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Russian Doll

10 Women-Centered Shows to Watch in 2020

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

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

Call the Midwife

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

The Good Fight

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

Grey’s Anatomy

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

Insecure

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

Killing Eve

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

Pose

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

Russian Doll

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

Shrill

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

Vida

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

Westworld

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

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Our Top 10 Shows of 2019

Our Top 10 Shows of 2019

by Cristina Escobar

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

10. The Good Fight

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

9. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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

8. Undone

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

7. Pose

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

6. Fleabag

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

5. The Good Place

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

4. Russian Doll

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

3. Schitt’s Creek

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

2. Jane the Virgin

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

1. Vida

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

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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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