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Eater's Guide to the World

Remember restaurants? I do — even if I haven’t eaten in one since March. I used to love going to fancy and hole-in-the-wall places trying familiar dishes or new foods entirely. It was fun and communal and it’s gone now, thanks Coronavirus. Cooking at home is not the same, no matter how healthy your sourdough starter. Luckily we still have food TV.

Pardon my metaphor but cooking shows are the comfort food of television, both unchallenging and pleasant to consume. Hulu’s Eater’s Guide to the World is all these things but it’s also a vision into what our media would be if it reflected actual reality. You know — if it weren’t so white, so male, so in love with the powers that be.

In Eater’s Guide to the World, Los Angeles is as important as New York, each getting their own episodes and cameos. Latin America takes up two-out-of-the-three trips abroad (it IS the closest) with episodes focusing on Mexico and Costa Rica (and the third, Morocco). In a slight to colonizers everywhere, the show doesn’t even bother with Europe, something those of us with roots in the global south have to cackle at. In this world, cabbies have as much culinary insight as academics. In the New York episode, we spend time at a 24-hour badminton club mostly filled with cab drivers (and one student!) learning about their favorite snacks. And Eater’s Guide to the World takes their late-night gastronomic preferences as seriously as it does Dr. Sharon Suh who appears in the first episode and presents her theory on mindful eating. Both groups get equal time and the same tone, making them of equal interest and giving them the same level of respect.

Eater's Guide to the World
This close-up of a NY empanada makes me want to check my frig and do my nails — not usually impulses I get at the same time!

This is the world I actually live in. It’s delicious and brown and egalitarian. I don’t define a person’s worth by the power, money or accolades they have. Instead, I try to treat everyone with respect, knowing everyone has a story and something to contribute. Now I don’t normally turn to cooking shows for validation of this worldview or political commentary. But as a Latina TV critic, it is rare that I see a mainstream show that makes me feel seen and Eater’s Guide to the World does just that.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. Maya Rudolph is a great narrator but the mix of edgy and earnest lines they stick her with can feel forced. For example, there’s lots of swearing in the show but it doesn’t really do much, just signal that they’re trying to be cool. I mean, I’m an adult — I only notice swearing when it’s trying too hard (and it’s trying too hard here). This attempt at edginess is particularly silly when paired with lines like calling the Costa Rican abuela “95 years young” — talk about cheesy and precious at its worst (even if Rudolph does what she can with it).

Plus, for me, the entire concept of the first episode “Dining Alone in the Pacific Northwest” doesn’t work. You can’t really capture what it’s like to eat alone since by having a film crew there the eater’s not alone, particularly when they’re speaking directly to the camera,. But thankfully, the other themes are compelling (eating on the hood of your car in LA, where to stop on your way to the airport), so go ahead and skip the first episode, circling back if you’re still hungry at the end.

Eater's Guide to the World
Have had this. Would recommend.

Overall, this show’s appealing view of humanity manages to be both sweet and savory (get it? wink, wink). The culinary delights mostly come from POC hands and the white folks that do appear are not more “normal” than their darker counterparts. The implied viewer is adventurous and multicultural, as interested in what drag queens eat after finishing their sets as in lost maiz varieties having a renaissance in Mexico. It’s nice. And it’s a reminder that food is a universal language, one that Eater’s Guide to the World uses to show it is both normal and delicious to be Latina, Black, queer, Asian, etc. ¡Buen provecho!

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Marvel’s Runaways: We Can All Be Heroes

Symbols are tricky. I remember one of my English teachers giving us instructions for a poetry assignment: don’t compare homework to peas just because you didn’t like them both. The similarities need to be deeper. The comparison needs to provide insight. This bit of wisdom is strangely connected to Marvel’s Runaways, Hulu’s recently concluded teen superhero show, because, in the end, their lazy symbolism made the show a miss for me.

The show’s creators were clearly trying to be smart and not make the same mistakes many teen shows have. First, there’s the makeup of the main group: six teens, four girls and two boys. That gender split is rare on any show, let alone in the comic book genre that’s known for its male leads. And gender’s not all — in terms of sexuality and mental health, the show depicted relatable story arcs and likable characters inhabiting a range of identities. Good job. Checkboxes crossed!

Perhaps Runaways’ most meaningful nod to advancing representation is in the race of our six principles. There’s a Japanese-American girl, a black boy, a Latina girl, and a Latina actress playing a white girl in addition to two white, white characters. This diversity reflects the show’s Los Angeles setting which in reality is about half white, 10% Asian, 10% Black, and about half Latinx of any race. The show’s good intentions couldn’t be clearer then when they changed a “Molly Hayes” to “Molly Hernandez” to get that Latina in there.

Molly’s the heart and the muscle of the group

Unfortunately, it’s the execution where the show gets a bit wonky. Take Karolina, the white girl of the group. She’s got long, flowing blond hair and favors hyper-feminine bohemian clothes. A half alien, her superpowers include glowing in a sparkly rainbow gradient, flying, and shooting what looks like light. She grew up as the only child in the first family of the Church of Gibborim and when the church’s members see her in her rainbow glory, they declare her the new messiah. That’s a lot of positive symbolism: light and goodness and you guessed it whiteness all wrapped into one.

And it might have been forgivable if the other blond girl, crossing over from Cloak and Dagger, didn’t also use light as her superpower (while her counterpart is a Black boy who uses… darkness). Similarly, Karolina is paired with Nico, a Japanese American girl who uses witchcraft, a magic staff, and “darkness” to accomplish a range of things from disappearing bad guys to invisibility spells. When Nico’s really in full force, the skin around her eyes turns black and cracked like a midnight desert ground.

In Runaways’ third season, Nico and Karolina break up because Karolina believes the “darkness” is consuming Nico. It’s not a good look to stereotype the Asian character’s power as coming from evil sorcery (in the comic books it’s even worse with Nico’s power growing out of self-harm) and the white character’s power centered around light and God.

Light and darkness kiss (but don’t make grey)

The light/dark dichotomy is the worst but it’s not the only symbolism problem. Take our Latina superhero Molly. Her power is super strength, which is cool but still bases her body as the only tool at her disposal. Why can’t a Latina be more than her physicality? Or consider for a second that the boys don’t actually have superpowers at all. They’re just really smart. Isn’t it a bit weird to have them be so good in the stereotypically-male fields of STEM (one’s a hacker and the other an engineer), that it equates to a superpower, while the girls all get their strengths from their bodies and/or magic?

I don’t love it. And before you say, “well that’s how the comic books were,” let me say that’s nonsense. First of all, they did change things from the original (Molly being Latina, removing the self-harm bit) and they could have gone further. Or, and this is an important one, they could have picked less problematic source material! We’re finally getting comic books from the POC-perspective. Why not make one of them into your next TV show?

The thing is, I want Marvel’s Runaways to succeed even with these issues. I hope Disney+ gives it more seasons after its Hulu cancelation. There’s so much potential — we could learn that Gert is adopted and actually is Latina like the actress who plays her. We could see Nico’s power re-positioned not as darkness but as something else — as was hinted at in the third season when she comes back from studying/learning about magic. We could see brunettes being filled with light and blonds using “darkness.” Hell, we could break away from the whole light-dark colorism nonsense entirely. And if it doesn’t happen on Marvel’s Runaways, it should happen soon on some other show. We can all be heroes. It’s time Hollywood wise up to that fact.

I’ll miss you, friends!

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