show is perfect. Pretty bold to say, I know, but in the world of prestige media, I challenge you to find something better.

Much has been made of Russian Doll’s use of all woman writers and directors and I, of course, love seeing women’s perspectives on screen. And what this woman-led creative team delivers is truly amazing. Here’s why the show is so perfect (spoilers ahead):

1. Natasha Lyonne is a National Treasure

Whether you’ve been watching her since she was in American Pie or just noticed her in Orange is the New Black, you know Lyonne’s raspy voice and wry sensibility manages to steal every scene she’s in. Seeing more of her is always a pleasure, but Russian Doll takes it to the next level by building the show’s entire universe around Lyonne’s unique presence. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lyonne’s Nadia is the ultimate cool girl with great clothes, artsy friends, creative job, big heart, sarcastic personality, and troubled love life that you’ve always wanted to see on screen. She’s aspirational while also being deeply troubled and deeply troubled without ever being pitiable. While I’m not sure if the show’s title refers to Nadia herself or the cascading structure of the experience she’s in, I do know that as I spent more time in her world, I never lost this strong sense of who Nadia is. There is no secret side to Nadia, no hidden truth that changes everything. Instead, the show reveals the tender inside of a tough woman we instinctively root for, showing the complicated nature of her existence. And it’s beautiful.


2. It Doesn’t Center Whiteness

Russian Doll is undeniably a vehicle for Natasha Lyonne, a white lady. And for the first three episodes, you can be excused for thinking it’s just an edgy mash up of Sex and the City and Groundhog’s Day. After all, we spend those first few episodes following Lyonne’s Nadia as she repeatedly celebrates (and dies on) her 36th birthday with her fabulous and fashionable friends, goes to her video-game design job, and contemplates all her past drug use. This is a rich and rarified New York with pretty, thin, 30-something women run amok.

Then the show pivots, spending its fourth episode entirely with Charlie Barnett’s Alan. Alan is the opposite of Nadia in so many ways – he’s uptight and fearful while she’s reckless and free. He’s isolated and struggling while she’s a badass with more friends than she knows what to do with. He’s also a tall, broad-shouldered black men while she’s a small, white, woman. They are different. But their differences do not privilege one over the other.

You see, Nadia and Alan are linked and equal in the show: They’re both stuck on the same death loop, reliving the same day and dying at the same time. And Alan’s been there the whole time, we, the audience, just haven’t been paying attention to him. It turns out Alan and Nadia need each other to face their past traumas, deal with the ongoing symptoms of those wounds, and get out of their Groundhog’s Day dilemma. They are different yes, but one is not more interesting, more human, or more pivotal than the other. Nadia’s white experience isn’t the only thing that matters here, it’s just one of multiple stories worth telling.

3. No One is a Stereotype

Too many shows use shortcuts for their characters: the emotional woman, the angry black man, the righteous white guy. Not Russian Doll. Here we see a diverse and vibrant New York populated by people whose personalities are not determined by stereotypes. Nadia’s East Village has rich and poor, young and old, black, white and brown people all living on the same block and interacting as fellow humans. Whether it’s the homeless Horse, the quirky Maxinne, or the wise Ruth, the show gives each of these characters dignity and humor, shattering the homogenous portrayals of the city so common in shows with white leads like Girls and Sex and the City.

Certainly Nadia and Alan defy expectations with Nadia avoiding the woman’s domains of emotional entanglements and motherhood while Alan demonstrates an obsessive need for tidiness and order that is almost never associated in TV’s limiting portrayal of blackness. But it’s not just the leads.

Nearly every character on Russian Doll defies stereotypes. Take for example Ritesh Rajan’s Farran. He’s Alan’s best friend who Nadia knows because he works the late-night shift at her local bodega. I know what you’re thinking a South Asian character as a store clerk? This is just another Apu. But no, Farran and Alan didn’t meet doing manual labor (as he fools Nadia and the audience into thinking for a second), but rather pledged the same fraternity in college. Farran’s writing a novel and has more emotional intelligence than either of our two leads. He’s not a faceless brown guy waiting to serve richer, more complex white people but rather an interesting human with his own set of challenges, goals, and aspirations.

Likewise, you could read Rebecca Henderson’s Lizzie as a stereotypical lesbian in overalls but you’d miss the importance of her character in the final episode and all the nuance and humor along the way. Or you could decide Dascha Polanco’s Beatrice is just the cruel, cheating woman there to inflict pain on the innocent, worthy man but you’d be falling into the same trap that leads Alan to commit suicide in the first place – seeing his love as an object to be possessed rather than a partner to learn and grow with.

4. Well, Almost No One

In fact, the only character who consistently conforms to type is Jeremy Bobb’s predatory professor Mike Kershaw. And I’m ok with that. Not just because in the #MeToo era, it’s necessary that we show these men for the villains they are. Or because he recognizes that he’s “the hole where the choice should be.” Or because there’s no chance white guys as a group will be stereotyped as a result of this single role.

I’m ok with Mike being a stereotype because he’s also a direct foil for Cuban American actor Yul Vazquez’s John. Both are men of a certain age who sleep with Nadia on different loops and as such present a clear contrast. Sleeping with lecherous, unethical Mike is clearly a mistake, whether it’s Nadia or one of the many women at her birthday party. He is rude and manipulative throughout the series, saying whatever he can to get whatever woman is in front of him into bed. He is a hole women fall into.

Meanwhile, John is a viable choice who Nadia dumps when the emotional commitment becomes too big for her. Throughout the series, John is kind and honorable, helping Nadia on her spiritual quest and demanding that she show up for him emotionally. Indeed, it is his insistence that she meet his daughter that gets Nadia to finally confront the trauma she experienced as a girl of John’s daughter’s age.

Comparing John and Mike reveals a choice for men how men who have achieved positions of status should act and how we should interact with them. It’s a clear choice but one that bears repeating.

5. It’s Just So Rich

There are a lot of ideas on Russian Doll, a lot of themes savvy viewers can delve into. Are you a gaming nut? You can see the whole series as treatise on gaming. There’s Nadia’s job as a game creator and expertise in code. There’s Alan’s take on crowning achievement – “You created an impossible game with a single character who has to solve everything entirely on her own” – as a metaphor for her entire predicament. There’s how the characters die and the timeline resets, effectively mirroring how so many video games work. And there’s Nadia understanding of what’s happening to them as a bug in the universe’s code.

But it’s not just video games. It’s addiction, trauma, religion – big stuff. You can see questions of life, love, and struggle explored explicitly and implicitly in the show whether it’s the song in the background, Alan looking to Catholicism to develop a theory of what’s happening (and Nadia going visiting a Rabbi to explore one of hers), or psychoanalytic theories of trauma underpinning the show’s repetitive structure. Interior design enthusiasts will even be satisfied with Nadia and Alan’s apartments both reflecting their interior states and turmoil. It’s really got something for everyone.

6. There’s A Moral to the Story

In the end, though, like all great stories, Russian Doll is more than the sum of its parts. All the richness in theme and theory doesn’t distract from the show’s central focus, the quest of Nadia and Alan to save themselves. Yes, of course they need to get out of their loops and stop dying. As the show goes on, the stakes rise – their worlds shrink and the whole universe is in jeopardy.

How do they do it? How do they break the cycle and bring back the world as we know it? They find salvation in helping each other. In recognizing their pain is keeping them from life’s most important calling: being of service to each other. Isn’t that beautiful idea? One might even call it perfect.

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“Roma” and the Pressure to Represent all of the Latinx Experience

“I’m Mexican.”

That’s something I say sometimes. Mostly to people who are (rudely) asking “where are you [really] from?” And sometimes to those who take my light skin as an invitation to say something racist. Every once in a while to a fellow Latinx person as we share experiences.

The thing is, though, I’m not really Mexican. I’m the descendant – the granddaughter to be precise – of people who immigrated from Mexico. When I go see my extended family, I go to Los Angeles. I don’t know a single relative who lives in Mexico. And even if I did, I’d be too embarrassed by my Spanish/Spanglish to really connect. So yeah, I’m not really “Mexican,” I’m more Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx, a product of a culture that systematically was forced to mix and assimilate.

All the same, I went into Roma expecting to see myself or at least my family reflected back to me. Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen. After all, we do buy the most movie tickets every year AND have the highest rates of Netflix subscriptions.

Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen.

Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria Gutiérrez, one of two indigenous maids and the primary caretaker of a white Mexican family, living in the upper-middle-class Mexico City neighborhood of Roma. The film follows Cleo through a year in her life, starting in 1970, during which big events shake her life and the broader world she lives in. This is the year the patriarch and Cleo’s employer leaves his family – his wife, four children, and extended household, never to return. It’s the year Cleo gets pregnant and experiences her own abandonment with the child’s father disavowing her. It’s also the year of El Halconazo or Corpus Christi Massacre, in which government forces kill around 120 people for participating in student demonstrations in DF. And it’s the year Luis Echeverría becomes President of Mexico, seizing land belonging to the likes of Cleo’s mother. Throughout these events, both personal and political, Cleo stands in the center with the male characters relegated to supporting roles.

Roma is a biography of sorts for writer, director, and cinematographer, Alfonso Cuarón. One of the leading voices in the Nuevo Cine Mexicano (along with Gonzalez Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro), Cuarón based Roma on his own memories of being one of the children in the aforementioned family. The film is shot in black and white and brings into focus the small details of Cleo’s life – where she puts the dishes before turning off the lights, the song she sings to wake up the children, the sounds it makes when she cleans up the dog shit.

In the film, the children are a gaggle of ill-behaved, loved, and loving creatures who Cleo manages and clearly adores. We also see the family’s mother Sofia, played by Marina de Tavira, alternate between cruel and kind to her children, herself, and particularly Cleo as she adjusts to her new position as a woman without a husband.

Roma is nominated for all the awards and I’m particularly excited to see Latinas finally breaking barriers in their categories. If Yalitza Aparicio wins for Best Actress, she’ll be the first Latina to do so and the first indigenous woman at that. Gabriela Rodriguez could be the first Latina to win a Best Picture Oscar and Marina de Tavira would be only the second Latina to ever win Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars (shout out to Rita Moreno for being the first)!

That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another ‘dirty Mexican.’

At this moment, Roma is THE movie about the Latinx experience in the way that Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther represented those communities. And yet, as a Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx person who loved the film, cried watching it, and tries to catch everything Cuarón does, I didn’t see myself in it. You see, my family story is hard to square with the world of Roma. If we exist at all in the film’s universe, it’d have to be long before Cleo goes to work for Sofia. My family is more like if Cleo’s grandmother’s sister and Sofia’s grandfather’s cousin both migrated to the US separately, met and got married here, and started a whole other family. That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another “dirty Mexican.”

I’m not saying the differences between White and Indigenous Latinos do not exist. Or are not substantial. In fact, I’d argue the opposite – the racial divide among Latinx people is often ignored in the US to our peril. Roma is telling an important story. It’s just not a story that includes large portions of the population, like me. And that would be fine except if Roma somehow becomes the end-all-be-all of how we understand the Latinx experience. Certainly, it’s the only movie about us that’s broken through this year. And when you look back at the record, it’s the only film about Latinas that’s EVER received this level of attention (remember how Rita Moreno is the only Latina to have won an acting Oscar? And for West Side Story way back in 1961 – a film that came out over 50 years ago and is arguably not about what it means to be Latina…).

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me. It’s not fair to expect any single piece of art to represent a group as vast as the Latinx community – we’re talking about more than a continent full of people here! But the pressure is still there, the hope, and the expectation.

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me.

Because I so rarely get the chance to see myself on screen, each time is fraught with more meaning than it should hold. It’s not like I’m a white guy who sees the complexity of my experience everywhere I go. As a Latina, we don’t have much. We have the commodification of Frida Kahlo. The emerging consensus that original EGOT-winner Rita Moreno deserves a lot of backdated respect. We have Jennifer Lopez in that green Versace dress now and forever. And we have Sofia Vergara’s paycheck. Note that none of them are Mexican American like me (even though we make up more than half the Latino/Hispanic population in the US).

I hope Roma wins all the awards. I also hope it leads to more representations of the Latinx experience. After all, it’s a beautiful story that centers Mexican women in a way you almost never see. It’s just not my story and that’s ok.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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