What We’re Watching

“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 84: The Impossible Decision

This week on Jane The Virgin, the Villanueva’s explore the themes of conflict and communication. Whether it’s a dealing with a former nemesis-turned-friend or two great loves, making decisions and dealing with conflict is difficult to say the least. And no TV show know how to deal with these themes better than Jane The Virgin. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their favorite parts of the episode and how to recover from the emotional whiplash of the ending.

NICOLA: Wow! I’m still reeling from that cliffhanger! But before we start delving into the shocker that was the last minute of the episode, let’s talk about the rest of the episode.

I loved this one. It reminded me of the genius that is Jane The Virgin — no show better juggles multiple storylines and yet is able to give each one the detail and space they need. I was so happy this episode gave Rogelio more of a substantive storyline. He deserves it. And what a better way than to talk about one of the most pressing issues of today: pay disparity.

CRISTINA: Yes, any time Rogelio is on screen is time well spent! And he was just perfect in this episode — misbehaving on set, unaware of the pay gap (and then trying to argue that he should get paid more because he’s a man), recognizing River’s genius and still advocating for himself. There really is not a better man on TV. He’s over the top but sympathetic. A Latinx type but not a stereotype. I just cannot get enough of him.

I particularly loved how he pivoted the conversation from gender to race. Watching it, I was like “why didn’t I think of that?” And then how River used it for her own PR gain — priceless! Jane the Virgin is so smart on these social issues, addressing race and gender without being preachy. Did you notice that Jane was reading a headline about Trump’s racist immigration policy in the next shot? It was subtle but meaningful storytelling — one of the many reasons I love this show.

NICOLA: I think partnering Rogelio’s pay battle with the boys and girls fighting was a great parallel. In a world of so much conflict, it’s nice to remember we all used to be children and think about how much we’ve grown (or not). Watching Mateo, Anna, and Elsa show their frustration in specific ways, then seeing how gender plays into it was another great chapter in Jane the Virgin parenting.

CRISTINA: Chapter 84 had SO much good commentary on gender. There was the equal pay plot line, the difference in how boys and girls are allowed to fight, and the upper class version of female-empowerment Petra is teaching her girls. Did you catch that they were reading Lean In before brunch? What are they six? Petra’s raising little CEOs and I love it. Both her and the twins saying “don’t touch my body” was a great parallel too. No shrinking violets in the Solano family!

NICOLA: Jane and Petra have become one of my favorite relationships on television. If this was any other show, they would have trapped in a perpetual catfight. But on Jane the Virgin gender stereotypes are meant to be disrupted. It so important to flip the narrative and break the stereotypes of women fighting over a man, and the way they did that in this episode was even sweeter. Jane clearly thought that Petra was mad/jealous of her and Rafael when really she just needed her friend. It was the best and made my my heart sore.

CRISTINA: I loved how this episode revisited the show’s classic conflicts — Jane vs. Petra, Michael vs. Rafael — but updated them. You could argue that Jane and Petra have really come full circle, but they’ve been frenemies for so long, I’d say this sibling rivalry has been there for a long time.

My favorite way the show updated its long-standing themes was the sexy-times scene between Jane and Rafael. After her being so fraught about her sexuality (thanks Catholicism) for so long, it was great to see her enjoying sex, worry free. Get yours Jane!

NICOLA: Jane The Virgin really knows how to tell a story. Since the beginning, it was always framed as a story about love and that hasn’t changed. What has evolved is the concept of love — it can be romantic love, friend love, or familial love. I think the writers have created the perfect telenovela one that is evolved, complicated, and nuanced.

CRISTINA: That ending though. It had me punching my couch pillows. Jane had just let Michael go — again! How many times is she going to have to say goodbye? Is Jason going to turn into Michael now? Or will he still have Jason’s personality and interests but just with Michael’s memories? I just don’t know how much heartbreak one person (Jane, me, everyone else watching this show) can take!

NICOLA: I will confess I cried when Jason said goodbye to Jane. It felt like the end of a chapter, or a wound that just finished healing, until it WASN’T. Watching the final minute where Jason gets Michael’s memories was a shock — I felt so conflicted. I usually am Team Raf but in that moment, I empathize with Michael. And after some serious processing, I’ve decided I’m purely Team Jane. She has an impossible decision ahead of her and whatever makes her happy, I’m good with. I think no one envies her decision at all. All I have to say is good job Jane The Virgin writers you won.

CRISTINA: You know, I thought I was tired of the Jane-Rafael-Michael love triangle, but it turns out I’m not! The show creators keep finding new and interesting ways to present it and I’ll be tuning in until it’s over (and then rewatching the entire series back-to-back several times, I’m sure). Jane the Virgin is just that good.

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Why I Can’t (And Won’t) Stop Talking about Killing Eve

I admit it: I am a Killing Eve evangelist. I tell anyone who will listen — unsuspecting muni riders, friends, and dogs alike — this is the show we NEED in these times. At this point, getting every person I know to watch is my unsolicited quest. Who doesn’t want to see Sandra Oh (Eve) portray a MI5 spy chasing a female assassin Jodie Comer (Villanelle)? I mean seriously. Who? I’d like to take this time to apologize to the airpod-wearing tech worker who definitely just wanted to peruse their Instagram feed on her commute home — sorry for making you listen to my impassioned monologue on how this BBC show might be the greatest piece of resistance art in the Trumpian era.

Killing Eve is a deliciously violent, modern, and comedic twist on a will-they-won’t-they tale of killer and detective. At its core are two women, a bored MI5 agent, Eve, and a self aware assassin, Villanelle. Their ever-evolving relationship breaks the mold of women-centered drama, managing to exclude the three M’s: marriage, motherhood, and makeovers. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film’s 2018 Boxed in Study “female characters were more likely than male characters to play personal life-oriented roles such as wife and mother” — so definitely not a spy and an assassin.

While Eve is married, her relationship doesn’t drive her and in fact, takes a to her true passion — her job of overcoming Villanelle and the conspiracy she kills for. And while the thought of a female driven spy/assassin show might ring some alarm bells, Killing Eve rejects the traditional roles action films and television have left women. This is not Charlie’s Angels or another Bond film: neither character is defined by their sex appeal and neither of them are the sidekick to a problematic male figure. The only fatal attraction seems to be between the women themselves and their strange infatuation with each other.

In season one, the creators of Killing Eve took their time with each character giving Eve and Villanelle the time to develop complex narratives and motivations while separate from each other. Slowly the show reveals the threads that connect Eve and Villanelle, whether it’s their shared ability to dissociate (comically so) or a sudden exhilaration when they discover they are in the same room. Season one is dominated by Eve’s quest to find Villanelle as she chases her using her latest victims as bread crumbs.

Their obsessions culminates when Eve finally catches Villanelle in her apartment. The two share an electric moment, both overwhelmed by their infatuation with one another. The dialogue could be mistaken for a high school rom com as the two confess their love for one another. Suddenly, right as the audience (and Villanelle) think they are going to kiss, Eve stabs Villanelle. Confused and shocked by what she has just done, Eve first attempts to try to save Villanelle before an equally shocked Villanelle starts trying to shot her and both women escape.

This is where season two picks up (exactly thirty seconds later as the title cards hilariously tell us) as Eve struggles to come to grips what she has just done and what it might mean. Eve narrowly escapes Villanelle’s apartment building, struggling to even recognize her surrounding as she admits to murder in front of a newly engaged couple. Oh is hilariously entertaining as she settles into her new found place as a-maybe murderer. She goes to a candy store, overfilling a bag with a glutinous amount of jelly beans and gumdrops, and quite frankly I’m not surprised. If there is anything we learn as children, it’s that candy always tastes good. Even after an attempted murder. This scene gives us a quick visual cue that Eve might be more similar to Villanelle than she thinks. In the iconic first scene of Killing Eve season one, Villanelle spills ice cream on a young girl. While buying candy, Eve stops a young boy from taking on of her gumdrops. Is it a throwback to childhood pettiness or do they simply both dislike children.This complexity reinforces one of the themes of the show where the lines between purely good or bad are blurred. While Eve heads to the train station, Villanelle stumbles through the city eventually throwing herself in front of a cab to get a ride to the hospital. Forgetting she still has the knife she stabbed Villanelle with in her pocket, Eve quickly exits the security line, deciding to throw away the knife in the most “bloody” ironic place: a sanitary napkin trash can.

Killing Eve is so enthralling and new because it dramatizes traditional women roles, subverting them with darkness and humor. See the scene where Eve is preparing dinner when her husband reveals she forgot to even take the chicken out of the fridge. It’s watching Eve’s older boss Carolyn Martens sitting with a child who hilariously turns out to be a stranger. It’s watching Villanelle escape the hospital in a wheelchair after telling a well-meaning security guard that she’s just been diagnosed with a terrible illness and simply needs some time alone. Watching security guard fall fall into the societal narrative that women are harmless and must be protected, feels like righteous revenge. Women are the drivers of this show and none of them are purely good or bad. Each is meticulously crafted, disrupting the assumptions and stereotypes we’ve been taught. Who knew a spy story would be the perfect vehicle to bend gender stereotypes? But it is.?

This is the brilliance of Killing Eve, the ability to be equally terrifying, hilarious, and poignant at the same time. It’s feels good to have Villanelle and Eve back in our lives for a second season. And if there’s one thing I know, women aren’t predictable and neither is Killing Eve.

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The Good Fight: Delightful, Problematic, Unflinching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Time To Stop White-Casting Period Pieces

I’ll never forget when my mom showed me my first period piece. I was 10 years old and the film was The BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries (the best version of the Jane Austen classic, no other arguments will be considered) starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. From the moment my mom popped in the worn VHS tape, I was hooked. But it wasn’t just the romance, it was the characters Austen had created, specifically Elizabeth Bennett. She was smart, witty, loved reading, and the only female character not interested in getting married. As a 10-year-old, I quickly labeled her as my 18th-century heroine of choice. I mean boys? Gross. What were they even good for?

After watching Pride and Prejudice, I quickly moved on to Austen’s other creations in both film and book form. PersuasionEmmaSense and SensibilityNorthanger AbbeyMansfield Park, all were tales of female heroines falling in love, exchanging only the wittiest of remarks in flawless British accents. I held these movies (and mostly the BBC itself) as the gold standard for romance, one that I continued to hold up and revisit time and time again.

But there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet, something I ignored the majority of my life — these women, these strong 18th century ladies are something I will never be. White. Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, both Jennifer Ehle and Keira Knightley all (lovely) white ladies. When I was younger, I accepted this telling myself “oh, of course, they’re all white it’s wealthy 18th-century England, that’s all they have.” Yes, spiritually I had identified with Elizabeth Bennet. But when I closed my eyes, whether I was 10 or 21, the media had taught me to see one thing, a woman I could never be.

Then I saw Mr. Malcolm’s List, a short film directed by Emma Holly Jones for Refinery29’s ShatterboxShatterbox is an anthology of women-directed short films with the goal to get more women behind the camera. This 8-minute film starring Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians and Freida Pintofrom Slumdog Millionaire casts people of color in a traditional period piece a la Jane Austen.

The story surrounds Mr. Malcolm, an elusive bachelor, played by Sope Dirisu. Following him is a long list of desperate debutantes and their matchmaking mothers. What these women don’t know is he has a particular list of qualifications for his future bride. One woman, Julia played by Gemma Chan, is determined to capture his heart but perhaps she needs a little help.

In 8-minutes, Mr. Malcolm’s List proves that traditional, all-white cast is simply weak and lazy. People of color should be cast in these period pieces not only because it’s time we have media that represents everyone, but because people of color existed in the 18th century.

Mr. Malcom’s List allows people of color to see themselves in a genre that we’ve been taught was off limits (unless we were willing to play a sidekick or follow an exploitative storyline). To see Gemma Chan and Freida Pinto here is not just groundbreaking it’s necessary. Luckily several film studios agreed: according to Deadline, Mr. Malcolm’s List is going to be made into a feature-length film and I can’t wait. It’s essential for the next generation of young women and girls to see themselves reflected in film, regardless of the genre or time period. I hope this is just the beginning. Because personally, I’m waiting for the ultimate remake of Pride and Prejudice starring John Cho and Lupita Nyong’o.

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Guilt, Heartbreak, and Hilarity in Episode 83 of “Jane the Virgin”

After the shock of last week’s premiere, The CW’s Jane the Virgin is out with its second episode. Chapter Eighty-Three centers on the idea of guilt — whether it’s religion or the internal struggle between right and wrong, our favorite characters all seem to be struggling with it. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their thoughts on what to make of this episode of Jane the Virgin.

NICOLA: This episode had me from the start: guilt is definitely written into my family’s genetics. And there is something about guilt and immigrant stories that go so well together, like chile and cheese. My abuelita and my mom both had a story for each situation that would basically guilt me into doing what they wanted. But maybe that’s because I grew up religious what about you Cristina?

CRISTINA: Well, as someone who went to CCD, I know plenty about guilt, Catholic or otherwise! And as Jane experienced, sometimes it’s easy to throw your conflicted feelings on the church even when the guilt is really coming from inside you. It’s part of our culture, how we talk to our parents, how we talk to ourselves. But, of course, I loved the jabs at the church like when Rafael said, “I don’t want Mateo thinking he’s going to hell every time he’s done something wrong.” And Jane said, “That’s not what the church teaches… at first.” Dying!

NICOLA: I’m one of the only Latinx people I know who’s family is Protestant. Sorry Catholicism but when we immigrated, we left our religion. I still feel guilt has this unique relationship to religion, even if the majority of my guilt comes from trying to fulfill the expectations and dreams of my immigrant family.

Obviously, I imagine this guilt is NOT the same as you might feel when you find out your previously dead husband has come back to life with amnesia five years later after you already found happiness with another man who happens to be the same man who you had an artificially-inseminated baby with.

CRISTINA: Haha right, Jane’s guilt is a special case. It’s so extreme but that didn’t mean my heart wasn’t breaking all over this episode. That scene where we saw what both her and Rafael wanted to say but didn’t broke me. How many times does that happen in real life? Why are missed connections like that so devastating? And, of course, there was that moment when Jane thought Michael/Jason’s memories were coming back. That feeling of disappointment for something you’re not even sure you want — everyone can relate to it.

NICOLA: Agreed. I think Jane the Virgin’s writers give us an interesting life lesson through Jane. Oftentimes our society depicts decisions as very black and white, that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for everything. The reality is most of the time our decisions and experiences happen in a very gray area. I feel like this is where Jane is right now, she’s dealing with her unresolved feelings for Michael/Jason and her past with him and the current love of her life Rafael. And surprise — there is no right answer!

The person I really feel the most for this episode is Alba. Now that Jorge is able to get his Visa to see his mother, Alba is left to process all the feelings. For a character, that always played by the rulebook, it’s been refreshing to watch her come into herself. I think the Alba we met in season one would never have made a decision to get married in a matter of hours. But this Alba from season 5 feels more fearless and breaks the mold that TV often gives to older women. Older women can make mistakes, fall in love, and yes, also serve as a family’s moral compass. It’s great to see Alba have such a full storyline separate from being a grandmother.

CRISTINA: Agreed. Alba is amazing and her storyline this week was so poignant. Did Jane the Virgin always make us cry this much? Have I forgotten what it’s like to watch this show? So far, this final season has had SO MUCH FEELS. I need to prepare myself better to handle it!

Of course, it wasn’t all tears. There’s always Rogelio for comic relief and the craziness of the plot to keep things moving. In fact, I have a conspiracy theoryfor you. I think Sin Rostro was lying about why she gave Michael amnesia. I mean, she’s not exactly trustworthy, you know? I have no idea what she’s really up to but I think she’s using Jason to drive a wedge between Jane and Rafael. That line-dancing kiss was so awkward! And then he pretended his dog ate the divorce papers after just threatening to leave (not to mention the eyes he makes for Petra)?!?!?! I don’t buy it. Something is up and I don’t trust Jason/new Michael at all.

NICOLA: Me too! Maybe it’s because I’ve been comfortable on Team Rafael for too long but something seems off. I knew it the moment Michael/Jason took her line dancing. Then again, I don’t trust any form of forced dancing activities. The connection between him and Sin Rostro seems too clean cut and I can’t help but believe that a woman with face changing abilities would let Michael/Jason off that quickly.

The only person that centers me on this show is Rogelio and this episode didn’t disappoint. He unapologetically perfectly balances his vain and self-absorbed tendencies with his love and support for his family, creating the perfect character. I think Jaime Camil deserves an Emmy just for his eyebrow acting alone.

CRISTINA: Yes, Rogelio was hilarious. The kayaks, the extended whaaaaat, the part in his hair. He really couldn’t be more himself and I love it. People as fancy as the Atlantic and the New York Times have been writing about his new mode of masculinity and I agree. Sometimes it’s hard to look past how hilarious he is and see that he’s also so culturally significant. Damn, I’m going to miss this show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Emotional, Impossible Season 5 Premiere of “Jane the Virgin”

The CW’s Jane the Virgin is back for its fifth and final season, causing Latinos everywhere to tearfully rejoice that we get more time with the Villanuevas, however limited. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their thoughts on the season premiere and why this show is so great.

CRISTINA: I missed Jane so much! This is one of the rare shows that makes me feel seen and I’ve just been aching for it.

NICOLA: Agreed! This show will always and forever have a special place in my heart. For five seasons, the Villanuevas have been my favorite family on TV. I’m sad to see them go but so excited for this season.

CRISTINA: The premiere didn’t disappoint. It turns out Michael, Jane’s beloved, thought-dead husband is back but with amnesia. It’s classic telenovela and in true Jane the Virgin form, done with such a thoughtful, emotionally honest (and devastating) way. After all, we spent the second half of season three grieving Michael with Jane. So to see him come back just when Jane was getting happy again was rough. Add on to that the fact that he’s not really back. His body is, his smell even, but the man we knew is not.

NICOLA: I know. If I got a nickel every time a character on a telenovela got amnesia, I’d be a rich lady. But somehow one of the most overused tropes in the telenovela complex felt like the perfect choice to set up the season. Devastating for sure but excellent for storytelling. Jane has this history of seeing her life and relationships through romantic-novel rose glasses. So to have Jane, whose based much of her own narrative on finding, loving, losing, loving, then finally losing Michael (Jason) forces her to reflect and makes for very powerful television.

CRISTINA: Yes! And that power/pain was shown perfectly in the seven-page, single shot monologue Gina Rodriguez delivers, walking us through just how impossible her situation is. Is she married? Is she not? Who is this person who call himself Jason and likes dogs instead of cats? Why did this happen? How is she supposed to respond? Why does nothing make her feel better?

Watching it, I welled up several times but was so captivated by the performance it was like my tear ducts forgot how to cry. As her co-star Justin Baldoni said, if Gina doesn’t get all the awards, something is very wrong.

NICOLA: Totally agree, that monologue was not only technically crazy difficult but such a wonderful connection point between the audience and Jane. We’ve been with her for four seasons, watching her fall in and out of love, finding herself as a writer and as a mother, and dealing with unspeakable tragedy. And when we left her last season, it seemed like Jane was in such a good place. So this season, seeing her perform seven-pages of her rapidly asking all the questions we have, at a rate of about five questions per minute, felt like the perfect scene to connect us back to our favorite protagonist.

CRISTINA: Petra also had a fun B-plot this episode, dealing with her ex-husband Milos, getting dumped by Rosario Dawson’s JR, and being checked out by Jason/Michael. I love how they’ve rehabilitated her character, taking her from villain to hero without actually changing the core of who she is. I’m certainly rooting for her (and wishing I could pull off/access her wardrobe).

NICOLA: Petra’s character has always been one of my favorites and truly showcases the talent and intent of the Jane the Virgin writing team. I’m definitely sad to see that her relationship with JR might be over. Clearly, I am not ready to accept that one — we need more Rosario! I am excited to see Milos back and him in the teddy bear was hilarious. I could “bearly” stop laughing.

CRISTINA: Then there’s the matter of poor Rafael. He’s in the toughest spot here. Upon finding out that Michael was alive, he made the deal to bring him back for Jane even if meant sacrificing his relationship with her. It’s another impossible situation and one that Rafael deals with grace and honor, even as it’s clearly tearing him up inside. For me, it showed just how good Rafael is for Jane, even if she’s not always good for him. Nicola — what do you think? Time to join #TeamRafael?

NICOLA: Ugh I’m not sure. I’ve always been torn between the two. Mostly, because I love Jane so much and I’m fairly convinced there is no man good enough for her. That aside, I feel like it’s a incredibly difficult decision, one that the show creators crafted with complete knowledge of how confused and crazed they’d make Jane and us, the audience, feel. I do like the possibility of getting at a greater, more existential, question: can you truly compare two people you’ve loved?

Jane the Virgin has taught us a lot about the different forms that love can take and how love can transform and change people (cough Rafael cough). Jane and Michael had a wonderful relationship but it definitely took them awhile to get there. The same could be said of Jane and Rafael: they went through definite trials and tribulations and the Rafael from season one is definitely not the Rafael from this season. I genuinely feel at this point that you can’t compare the two: one’s from her past and one is in her present.

CRISTINA: I have no idea what Jane’s going to do but I doubt she’ll end up with “Jason,” unless he morphs back into Michael somehow. That said, the central question for me has never been what guy she picks, but rather how she finds happiness. And I loved seeing her process it all through writing. Also, that scene where she pushed her father out of the way so she could use the mirror was priceless. If Jane the Virgin has to end, can’t Rogelio get his own spin off?

NICOLA: I am definitely here for that! I could talk forever about what a gift Rogelio is to television, and how he does not get the credit he deserves. I feel like he definitely has earned a show of his own. Or maybe a crossover episode on the freshly renewed One Day at a Time? Dear TV networks I hope you’re taking notes.

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The Fantastic Terror of Lupita Nyong’o in “Us”

Women have depth. We are multidimensional and valuable for more than just what we look like. But you wouldn’t know that from watching TV or movies today. If life was like film and TV, we’d all mostly be straight white cis ladies who all wear a size zero and are only allowed to talk about the men in our lives who coincidentally are also straight and white.

In Jordan Peele’s Us, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o gives a masterclass performance while breaking all the stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, especially a black woman in film. The characters she plays not only have their own agency, but the duality of those roles show the depth and expanse of Nyong’o’s talent. It’s not a coincidence that a man of color, Peele created this world for Nyong’o to thrive, giving her the space to develop characters that are rarely shown in film. Us proves that when women and people of color get to tell their own stories, they are simply better.

From 12 Years a Slave to Black Panther, Nyong’o’s talent is undeniable. Which makes it even harder to believe that Us is the first major film where Nyong’o has the lead role. And it’s already breaking records. Us not only had the largest debut for an original horror film, with $70.3 million at the box office, it also had the largest opening weekend for a film headlined by a Black woman.

Us is about a family’s vacation gone wrong — with the family’s “evil” doppelgängers finding and terrorizing them. Winston Duke plays the lovable and slightly dorky dad Gabe, and Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex playing the daughter and son, Zora and Jason. Nyong’o plays the mother, Adelaide, who is determined to keep her family safe. And in a surprising twist, Adelaide’s double, Red, who shares one of her earliest and most traumatizing childhood memories.

What’s so impressive about Nyong’o’s performance is the distinct character she creates for both Adelaide and Red. Too often horror movies only give women sexy-scream-run-die roles. These are the roles that mostly involve being scared, making stupid decisions, dying almost always a gruesome death — all the while highlighting the woman’s sexuality. We all know there are many films that spend more camera time on a woman’s cleavage than on actually developing her character. In horror films misogyny is even more terrifying, when oftentimes female characters experience violence and brutality at the hands of male antagonists creating a cultural narrative that conflates sex with violence. And in old horror slasher movies, it’s even worse for black women who often die first if they’re present at all. (Spoiler: white people die first in this movie)

In Us, Nyong’o breaks gender and racial stereotypes, giving us characters with full narratives that Hollywood has historically denied Black women the opportunity to create. Nyong’o depicts Adelaide as a woman with a history of fear and darkness she has kept from her family. This background gives Adelaide the room to build a narrative distinct from her role as a mother and wife. I mean how many times have we seen mothers in movies that are given the freedom to have meaningful, separate life experiences from marriage and children? Adelaide is the leader of her family and guides them through the darkness as they become dependent on her for survival. Then there’s Red, Adelaide’s double that Nyong’o creates as a twitching-unsettling figure with wide enveloping eyes who was previously relegated to Adelaide’s nightmares. Red’s voice, ticks, and eyes look as if they were constructed by Adelaide’s subconscious to show the scariest version of herself.

How Nyong’o builds the relationship between Red and Adelaide is most impressive. Building off childhood memories and flashbacks, the audience is slowly able to connect the dots between the two characters as Nyong’o uses facial cues to bring the audience with her. Nyong’o transforms a character who might be a terrifying zombie-like-figure looking for revenge into something more terrifying — a deep look into one’s self and subconscious. Together, Red and Adelaide show us that sometimes the greatest thing we should fear is looking in the mirror.

Us is a masterpiece thanks to Nyong’o filling the canvas — she leaves you haunted by the depth and nuance of the characters she portrays. She’s the rare woman on screen who’s scared and terrifying, strong and weak, emotional and stoic — unable to fit in any of the boxes society has tried to put her in. These are the characters women, especially women of color, deserve to play. Through Nyong’o, we are taken on a journey of one women’s life, one that doesn’t start at marriage or when she becomes a mother, but is rooted in her personhood. It’s a terrifying journey, and one that will not only make the audience look inward, but also ask why we waited so long for a woman-centered film like this. In Us, Lupita Nyong’o gives women, on screen and off, permission to be scary. Because if there’s one thing I know about women: “If you want to get crazy. We can get crazy.”

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Why Michael Burnham is Great and “Star Trek: Discovery” is Not

It is rare to see women of color on screen. Across media, women get about a third of speaking roles with people of color only getting a third of that. That’s about 10%, significantly less than our percentage of the general population. And of course, women of color in lead roles in STEM-focused shows are even more scarce

For that reason alone, Star Trek: Discovery is worth watching as it follows the adventures of Michael Burnham, a black woman who breaks all sorts of stereotypes. Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham is not what we Trekkies (yes, I’m a nerd) have come to expect from a lead character.

For one, she’s not a captain. It may seem like a small shift to those who haven’t been watching pointy-eared people say “live and long and prosper” their whole life, but for those of us who have, it’s a big change. This shift allows us to get to know the life of more junior crew members, making at least one Ensign (Mary Wiseman’s excellent Sylvia Tilly) a major character (instead of just cannon fodder). It also allows us a look into what the life of the vast majority of the crew is like. The young crew members don’t know the captain’s intentions, lack insight on the reason for their mission, and are not part of the top-level decision-making process. With this limited knowledge, they must decide to follow orders (or not) in life-threatening scenarios. It’s quite a different experience from that of the captain.

And that’s just how Burnham breaks Star Trek conventions. There’s also her black woman-ness. Raised on Vulcan (by Spock’s parents no less), Burnham is hyper-rational, a human learning to accept her emotions. That’s classic Star Trek but it’s quite different from the “Angry Black Woman” we see so much in television and movies. It’s also hyper-relatable. As a Latina raised in a society that uplifts stoicism, I understand the pull towards suppressing emotions. It seems like life would be simpler without them, no? No one would label you as “emotional” and you could always be the calm one in an argument. Of course, you’d also miss out on all life’s joys, so… not worth it. Anyways, Burnham is on a journey to seeing her humanity as a strength and I relate.

Michael Burnham is also an awkward date-r, unsure of her own feelings, and how to assert herself. This is largely outside of how we see Black women portrayed as well. We’re used to seeing them more on the poles of sexuality, either as hyper-sexual or a-sexual, jezebel or mammy. Neither is true of course and shows like Insecure are breaking this trope. But it’s nice to see Star Trek, a leader in a completely different genre, do it too. And of course, I love seeing Star Trek ask its fans (of all genders and races) to take this journey through the lens of a Black woman who’s smart, flawed, and growing.

And Burnham isn’t the only character pushing representation issues on Discovery. There’s the unparalleled Michelle Yeoh as Captain/Emperor Philippa Georgiou. She’s deliciously evil as the Emperor, traipsing through the galaxy in multiple dimensions, exerting her will wherever she goes. And so as not to play into some sort of evil-Asian stereotype, we have her heroic Captain whose warmth and strength of character serve as a strong foil. We also have body diversity in Ensign Tilly (surprise, not everyone in space is a size two!) and a same-sex relationship between Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets and Wilson Cruz’s (aka Rickie) Dr. Hugh Culber, portrayed with the romance, care, and intrigue usually reserved for straight characters.

And all this is classic Star Trek. This is the franchise that had the first interracial kiss on television. That cast Avery Brooks, a Black man, as Captain Sisko in Deep Space Nine and Kate Mulgrew, a woman, as Captain Janeway in Voyager. That, thankfully, continues to push barriers today.

This purposeful diversity is part of Star Trek’s optimistic ethos. At the franchise’s core is the belief that humanity can be better than we are today. It’s an alternate vision to the dystopia all around us. A vision of the future where we’ve overthrown racism and sexism, eliminating poverty and crime as we go. Greed (or capitalism) is no longer society’s organizing force. Instead, in Star Trek, humanity is a race of peacemakers and explorers who are driven to learn and be better. It’s a glorious vision and one I’ve loved tuning into since I was a child.

Yet, despite its amazing cast, Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t quite embody this worldview. Yes, they talk about the “prime directive” (for those not in the know, that’s not interfering with other societies’ natural progression). And yes, the action takes place within the Federation of Planets, which consists of a variety of different species who’ve all come together in peace as scientists and explorers. But the show itself doesn’t seem to hold these values.

You see the first season is all about Star Fleet’s war with the Klingons. This war was the background for Kirk and crew and Discovery gives us new details. But while I know the Klingons will eventually spawn such strong, relatable characters as Worf and B’Elanna Torres, in Discovery, they’re an ugly, dark race hell-bent on war and destruction. Motivated by nothing other than to fight, they seem wholly evil, an enemy worthy of nothing but death. It’s a trope you see a lot in fantasy and sci-fi (see Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter,etc.) and it’d be fine to fantasize about such clear moral lines if we didn’t also see this same dehumanization used to excuse real-life violence. Look up the argument for using the Atomic Bomb against Japan for an atrocious example.

This lack of nuance fails Star Trek’s core values. Yes, the crew of Discovery (spoiler) ends up staying the Federation’s hand from committing its own atrocity. We even see Burnham give a rousing speech, celebrating Federation values. But the show hasn’t given Klingons the human treatment yet. Instead, it’s let them remain heartless and destruction-bent. I guess we’ll have to wait a century or two to see the beauty in their warrior culture and how they value honor and family above all us.

And that’s not the only example. In the current season, the show (not the characters) fails to have any real curiosity about the universe it’s exploring. In “An Obal for Charon,” the ship meets a 100,000+-year-old orb that is dying and trying to communicate the mysteries of the universe to the crew. However, instead of being interested in this orb’s subjectivity or experience, the show treats it as an obstacle, remaining doggedly fixed on the danger to the crew and mission. This is not Picard’s Enterprise. It’s just action sequence after action sequence, something you can see on countless other shows. It’s got none of the Star Trek sense of wonder at the great unknowns of the universe.

And I could go on. How easily the show moves past Saru forsaking the prime directive in “The Sound of Thunder,” making this literal prime directive into an obstacle too, not an actual moral dilemma. Or that the predator race, the Ba’ul, in that same episode looks like pure evil, a black, dripping, stooping menace, reminiscent of the girl in The Ring. These choices make the show too easy to watch. They keep Discovery from posing any intellectual or moral questions, asking nothing of its viewers but to be along for a ride.

I guess what I’m saying is that Star Trek: Discovery isn’t nerdy enough to be great. I so wish it was. Michael Burnham and crew deserve the complex universe of Picard, Janeway, and Sisco. The one we real people inhabit where choices are not always easy, you can’t tell a bad person from a good one by their appearance, and curiosity in others is not just a passing fancy. Discoveryis just in its second season and will hopefully find some depth soon. If not, there’s always the Michelle Yeoh as Emperor Philippa Georgiou spin-off to look forward to.

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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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