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Television

Five Hopes for the Third Season of “Charmed”

Are shows starting to film again? The Conners is back in production,The Witcher is filming in London. With so many seasons cut short last TV year, the one show that keeps pulling on my imagination is the CW’s Latinx reboot of Charmed.

The first season of Charmed was fantastic, led by Jane the Virgin showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman. The powers that be didn’t love it though and they rebooted the reboot in the second season with new showrunners, a new setting, and a new vibe. Just one problem — it didn’t work. And I’m not the only one in Charmed fandom who noticed.

That said, the second season was starting to turn around. They were beginning to comment on the stale setting of a co-working space (yawn) by critiquing the extremely wealthy techie who owns it. It turns out that type of power messes you (and the rest of the world) up. There were more nods and interest taken in the Latinx/POC casting with Melissa’s dad Ray becoming a more fleshed-out character. But there’s still a long way to go. So here are some ideas (I’m giving them away for free!) on how to make the third season of Charmed, well, good again:

1. Make it About More

Charmed

I love brujas as much (really a lot more) than just about anyone but the magical universe of Charmed just isn’t enough if it doesn’t acknowledge our current reality. The first season tackled rape culture and identity issues while the second season… didn’t. So for the third season, may I suggest something topical? I’m not usually one to root for Coronavirus programming but Charmed is perfectly set up to handle it. What if the pandemic resulted from the season two collision of the magical world and the human one? Can’t you imagine a Trump-like demon delighting in their destruction? Wouldn’t it be AMAZING to see three brown and Black women save us by working together? Pay attention CW and make my dreams come true!

2. Ditch Abby

Abby of Charmed

Maggie’s ex’s half-sister has to go. Her connection to the Charmed Ones is tenuous (did you follow all those degrees of separation?) and her (love) interest in Harry makes no sense (he’s just boring). She’s not a good foil to “good-girl” Macy either, who has literal demon blood. There’s enough difference between the three sisters — we don’t need a fourth lady in the mix. With her whiteness (she’s so white, she’s British!), Abby takes over, commanding far too much attention. Add in the misogynistic way they portray her bisexuality (here for male consumption!) and there’s nothing redeeming about Abby. I, for one, am ready to say goodbye!

3. Give Harry a Personality

Harry of Charmed

As the stuffy chair of the women’s studies department, Harry had quirks, jokes, and a personality. In season two, he’s got nothing. He doesn’t bake. He has no interests and no back story (his memories have been whipped so I guess there’s some rationale for the lack of complexity…). But the fact that Abby and Macy fight over him is beyond belief. He’s walking white bread. Now a nerdy, good white guy can be fun but he can’t be all earnest looks and skinny jeans. Make Harry have a personality again, perhaps by re-merging him with his dark-lighter and giving him back his memories. That would certainly set him up to be more interesting. Just don’t get confused — he’s not the focus (and take him off the stupid posters while you’re at).

4. Keep Ray Around

Ray of Charmed

I enjoyed Ray’s episode, his role as the well-meaning but fumbling Latino Dad. He brought complexity to Maggie and Mel’s relationship, revealing a bit of their childhood and how they responded differently to the same situation. More than that, it allowed our Latina heroines to relax in the way you only can with your gente. They’re mostly in mixed spaces and while I appreciate that, it’s nice to have some moments with people who know where you’re coming from. Plus, Felix Solis’s comedic timing is just a joy.

5. Focus on the Sisters

Charmed Sisters Hugging

So in conclusion, make Charmed about its three WOC stars. Really that’s it. If the show’s team can acknowledge, understand, and dramatize the ways women of color exist in this world we’ll have compelling TV again. I’m talking badass women who save the world with our natural and supernatural abilities, working together, even as we disagree. If that’s hard for this team to imagine (and it was for the second season’s team, hence all the time spent with Abby and Harry), then hire some new folks! Get some Black and brown women in there. Let us tell our own fairytales already.

This story has been corrected. A previous version mixed up the sisters’ names. All those M’s…

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The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia

I was going to be a scientist. I finished all the math classes available at my public school as a sophomore. I loved physics. It spoke to my nerdy soul. I got to college and registered for the courses. I did well. My professors encouraged me. But then I looked around.

. . .

 

There aren’t exactly a lot of Latina scientists in popular culture. We’re more likely to be portrayed as maids or spicy (profession-less) temptresses. We’ve got Liz Ortecho on Roswell: New Mexico, but remember the character was whitewashed in the original TV version (despite being Latina in the books). We’ve got Callie Torres in Grey’s Anatomy, but in a show full of an ever-changing roster of doctors, one or two Latinas is not enough. One of the sisters, Macy, on the Latinx Charmed reboot is a scientist. She’s played by a Black actress, but it’s something, I guess.

That’s why The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia is important. Ashley isn’t just a Latina scientist, she’s a Doogie-Howser-level scientist, a kid genius who’s more perplexed by the behavior of her fellow teens than breaking barriers in robotics.

. . .

 

The physics program at my college was small. I’d be spending four years with the same dozen kids (less as folks dropped out) pursuing the major. There was one other girl in that group. The boys either couldn’t look me in the eye (nerds) or thought they were God’s gift to womankind (athlete/engineer/hotshots). I wish I’d befriended that other girl. But I was 18 and inexperienced and didn’t (she was perfectly nice). Instead, I tried to fit in with the jocks. Back then, I was enjoying the freedom from my smartypants high school reputation. I wanted to at least try on being cool. It was fun for a while. But it wasn’t me and I knew it couldn’t last.

. . .

 

Ashley Garcia and friends
Look at this friend group! Our girl Ashley is living the dream, a Veronica Lodge with her own show and without the murder

We meet Ashley after she’s graduated. She’s done with school having gotten her Ph.D. and landed her dream job. But we do learn about her time at university and she did better in the friend department than I did. Yes, she founded a club with no other members (“Girls Code” or should it be “Girl Codes”?!?). But was her lack of popularity because of her age, personality, gender, race, or some combination of all of them? We don’t know but we do know she wasn’t always alone.

She had at least one good friend, Ava, who becomes her colleague at JPL and the season one-love interest of her uncle/father-figure. Ava and Ashley don’t get into too much trouble — Ashley’s still never kissed anyone, hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol, despite graduating high school, college, and graduate school. No, these girls do things like make (and perform!) a song about meteorites to explain Ava’s research. It is both very nerdy and very cute. If only I’d been so lucky.

. . .

 

There were no meteorite-related performances for me, although something large-rock-adjacent would have been my type of fun. Being (or trying to be) “cool” limited my options. The nerd boys were probably more interesting, more kind than the set I fell into. But they were too scared to talk to me. If only they could have seen me in my high school band uniform, or watching Star Trek, or even in my glasses instead of contacts. But they didn’t, probably because I hid that part of me. I thought I had to choose.

. . .

 

JPL, Ashley's workplace, is woman-led
Ashley works at a cutting-edge engineering firm with lots of natural light, independence, and women-mentors. If only JPL were real…

Ashley gets to be nerdy and pretty. When I first tuned into the show, I was a bit worried. During the pilot episode, it seems like Ashley is all nerd and like with so much TV that features smart women, we’re supposed to pretend like we don’t see what a beautiful, charismatic girl she is. But by the second episode, they’ve done away with that concept and by the second season, Ashley’s dating the high school quarterback.

Tad is handsome and sweet and racially ambiguous (he says he’s “one-third” Mexican). His reputation as a player and his on-and-off-again dancer girlfriend aren’t enough to keep Ashley away. She gets the prize boy, helping him see himself as more than the handsome jock while he opens the door for her to enjoy teenage stuff like missing curfew. Tad likes her because she’s smart (and also pretty and kind). They go to the dance together, they kiss, he helps organize her surprise quince. What could be a better fantasy?

. . .

 

At some point, I decided I didn’t want science to be my life. I didn’t want to spend my time at college with these people, let alone the rest of my life. I had other loves, other interests. I jumped ship. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I’d kept going, become a physicist. Would I be a professor now? Would I work in a lab? Would I be a trailblazer? Or a burnout?

. . .

 

Ashley with boyfriend Tad
How many shows have you seen where the smart girl gets the quarterback without having to change a single thing about herself? And, she’s a woman of color!

Ashley’s universe is pretty awesome. Her’s is a sanitized version of the teen years — there’s no sex or drugs. At one point, the kids drink soda out of red cups. And they’re of all racial groups without a microaggression insight. Her work life is great as well. There are apparently men at JPL but we don’t hear much from them. Instead, it’s Ava who we see as Ashley’s main co-worker and Dr. Ling as her boss. This is a woman-led engineering firm and I’m here for it.

There is some acknowledgment of the turbulence the rest of us experience. We learn about Tad’s background because he knows all about the Chicano Movement — he had an uncle who wrote for La Raza. And in my favorite episode, season two’s “Failure Is Not An Option,” we see Ashley struggle when her robot isn’t selected for the next space mission. She’s accustomed to always being the smartest one in the room and when she’s not, she reads it as failure. She has no idea how to learn and cope with not being the best. Ashley’s reaction — to assume that there’s something inherently wrong with her, to mope and try to hold it in — is exactly how so many of my accomplished women friends act. Our entire gender’s been socialized to respond this way, to see the regular bumps and bruises of learning as signs that we should give up. Some of us do. I have. Ashley doesn’t.

You see in “Failure Is Not An Option,” Ashley admits that there aren’t a lot of Latinas in her field. And she feels tremendous pressure to represent us, both by being the only one in the room and by holding the door open to the next. Over the course of the episode, Ashley learns that “rebounding from failure is more important than never failing in the first place.” It’s a heartening reminder that real Ashley’s face obstacles, exist, and succeed.

. . .

 

Back in college, I couldn’t imagine a life like Ashley’s — one where I got to be myself and be successful in science. One where picking physics didn’t mean I’d always be alone. I wish I’d had the opportunity to pick between my interests without measuring their gradients of inclusiveness, sexism, diversity, and racism. But I didn’t.

I wonder if it would have been different had The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia been around when I was a kid. Maybe. And I hope it is different now for the young Cristina’s and Ashley’s coming up. Let’s expand the universe for them.

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Straddling Two Worlds in “The Baker and the Beauty”

There’s a lot of talk in The Baker and the Beauty about the “two worlds” our protagonist Daniel Garcia must manage. There’s his Latinx “world” in Little Havana. In it, he’s the oldest son of the humble Garcia family, living above the bakery he’ll one day inherit. The other “world” belongs to celebrity Noa Hamilton and her entourage. That one’s flush with funds, paparazzi, and skinny white folks. As the first season draws to a close, the two worlds seem set on a collision course with Daniel having to choose where he belongs.

Certainly, the difference between a collective and individualistic orientation is in full effect on the show and it’s one of the biggest divides we Latinxs must bridge. Before 2017’s Coco, I’d never watched anything where the value we place on family was seen as a positive. It had always been something to overcome, a needy, demanding family holding the ambitious individual back. Luckily, Latinx representation has come a long way and now we see much more nuanced portrayals of what it means to be in one of our tight-knit families.

On The Baker and the Beauty, that means we see the Garcias fight with and for each other every episode. Middle brother Mateo has to give up his recording session to work in the bakery but his dad eventually builds him a DIY studio when he realizes how serious Mateo is about music. Youngest sibling Natalie comes out as gay and even though her mother has a hard time accepting it, she never stops protecting her daughter. Father Rafael has always dreamed of owning his own cafe and his wife Mari pushes to do it even when he doubts himself. They’re a unit, for better or worse, but mostly for better.

In contrast, Noa is largely alone. We meet her mother and father but they’re not daily presences in her life and both cause her pain. Her real kin is her entourage with manager Lewis serving in the father-figure role. But Lewis is so high strung that, even with his cancer diagnosis, he remains the least sympathetic character on the show. Certainly, people you pay don’t and can’t provide the type of love the Garcias give each other. As Noa’s boyfriend, Daniel has to figure out how to balance his family obligations and keep up with Noa’s me-centered, white life, facing such tough questions as: should he drop his work at the bakery to go with Noa to Morroco?

And, perhaps more importantly, does he shift his ambitions from running the family business to becoming a food personality? In a recent episode, his dad Rafael lambasted that idea, calling Mateo’s years-long commitment to music “a dream” while labeling Daniel’s recent foray into food content “a fantasy.” It stung because of the truth behind it. Daniel’s ambition isn’t just new, it was Noa’s idea, an attempt to bring him closer to her world. It fits her ideal of success — fame, fortune, and status. But what happened to Daniel’s previous definition of “success” — being a meaningful part of his family, both its business and its relationships? And while Rafael is meaningfully pushing against Daniel’s shifting priorities, he is perhaps putting too much value in hard work. Success — whether in music or TV — is as much about your background as it is about talent and dedication.

Luckily, he exists in the world of The Baker and the Beauty, which sees the value in each of us. Noa may be the female romantic lead but the show hasn’t forgotten his ex Vanessa, the Latina real estate agent who proposed to Daniel after four years of dating in the series premiere (he said no). Even though she’s not right for Daniel, Vanessa is beautiful and smart and hardworking. She deserves love and success and the show allows her to have those things without predicating her happiness on Daniel’s or Noa’s. In fact, these two women, the round-the-way girl and the starlet, are equals in character and class even as they represent “two different worlds.”

The thing is, we Latinxs are used to living in “two worlds” (if not more!) as we navigate across our various cultures. As someone wiser than me said, we’re both 100% American and 100% Latinx all the time. Daniel’s case may be extreme but it’s not out of the ordinary and I, for one, am rooting for the “two worlds” talk to end and a more thoughtful exploration of what it means to be bicultural to begin. The Baker and the Beauty is certainly set up to do just that.

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From Dolores to Shirley, Mrs. America Centers the Wrong Story

A stylistic period piece, Mrs. America delves into the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment. Everything about this show oozes beauty, from the perfectly quaffed hair of Phyllis Schlafly’s followers, to Gloria Steinem’s glasses, to Shirley Chisholm’s graphic jacket-dress ensembles, but good television should be about more than just the nostalgia for its time period. And that’s where Mrs. America falls short.

Following the example set by Bombshell, Mrs. America makes the mistake of centering the life and history of a conservative white woman. Don’t get me wrong I love Cate Blanchett and her performance as Phyllis Schlafly is as smart and nuanced as we have come to expect from Blanchett as an actor. I believe the fault lies with the creators of the show and in a way, I can’t even place the blame completely on their shoulders.

In a time where intersectional feminism seems to be at the center of every diversity conversation, t-shirt, and tote bag, many television and movie projects miss the mark. Certainly,  the execution and practice of this theory has a little to be desired. A 2019 study by USC Annenberg found that across a sample of 1,300 films, the number of people of color in lead or co-lead roles was only 17%. And only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the past 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. I doubt when Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectional feminism” she was thinking of tote bags but that’s what it’s been distilled to, disconnected from its original meaning and easy to obtain. 

When there are nine episodes of Mrs. America and only one focuses on a woman of color, is that truly capturing the feminist movement? I argue not only does it miss the mark, it continues to perpetuate a dangerous narrative that feminism is for and by white women. Shirley Chisholm, played beautifully by Uzo Aduba, was not the only woman of color in congress working to pass the ERA. The fact that the show uses Chisholm and two other activists as the token characters delegated to supporting roles as opposed to Cate Blanchett’s Schlafly is, to put it simply, a mistake.

Mrs. America features Flo Kennedy, played by Niecy Nash, and Margaret Sloan-Hunter, played by Bria Samoné Henderson, both important and influential feminist activists. But neither of them receive their own episodes. In fact, the only Black editor at Ms. Magazine, Margaret is the only the second BIPOC character, other than Shirley Chisholm, who has received her own storyline. We watch her ideas get sidelined, questioned, and overlooked as she pitches a story about tokenism in the workplace. Margaret says in the meeting, “This phenomenon that happens where one minority is propped up to cover the experience of an entire population. Like the white population, we are diverse within ourselves.” The ironic part is the creators didn’t take their own message to heart.

The inclusion of Shirley Chisholm, Flo Kennedy, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and other activists show that the writers and creators made a concerted effort to try to avoid the “white feminist” narrative pot hole. But inclusion is not enough. Feminism was founded, built, and created by queer women of color and non-binary people. To not center them in a show about the ERA feels like taking one step forward while realizing you’re on the wrong escalator.

This point is only affirmed when looking at IMDB’s list of the eleven writers and directors on the show. Only three are Black, with no Latinx or Asian writers or directors listed. This doesn’t surprise me. We know when there are diverse voices behind the camera, stories become more nuanced in their diversity. To not include Dolores Huerta, a Latina activist who helped lead the feminist movement including working with Gloria Steinem in the 60’s, continues the erasure of Latinx people in the feminist movement. To not include Patsy Matsu Takemoto, the first woman of color and first Asian-American congresswoman elected (who also helped pass Title IX and Women’s Education Equity Act in 1974), continues the erasure of Asian American people in the feminist movement. To not center Shirley Chisholm in every episode, instead of Phyllis Schlafly, continues the erasure of Black people in the feminist movement. These choices show us how far we have to go and who still holds the power. Because if Shirley Chisholm isn’t the iconic embodiment of what feminism should be, I don’t know what is.

If we are going to create shows and films to tell the untold story of the feminist movement, we need to include all feminists. Take the opportunity and challenge to show how diverse feminism is. Show the struggle that women of color and queer people went through to be accepted by the white feminist movement. These are the stories that should be front and center now. Intersectionality isn’t a fleeting theme, it’s a lens to see the invisible, to understand what’s really going on today and how we got here. Everyone who holds the strings to our culture should be using it to create media. Otherwise, we just end up with another useless metaphorical tote bag.

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Brown People Deserve More Stories About Grief

People like to believe grief is far away. A dramatic and inevitable part of our existence to avoid talking or thinking about. It’s one of those unfortunate things people simply get to when they “get there.” But this is often not the case. Especially for Devi Vishwakumar, the high school heroine of Mindy Kaling’s new show on Netflix Never Have I Ever. During an orchestra performance, Devi’s father suddenly collapses and passes away from a heart attack. A week or so later, Devi loses the feeling in her legs. Three months later, when trying to check out her high school crush Paxton Hall-Yoshida, she gets the feeling back — just in time for sophomore year. Determined not to be labeled a weirdo, Devi throws herself into a school years resolution: to have a boyfriend, become cool, and have sex. What looks like another high school rom-com with yet another 20-something man playing a teen heartthrob in a jeep, Never Have I Ever is more than meets the eye.

We all know the traditional architecture of a teen love story. A teen in an unfortunate state of uncoolness is always our hero. They become romantically involved with someone “out of their league” for reasons that boil down to 25% coincidence, 25% cool new lewks/ makeover, 25% group projects, and 25% detention. This reason or reasons eventually brings our two lovebirds together with a make-out scene to the bop of the moment. Every film, from the casually sexist/racist John Hughes’ pictures to the 90’s high school classics follows this narrative.

Don’t get me wrong I love this genre, having grown up with it as a 90’s baby but there’s a limit to what these characters can hope to achieve. From Ali Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club to even Julia Stiles’s feminist Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, rom-com heroines may try to be less girly or traditionally “feminine,” but they still end up inside the boy-meets-girl cliché. Kat graduating high school and getting into Sarah Lawerence isn’t the central accomplishment of 10 Things I Hate About You, her getting together with Heath Ledger is. And no, the exploration of Ali Sheedy’s weirdness and emo tendencies isn’t the foundation of Breakfast Club, it’s merely a hurdle she overcomes to end up with Emilio Estevez.

While romantic love is a central storyline of Never Have I Ever, it’s not what drives the story forward and it isn’t at the core of Devi’s psyche. It’s not what makes her tick and it’s not what we’re primarily looking for her to explore and cope with. Instead, the death of Devi’s dad anchors the show. Through flashbacks and dreams, we see the memories of Devi with her father and how they motivate her to question the choices she makes. Through the eyes of Niecy Nash, who plays Devi’s therapist, we learn about what triggers her grief and how she continues to acknowledge its existence and effect on her.

Now grief and loss have been explored before in teen movies and shows whether it’s Fault In Our Stars or A Walk to Remember. In these films, a young couple falls in love like in a traditional romantic comedy. However as the end of the film nears one of the characters loses the new love-of-their-life due to cancer (or some other terminal illness), ending and cementing their romances in a modern Romeo and Juliet-esque love story.

While these stories do have a place in film and in some personal experiences, they don’t give grief the attention and examination it deserves. As the incomparable Joan Didion articulates “Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be.” Never Have I Ever gives grief the space it deserves. The show effortlessly displays the waves of emotion that come with losing a loved one and the unexpected ways loss manifests itself in our lives and psyche. And that grief is okay. Through Devi’s experiences, we see how differently people express and process grief like Devi and her mother, Nalini. We see the pressure people are put under to show and perform grief in a specific way, when Nalini and Devi attend Ganesh Puja. The advice people try to give to comfort and instruct those who are grieving are familiar and show how little we know about grief itself and how to support others through it. In the teen-terminal-love stories, the majority of the films are built around characters finding love, falling in love, and finally losing love soon after the film ends. This is where Never Have I Ever begins. Instead of leading up to death, the show delves into what happens after the funeral and tear jerking eulogies, what happens when people stop calling.

In Never Have I Ever, not only do we get to see grief, we get to see a brown girl grieving her father. Many teen films show white people dealing with grief — very rarely if ever is this shown through the eyes of people of color. And if we do get to grieve, it is usually an exploitative, stereotypical storyline. In the Lantix community, we see many stories that feature grief but it’s often around immigration or senseless gang violence, things so many people can write off as “never going to happen to me.” Brown people deserve to have our grief normalized, to see what’s like for us to lose a loved one, as we did with Coco (although one movie is never enough). In many Brown and minority communities, whether it’s dealing with grief or mental health, there is often a stigma. Never Have I Ever does that — it gives us an honest narrative about a brown girl dealing with loss.

Grief is one of the more inevitable facets of the human experience and we don’t talk about it enough. Our storytelling mediums — TV, film, even books — don’t prepare young people to understand what it looks or feels like. And they certainly don’t teach how to support those experiencing it. Grief is tough to dramatize — it isn’t something that happens all at once or that ends once someone is gone. It lingers, hitting us in the subtleties of our daily lives. And more often than not, it’s not a doomed tragic love story, but a difficult part of life. But that’s why we need these stories even more and I thank Mindy Kaling for giving us one that is honest, funny, and beautifully human.

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The Emancipation of ‘Station 19’s’ Andrea Herrera

I’ve been rooting for Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Station 19. It’s not just that I love being in the Grey’s universe, having watched all 16 seasons and counting. Hell, I even went so far as to watch all of Private Practice. It’s also that the fire-fighting drama stars a Latina in Jaina Lee Ortiz as Andrea “Andy” Herrera. In case you didn’t know, Latinas are the least represented on-screen when compared to our population numbers. So when the rare opportunity to see someone who looks like me on TV pops up, I tune in.

And Ortiz is fun to watch. She’s charismatic and strong, the best firefighter in her battalion because of her smarts and experience. But Station 19 doesn’t seem to know what to do with her and the rest of her attractive cast. Yes, they enact Grey’s signature bed-hopping and love triangles but without the chemistry of that show’s couples. There’s the crisis-of-the-week too but somehow the fires on Station 19 aren’t as high stakes or suspenseful as the surgeries on Grey’s, even when the patients cross over.

All of which has solidified Station 19 as relatively mediocre TV, that is until the run-up to the season three finale. The show’s finally let Andy free in all her Latina glory. There have been nods to her culture in the past — my personal favorite was just how long it took for her to move out of her Dad’s house (we Latinos often live with our parents until marriage). But nothing like the concentration we’ve gotten in these last few episodes.

It started with “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” a mental-health themed episode that sees the fantastic Tracie Thoms come in as the station’s trauma counselor (request: can we have her every week?). In this episode, we learn of Andy’s salsa dancing past and watch her declare her love for Captain Robert Sullivan. Seeing her express herself through dance and have it work as a metaphor for these lovers’ passion was really something.

Next up was “No Days Off,” an episode that’d make AOC proud, comparing ICE to Nazis. In it, Andy, Sullivan, and her dad Pruitt debate immigration policy before intervening to help an undocumented worker. Sullivan, who is one of the show’s many Black characters, takes the hardest stand against ICE, letting the Latinx Herreras not be defined by the issue.

And all of this was leading up to Pruitt Herrera’s death, a truly momentous event for Andy. Her dad has been battling terminal cancer all season and when a fire-fighting effort goes awry, sacrifices what time he has left to save his daughter and her fellow fight fighters. In doing so, Pruitt proves himself to be the ultimate man of character, the Latino dad who’ll do anything for his family, biological and chosen.

Since then, we’ve been dealing with his death and Andy’s decision to marry Sullivan quickly and secretly so her dad could walk her down the aisle. By jumping from the care of one man (her dad) to the care of another (Sullivan), Andy’s never really been her own woman. She followed her dad into fire fighting and served under his leadership. She had some dalliances before coupling up with her station chief, but not many (not that her dad didn’t judge her sexual decisions harshly). In this, Andy’s the good Latina daughter, passed neatly from father to husband, sexual adventures brushed aside. The complication is that Andy’s beginning to question her decision and now has no Dad to talk to about it. If Sullivan is the type of guy who announces their relationship to their colleagues without Andy’s permission (as he did in a recent episode of this season) or that listens to Andy’s father about when she’s ready for a promotion rather than to Andy (as TWO men have done in three seasons so far), he may not be the guy for our girl. We don’t want another patriarch, however handsome and good-intentioned, trying to control Andy.

I’m rooting for her to chart her own course. That may be with Sullivan if she gets him to respect her and see her as an equal but more likely it’ll be without him. I’d love to see her, finally, in the leadership position, she’s been after and clearly earned. Mostly, I want to see her chase her own destiny and continue the legacy of Shonda Rhimes heroines like Meredith and Cristina, who didn’t let parents or lovers get in their way. Only then will Station 19 finally start living up to its potential.

This piece has been corrected. A previous version incorrectly identified the penultimate episode.

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Sex and Intelligence: ‘Vida’ Is Simply The Best

Season three of Vida premieres Sunday, April 26 on Starz. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Usually, shows about sex aren’t sexy. Remember HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, ostensibly dissecting the sex lives of three couples but managing to suck all the sexiness out of it? Or 2004’s Kinsey about the science of sex and how little we really know about it? Or middle school health for that matter? It turns out that analyzing sex can be like analyzing a joke — if you start explaining why it’s funny, it’s just not anymore.

But Tanya Saracho’s Vida manages to have insightful, smart things to say about sex, sexuality, and sexual politics while also being just plain hot. The result is quite possibly the best show on television — and certainly the one I’ll miss the most if no one steps in to make more episodes after Starz finishes running the third season. Make no mistake, the third season is just as good as the first two, finishing with enough of a conclusion to give the characters justice while keeping us wanting more.

What can we say? Latinas make the best content

But back to sex. The whole show can be read as a treatise on the subject with each character having her own Awakening-esque arc. Let’s start with activist Marisol, in some ways, the woman with the most traditional story. You know the one — girl tries to be “good,” takes care of her family, works hard, doesn’t have sex. But it doesn’t matter. For Mari, you could say the trouble starts when a video of her giving head makes the rounds (one she did not consent to film). As you’ll see in the third season, despite being her father’s nurse and caretaker, she’s left out of the will with the property going solely to her brother Johnny. It’s not right, but it’s a reminder that even women who play by the patriarchal rules lose.

The typical telling of this story would end there, Marisol powerless and betrayed, another victim. But not in Vida. Mari doesn’t just accept her father’s wishes, instead pushing Johnny to be added to the deed. She also pushes herself and her activism, even breaking with Los Vigilantes, her collective action group. Marisol isn’t defined by her “V-card” — it’s perhaps the least interesting thing about her.

Mari and Johnny are skeptical of the patriarchy

On the other end of the spectrum is Lyn — if Mari’s the virgin, Lyn’s the “whore,” the one wearing see-through dresses, the body of a yoga instructor, and a healthy sexual appetite. The image of Johnny eating her out in the premiere is forever etched into my memory. And so is the orgy. And a few other steamy Lyn moments. For, before dedicating herself to the bar, her sexuality was her greatest asset, getting rich men to provide for her. And it worked — she bought fabulous clothes and had amazing experiences. Until it didn’t. Lyn’s journey is away from the sexist ideal of womanhood to something more individual, more self-realized.

In season three, she rejects ex-boyfriend Juniper’s offer at reconciliation and eventually gives up on being Councilman Rudy’s polished partner. She focuses on making the bar the destination for Latinx culture and she’s good at it, booking the right acts and cultivating a certain aesthetic. The transition is subtle and on-going — there’s still plenty to learn but Lyn finds a way to be sex-positive without defining herself by a man or the ability to acquire the male gaze. Just don’t expect her to turn away from sex, romance, or love any time soon. In sex-positive Vida, Lyn’s sexual escapades are just part of finding herself and finding her way. No slut-shaming here.

And outside of patriarchy’s narrative of women’s sexuality is Emma. Her queerness is not defined by boxes or labels but that doesn’t make it idyllic. She struggles to connect, even when a great partner (Nico!) is right in front of her. Her sexual escapades are just (if not more?!?) hot than Lyn’s, whether it’s bath time with Nico, masturbating at her mom’s house, or fucking the contractor. Emma’s sexuality proves you can go your own way, but it won’t be easy.

Name a hotter couple, we dare you

So often, women’s sexuality is portrayed from the man’s point of view — who’s hot, who’s not, who gets their search for pleasure narrated and who’s goes unnamed. Vida doesn’t just reject the male gaze. It creates a new narrative around desire, one that sees Eddy as desirable as Lyn, Emma’s quest for romantic love as important as Marisol’s fight for her community. That Vida does so with a tantalizing sex scene practically every episode is simply proof that lust doesn’t have to center on the male desire, it too can be feminist.

A show that has this much to say about latinidad, gentrification, class, and colorism would usually be described as “serious” or “important.” It would be for auteurs and Latinx, preferably the limited subsection that is the intersection of those two groups. And Vida is these things but it’s more than that. It’s sexy and smart and for everyone. And I will miss it.

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‘Roswell’ is Fun and That’s All I Want Right Now

Every TV show does not need to be a complex piece of art. Ten years ago, we didn’t expect TV would have anything profound to say about the human condition. We believed the role of the “boob tube” was to offer an escape, titillation maybe, some time when our brains could turn off. Now, I like ‘prestige’ TV as much as the next, but there’s still a time and a place for TV that simply entertains.

And that time is now (thanks Coronavirus!). I just want to escape to where the stakes are low, the people are beautiful, and I don’t have to think too hard. For white people, there are a lot of these shows (I’d argue a whole channel worth of them on CBS). For the rest of us, the options are limited: the quirky friend on a white-centered ensemble show, too few seasons of brown drama before it gets canceled, the pressure to represent an entire community in just one sitcom…

Luckily, the CW’s Roswell, New Mexico avoids all of those traps. The show stars Jeanine Mason as Liz Ortecho, a 20-something scientist who returns to her podunk hometown and somehow gets enwrapped in a mystery involving her family, aliens, and a government conspiracy. The tone is light and fun and mirrors the viewing experience. This isn’t the X-Files where the future of the whole human race and reality-as-we-know-it is at stake. No, these aliens are (mostly) friendly and just trying to get home (like E.T.!).

Look, dorky white aliens at prom!

It is so soothing to watch a Latina heroine star in a show where the aliens are white and from outer space! It’s not just that the word “alien” has been weaponized against us, it’s also that BIPOC too often get cast in these roles — making us both others and erasing the ways our actual skin and heritage show up. Think Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy or Avatar, Lupita Nyong’o in Star Wars. They play aliens who are not visibly brown or black but who are decidedly not human, allowing these films to claim diversity without actually having to deal with. It’s not a good look and Roswell wholeheartedly rejects this option, making the white characters the others, the outsiders, the not-humans. It’s sci-fi from the BIPOC perspective and I’m here for it.

And that’s not the only way Roswell delivers politically while staying true to its escapist nature. Yes, the Ortecho patriarch doesn’t have his papers and yes, there’s a quasi race-war happening in Roswell, but the show doesn’t go too deep on that. Its takeaway is more “racists are hypocritical trash” than “let’s examine the dynamics of discrimination in America.” And it’s not just race — the villain on the show is the homophobic dad who beat his son (and hunts aliens) and the bad boy heartthrob is bi and equally appealing to both sexes. Even when the show does abortion, the stakes are clear: the show supports Lily Cowles’s Isobel Evans-Bracken’s decision to terminate as it dramatizes why we need better access to abortion. What a breath of fresh air!

Coincidentally there’s not just one Latinx character, but many, each one attractive with a cool job (doctor! scientist! restaurant-owner!). Scene after scene in Roswell, people with beautiful, big brown eyes look soulfully at each other as they speechify about their predicaments. Liz does this a lot as does her (spoiler) resurrected sister Rosa (Amber Midthunder). On the male side, hunky doctor (and Liz-ex) Michael Trevino as Kyle Valenti gets a lot of use out of his shiny big eyes (and biceps!) as does his cousin (sings “we know you get plenty of them”) Tyler Blackburn as vet Alex Manes. But they’re not hypersexual, not more “curvy,” “exotic,” or “spicy” than their peers. If anything, Liz and her peers are the girls (and guys) next door, the ones we relate to and root for. It’s delightful!

The show’s use of nostalgia makes it all the more comforting. Roswell, New Mexico is ostensibly set in the current day but has plenty of throwbacks to its late nineties, early aughts roots from an alt-rock soundtrack (I haven’t heard this much Counting Crows in a LONG TIME) to the characters pension for statement belts and dark lipstick. Roswell plays with time, managing to be both a teen’s idea of what adulthood will be like and an adult’s remembrance of the innocence of teenhood. There’s a scene where two characters hook up, exclaiming how great it is to be an adult (unlike every real adult ever — we just complain). Likewise, the characters on Roswell are still crushing on who they went to prom with (or wish they had) — imagine if life was really that simple! Certainly, when I was listening to the Counting Crows, I didn’t know how much more complicated it’d get.

Is it though? Is it really?

Roswell is just fun, making the most out of its over-the-top sci-fi romance premise. I mean for the first half of the second season, our romantic lead (Nathan Parsons as Max Evans) is mostly dead (and so slightly alive!), waiting for his girlfriend and siblings to operate on his hurt alien heart. Is that a metaphor or what? Don’t overthink it — it’s just as deep as it sounds. TV like Roswell reminds us that it doesn’t have to be exceptional all the time and neither do we. Not in our regular lives, not in our viewing habits, not as Latinxs, not during a global pandemic. Let’s all just breathe out. And watch the hot BIPOC actors on Roswell (love that cameo by Gaius “Smash Williams” Charles) fall in love, make scientific breakthroughs, and wear silly outfits. It’s as good a way as any to spend your self-isolation.

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Ugly Betty Has the Beauty We Need Now

For the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky (and privileged) enough to shelter with my family. Every night, we’ve huddled in my parents’ room and watched our favorites: Cinderella (the one produced by Whitney Houston starring Brandy, the only version that matters) Pride and Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Eyle, also the only version that matters), Anne of Green Gables (the 1980s version, obviously), and finally, the one and only Ugly Betty, starring America Ferrera.

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Ugly Betty has always been more than a show to me. From her braces to her wavy, frizzy hair to her well-intentionally bold yet slightly off-putting wardrobe, America Fererra’s Betty Suarez was, like no Latina I’d ever seen, simply herself. A Latinx girl with bookish tendencies, a never-ending work ethic, and a love of writing. Of course, I’d seen Jennifer Lopez, Selma Hayak, and Jessica Alba on screen but I viewed these women as wildly out of my league. With their perfect hair, curvy yet athletic figures, and horas that practically dripped sex, these women more closely resembled figments of Hollywood’s imaginary Latinas than myself or any of the women I know. And while they were certainly hot, they lacked dynamic storylines and any true autonomy, usually playing the maid or sexy alternative love interest.  

Ugly Betty is wonderfully different, and something I had never seen on television. It centers a woman who rejects the Latina stereotype, a character who’s value isn’t in her sexuality, who embraces her Latinx identity and individual quirks, even if it means wearing a poncho from Guadelajara. And Ugly Betty didn’t just give one way to be Latinx. Between Betty, her sister Hilda, her nephew Justin, Justin’s father Santos, her father Ignacio, and Sofia (Selma Hayak’s character), these roles break the mold Hollywood too often uses for Latinx characters. A mold that continues to limit how others see us and how we see ourselves.

It’s been 10 years since the show’s finale, and while the outfits and some of the references are definitely outdated (sorry low-rise jeans, never again) Ugly Betty is as relevant as ever. More than just a character, Betty forces us as viewers to question the hypocrisy of a world, and especially a workplace, obsessed with consumption and completely lacking in substance. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence Betty wears a poncho on her first day to work. A traditional piece of clothing from Latin America that has not only been used to stereotype the Latinx community but also has recently been subverted into a fashion must have. By wearing her poncho, Betty exposes the deceptive rules the Latinx community navigates of where and when our culture is appreciated or ridiculed. The beauty and ingenuity of Ugly Betty is that the show plays with these norms with humor and authenticity. As her nephew Justin says in the first episode, “All the stuff you want to do, owning a magazine, doesn’t happen for people like us, unless you’re JLo or something.” But Betty finds a way to succeed without becoming a Latina bombshell or undergoing one of those horrifying now-they’ll-see-me-and-take-me-seriously makeovers – and that’s a story that deeply resonates today.

This world view, this continued freshness isn’t an accident. Ugly Betty was written and developed by two Latinx writers, including the late brilliant Silvio Horto, and produced by both Selma Hayak and America Ferrera. It is only when we are given the opportunity to tell our own stories that we are able to expand how stories are told about ourselves and our communities. Ugly Betty paved the way for more inclusive dynamic television proving that diversity shouldn’t be an afterthought. The fact is when you put people of color in front and behind the camera you simply get good television. Television with characters that are authentic complex and make other characters cis white ones like Mode’s Editor in Chief Daniel Meade even more interesting. 

But what makes Ugly Betty so wonderful and great for this moment in time is how it centers goodness. Much of the message of the first season is about the value of family, character transformations (except for Betty), and the value of just being nice. In season one, Betty’s positive spirit and general goodness infiltrate the capitalist, shallow world of a fashion magazine. And without a ridiculous makeover or shopping montage, Betty reforms her misogynist boss into a self-aware ally that supports her. The truth is Betty doesn’t conform to the world she lives in, she subverts it. 

While many of us are sheltering in place and worried about our loved ones, it feels good to watch a show where the heroine wins. Where characters get rewarded by simply being nice and to watch TV that doesn’t demonize, tokenize, or scapegoat immigrants. Instead in Ugly Betty the message is simple be who you are and don’t change, just wait for others to catch up.  

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How Will the Rona Infect TV?

With everything going on, it can seem pretty silly to care about TV. But here I am, daydreaming about my shows. Like the rest of the nation, Hollywood is shut down for the foreseeable future — meaning if an episode wasn’t already shot, who knows when it’ll happen. But it’s not just a question of when, it’s also a question of how. What will the effect of the Rona be on TV? Will shows incorporate it into their plotlines? Do we want them to? We at latinamedia.co aren’t sure but we’ll be exploring what to watch during and after this crisis.

Certainly, medical shows a la Grey’s Anatomy will have to do a Coronavirus arc. How could a hospital drama possibly resist? And for Grey’s, they can’t let dramatic medical news go to waste. I can only imagine how hard it is to come up with new theatrics for our favorite surgical department after sixteen seasons and here’s an unprecedented health tragedy falling in their laps. My only question is if it’ll be one episode or one season. Really, Meredith, Bailey, and the team could do so much.

Outside of hospital shows, family sitcoms are well situated to write about this time. One Day At A TimeBlack-ish, and The Simpsons, shows that already take place in the living room know how to squeeze drama out of the domestic. Watching our favorite TV families exploring what it’s like to be stuck at home for who knows how long could be therapeutic. At least, I’d expect some good laughs as Lydia runs out of makeup or Bo teaches everyone how to wash their hands (again). There’s joy as well as fear for those of us privileged enough to self-isolate and I’d like to watch my favorite TV families laugh and love and cry through it.

And of course, there’s the political show. Since Trump took office, many shows have failed to match the absurdity of reality, their out-of-this-world plots suddenly seeming tame in comparison to the actual headlines. The exception is The Good Fight — they’ve satirized and weaponized the Trump Administration’s failure to great effect, finding ridiculousness and humor throughout. Imagine Riddick Boseman suing the federal government for more ventilators. Defending the mostly brown and black people who will fall victim to the disease. Continuing to lampoon the failures of the White House, just now with a Coronavirus spin.

As great as that would be, the genre I think that’ll give us the most insight into our current predicament is science fiction. Hear me out. Remember when Battlestar Galactica did a whole season on the occupation in Iraq? It had more to say than most ripped-from-the-headlines plots because it was able to take on the whole story, unencumbered by the details. Instead, it focused on the human costs and the emotional reactions. And it totally worked.

So who will be able to comment meaningfully on this moment? My hopes are with dark and nuanced shows. Maybe the fourth season of Westworld could do it. It could be a computer virus or a biological one (or one the jumps from humans to robots). It could unite the two groups and divide them, creating new castes of those with the disease and those without. It could ask what is the moral way to respond and how much should we sacrifice for the herd (the eternal question around Maeve and her daughter). It could ask what we are willing to change and who we are willing to collaborate with. And it could continue to expose who is valued and who is treated as expendable — the show’s true forte.

There’s something about the fictional future that seems best able to handle our unprecedented present. Let’s just hope we get there.

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