Tag:

Television

Watching and Loving the White, Male “Stranger Things”

Stranger Things is a white, male show. Yes, one of the original four boys is black, and yes, there are strong female characters, and yes, for the first time in season three we got a character who is BOTH black and a girl, but the fact remains — this is a show that centers the white, male experience. I don’t normally watch shows like this. I generally prefer to hear from women and people of color — voices vastly underrepresented in media. This tendency helps me narrow down the overwhelming options that are TV today and ensures I’ll be spending my time on the most interesting shows anyway.

Yet, there I was, gobbling up the third season of Stranger Things as quickly as I could (four nights in my case). And while the show is undeniably white and male, they’ve clearly done some thinking around how to be better on diversity.

First, there’s the addition of Erica, Lucas’ 10-year-old sister, as one of our child heroes. If you haven’t watched the most recent season yet, you may remember her from season two — she had several scene-stealing appearances. In season three, she joins our adventurers in saving the world, playing a pivotal part in figuring out what’s going in Hawkins. And while actress Priah Ferguson is amazing, leaving more of an impression than many of her older colleagues, there’s something in Erica’s role as the fast-talking, “sassy” black girl that made me uncomfortable — it’s a bit too close to stereotype for comfort.

See what I mean about the sass?

Meanwhile, her brother Lucas gets to be more of a whole person (perhaps because he’s not saddled with being both a girl and a person of color). That said, there were several times when he literally faded into the shadows, his face so poorly lit in the line up of boys that I couldn’t distinguish his features. Perhaps they should hire some of the folks who do lighting for Insecure to help out… And of course, there’s also the issue that Asian and Latinx folks exist, but still, I noticed and appreciated the effort!

Not just race, the creators of Stranger Things are also working on their portrayal of gender. This season featured two episodes directed by a woman (last season had one — the Eleven bottle-episode and the first season had none). Plus, Eleven and Max finally became friends instead of rivals, a truly annoying and unnecessary plot point in season two.

It turns out girls are not natural enemies — thanks Stranger Things!

In season three, we get more girl characters and more who are two-dimensional. Eleven is no longer a genderless creature, a girl in name only. She not only presents more feminine (she’s got hair) but also is figuring out what it means to be a different “species” than her boyfriend Mike and his friends. That journey includes a totally 80’s makeover-at-the-mall sequence, which is positively delightful (although where does she get the money for all those new clothes?). And she gets to kiss her boyfriend, create a “new look,” and make a female friend all while still being the most important of the kids, the one who stands in front of the gang and fights the monster, the one who everyone must protect even as she is the only one who can hold off the forces of darkness.

On the grown-up side, Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers is still the only woman involved in the adventure and her primary weapon remains her mom-ness. Yet, this time it’s not just her knowledge of her kids and drive to protect them that makes her important. She’s able to use those same skills outside the house (how novel!) to demand she gets what they need, whether it’s help from the government or our local Russian-speaking conspiracy theorist. Definitely progress from taping together drawings on her living-room floor.

And we meet Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley in the third season, a girl who’d have no place in previous seasons. Her hair’s a bit greasy and she’s got indie sensibilities, having played in band in high school and been invisible to her now coworker, Steve “the Hair” Harrington. But she’s down for adventure and good with languages, so much so that she breaks the Russian code and generally becomes crucial to our saga. At first, it seems like she’s just a lesson for Steve — shouldn’t he have gone for the girl who is smart and cool and right in front of him all along? But then (spoiler coming!) when he finally realizes his mistake and makes his move, Robin lets him down gently. Turns out she’s gay! And with that twist, she becomes not an object of Steve’s development but rather her own person, eventually helping our popular if pedestrian young man find employment after the mall “burns” down.

The other teenage girl (and Steve’s previous love interest), Nancy Wheeler, doesn’t do quite so well on bucking the gender stereotypes. She’s the most feminine of all our leading ladies consistently in skirts and heels. She fights misogynists at work and monsters in her free time but the way she’s shot makes her look small and fragile, despite being in a show mostly populated by actual children. Nancy’s not powerless — she’s right about her story idea and does the most damage with a gun of anyone this season, including the chief of police — but her power seems limited by femaleness (and her boyfriend always trying to save her) rather than stemming or even just free from it (like the rest of the female cast).

How many times have you seen this shot?

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to love about Stranger Things. Of course, there’s the 80’s nostalgia (I had that radio! I’d wear that dress today!) and all the great movie references, bringing us elder Millenials and Gen X’ers back to our childhoods. But more than that, Stranger Things is primarily a story of underdogs winning and who doesn’t love that?

I’m not talking about how the kids are nerds — watching from 2019, we know that 80’s nerds become today’s power players — I’m talking about how the kids are kids. There may be superpowers involved but the young people at the center of Stranger Things are exactly where they should be developmentally. They’re learning what it means to have romantic relationships, to grow out of childhood interests (so sad that Dungeons and Dragons scene), to have first jobs, and try on new identities. And they’re not all doing it at the same pace or in the same way as each other.

Stranger Things takes childhood seriously. The friendship between Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will is as important as anything else on the show. In fact, they succeed only because they are children: they need Erica’s smallness, adult’s underestimation, and their own, childhood ability to believe and imagine to survive.

It’s rare to see young people taken so seriously in media and Stranger Things really does it right by letting its kids grow. These aren’t characters stuck perpetually in a single grade, they’re actual people transitioning from being children to teenagers to adults. The show lets this change breathe, seeing it as an opportunity to explore new dynamics and possibilities rather than a wrinkle in its original premise.

The result is a unique narrative, one that expands who can be a hero, who’s worthy of our attention, and who deserves to have their story told. And this quality, this loosening of the adult-white-male hegemony over our imagination, is, as it turns out, what draws me to most of the media I consume. So I guess, that’s why I binged Stranger Things and why I’ll be one of the millions waiting for the next season. Yes, it’s white and it’s male but that’s not all it is.

Who’s ready for season four?
FacebookTwitter
Queer Eye’s Deanna Munoz is a Tearful Portrait of What it Means to Be Latina Today

Queer Eye is delightful in its ability to make life look simple. A haircut, wardrobe refresh, and a new recipe can transform someone into the best version of themself.

But we all know life outside of reality television is not so simple. Our families are complicated. Our politics are complicated. Our country is complicated. And new apparel curated by the nearly perfect human that is Tan France and his beautiful silver hair can’t change that.

When the first Latina on Queer Eye was introduced, I saw a person I knew but whose story rarely gets the spotlight. Deanna Munoz is a hard-working, intelligent, family-centered Chicana creating a community for artists and creatives in Kansas City as the founder of the Latino Arts Festival.

As a second-generation Mexican-American and a woman balancing two cultures, many of Deanna’s insecurities matched my own. I immediately resonated with her as she explained how she feels in the kitchen with her mother in law — intimidated. These are the feelings I’ve dealt with as a Latina but are rarely addressed on TV, much less to a mainstream audience on Netflix.

Likewise, I resonated with Deanna’s embarrassment as she explained that she couldn’t speak Spanish because of her father’s desire to assimilate. When I was young, I remember hiding in the bathroom as my grandparents talked with their friends because I was so embarrassed I couldn’t speak Spanish.

As I watched Deanna update her wardrobe with Tan and get a new haircut from Jonathan, it was touching to watch someone who had given so much get time for herself too. And not just time for herself, but also a new space for her community. As I watched Bobby take Deanna through her new community center, I cried to see a woman’s dreams come true.

However it was Karamo’s segment that connected me back to reality. Deanna shared with Karamo that she didn’t feel accepted by her predominantly white neighborhood so he set up one of his infamous therapeutic sessions: having her go door to door to introduce herself and talk about the Latino Arts Festival.

Before the exercise, Deanna reveals some of her neighbors have been more than just cold. She tells Karamo when her husband was landscaping their own yard, one of her neighbors sent a message to her husband, mocking him with “the Mexicans were building their own wall.”

It was a difficult episode to watch. While I was happy that Queer Eye choose Deanna as one of their heroes, watching her knock on each neighbor’s door was heartbreaking. Because this is what most Latinos have to do today to connect beyond our own community: we have to make the case for existing.

Instead of just being welcomed in her community, Deanna had to prove to her neighbors that she was worthy of being included. It was particularly difficult in this political moment. The shooting in El Paso. Donald Trump telling Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — all US citizens — to “go back” to their countries. While violent racism is no longer a surprise, it is still very, very wrong. And I am tired of all the reminders that racist acts, even at their clearest and most pointed, are ignored and excused by everyone from the President to our neighbors.

This episode perfectly showed the limits of Queer Eye. I would love it if all of our conflicts could be solved in an hour montage full of empathy, joy, and understanding. But even a Jonathan haircut and a makeover with Tan cannot hide our country’s past and increasingly polarizing dynamic.

There is a reason that Jonathan suggests dialing her hair back to be more “polished” and why Tan suggests a more “sophisticated” work look. It’s because for many Mexican Americans, our culture has been written off as “not serious” or “working-class” instead of what it is — an expression of our identity and where we come from.

As immigrants, we still have to prove our humanity. We are forced to go door to door, neighbor to neighbor to ask for acceptance because we know people will not give us the benefit of the doubt. When Deana shares her difficult experiences, one neighbor sympathetically replies “I didn’t know you were feeling that way.” It’s this reality that many of us start with, that racism and exclusion is often the last thing a white family might think about. We have to share stories of our trauma, our families, and our hard work to been seen — something most white Americans can’t even fathom.

Deanna’s experience on Queer Eye is a reflection of how far our country still has to go. I dream of a day where we won’t have to share images of children crossing the border or huddling in detention centers or gunned down at Walmart. That just the mention of children or simply people in need would be enough. A time when Deanna doesn’t have to introduce herself to every neighbor on the block, a time where her neighbors come to her and welcome her as a member of their community. This is the ultimate American makeover I hope for but I know it’ll take time and more than just a little “zhuzhing.”

FacebookTwitter
Why I’ll Miss “Jane the Virgin:”  Empathy, Representation, Sex, and More

It’s officially over: the last episode of Jane the Virgin airs tonight. The show wrapped up a lot up in the final 19 episodes (spoilers ahead!): Jane got a huge book deal ($500,000!), Elisa (finally) came through for her family, arch-villain Rose/Sin Rostro (definitively) died, Alba and Jorge found happiness together, Xo beat cancer, and Jane, of course, picked Rafael once and for all (although I imagine the Michael v. Rafael debate will continue indefinitely).

As a longtime fan of the show, I will miss the Villanuevas’ bench, Rogelio’s antics, and even Petra’s formal shorts. All that aside, what I hope the show is remembered for is treating each and every one of its characters with empathy. It turns out that the world is quite different when you apply the same level of compassion to everyone.

It’s easy, human even, to judge people who are different than you, ascribing negative motives and then writing them off. At its worst, this tendency combines with structural inequality (like how entertainment is overwhelmingly white and male), creating devasting problems like hate crimes, the mass incarceration of people of color, giant pay disparities, etc. Jane the Virgin defies this pattern, both in how its made and in what it portrays — a world filled with the problems we know but where race, gender, and class do not determine one’s value.

It’s worth remembering that Jane is lead by a white woman, Jennie Snyder Urman. Despite her lack of first-hand experience, she has managed to create one of the most meaningful portrayals of latinidad on television. She’s hired Latinx writers and centered a vision of Latinx identity that resonates with reality: Latinxs are a hardworking, diverse group of people (who are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population). All those shows about drug cartels and gang members are giving audiences the wrong impression.

And it’s not just that the Latinx characters on Jane the Virgin aren’t criminals, they’re diverse in so many ways: in age, in how they view sex, even in their views on religion. Take our three principle women: Alba, Xiomara (Xo), and Jane. They manage to have different worldviews, make different choices, change and grow, and yet remain sympathetic throughout.

Alba starts the series in the stereotypical “good Catholic” abuelita role. A staunch believer in no sex outside of marriage, she teaches her young granddaughter that a woman’s worth is tied to her sexual purity. Alba is sometimes wrong but she is never the villain. And as the show goes on, we learn that everything is not so simple: Alba did indeed have sex before marriage and by the final season, she’s even masturbating to Barack Obama — surely a church no-no!

Xo is, in many ways, the other Latina stereotype: a teenage mom who prefers sexy clothing and whose daughter gets mad at for acting younger than her age. And again, Jane the Virgin, grants her leeway to be. Xo doesn’t link her self-worth to her sexuality but rather sees sex as a fun route to self-expression. The show pushes this message with Xiomara getting an abortion and managing to be as likable as ever.

Likewise, Jane falls somewhere in the middle and that’s okay too. She takes what she likes from both her grandmother and mother’s examples and builds her own identity, whether it’s figuring out her views on sex, religion, parenting, or even how to pursue her dream. With these three, Jane the Virgin constructs a beautiful portrayal of the many ways women and Latinas, in particular, exist. The show doesn’t pretend that these choices are solely individual — Catholicism and social expectations loom large — but the Villanueva women each create their own way of navigating these pressures. Imagine if we all exhibited the same grace as the show creators in respecting the different choices others make.

I mean really imagine it — imagine it in the context of “mommy wars” (and the never-ending debate about what’s best for “the children”). Imagine it in class-based debates (say the disdain the GOP feels compelled to exhibit about House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s previous job as a bartender). It’s hard isn’t, to imagine the world another way? And yet, that’s what Jane the Virgin does week in and week out.

Take the evolution of the Jane-Petra relationship. The show started with them as rivals. Petra was blond, thin, and rich to Jane’s brown, curvy, and working-class. Petra was also the wife of Jane’s love-interest, Rafael. But as the show progresses, these two stop competing and start working together — all the while remaining vastly different and finding themselves in healthy, regular conflict. I still remember the exchange they had while Jane was helping Petra shop for her new babies in season two:

Jane: Raf and I have this glider. We love it because it is so comfortable, especially if you’re gonna be up long nights, feeding the baby.
Petra: I’m not worried about late nights. I have a night nurse…
Jane: Okay, got it…So, pacifiers?
Petra: Oh, yes, definitely pacifiers. Wait, how about those?
Jane: Two for $12? No, that’s ridiculous. Look it, five for ten.
Petra: Yeah, but don’t you think there’s a reason for the price difference?
Jane: Yeah, they’re trying to scam you.
Petra: Or they’re better.
Jane: Maybe.
Petra: Definitely.

This conversation is perfect. Even though at this point, we’re used to sympathizing with Jane, Petra’s point of view is presented as just as valid. Later Petra says Jane “made me feel bad for wanting the best things for our kids” and call her “a martyr — she has to do everything herself.” Meanwhile, Jane has her own version of events with Petra “buying all these overpriced impractical things just because they were more expensive” and “talking about around-the-clock nannies.”

But as the show makes clear by interspersing these two accounts, neither is “right.” These two women, these two mothers are just different! And that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay. By the end of the show, Petra and Jane have both become successful mothers and individuals, finding happiness inside their families and outside them. It turns out the road to fulfillment isn’t determined by your feelings towards $6 pacifiers or even night nurses. Instead, it’s about learning to be honest (Petra) and flexible (Jane).

And it’s not just the women who can grow and change. Think about the central male characters — Michael, Rafael, Rogelio, and even Jorge. They all get to be attractive, “real” men while displaying totally different versions of masculinity. Instead of conforming to a masculine type, Jane the Virgin asks its men, just like it asks its women, to be good people: to respect others, to fight fair, to be honest.

It’s rare that a show manages to do so much: to break important barriers in representation in terms of race, gender, sexuality, motherhood, while also, fundamentally, asking all of us to be better people. Even in its darkest darks (and there were some dark times — Jane’s grieving of Michael, his heart-wrenching return), Jane the Virgin was always a light. It never betrayed the fundamental approach of empathy in building its world. And for that, in particular, I will miss it.

FacebookTwitter
Four Reasons Why Charmed is Heir to Buffy’s Legacy

I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched it live, made sure I hadn’t missed an episode with the DVDs, and read all the think-pieces I could (and there are a lot). Not to mention science says it’s good for you — watching shows like Buffy (aka shows with kickass female leads) has a proven positive correlation to less gender bias in boys and men. In fact, with so much media out there, I’m pretty much only watching shows that fit the Buffy-mold: woman-led, woman-centered.

But can any show really pick up where Buffy left off? I mean, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a cult favorite for a reason, right? But I think it’s possible. And the show that’s doing it is the CW’s remake of Charmed.

You probably missed Charmed when it originally aired (to be clear I’m talking the 2019 reboot here). It didn’t get a lot of press. And what it did get was negative (the original stars weren’t happy, it uses cross-racial casting). Those critiques are valid and interesting and worth pondering. But it’s lack of critical acclaim (when they cover it at all) speaks much more to bias in criticism (old, white, male) than the show’s actual merit.

Charmed, now with its first season available on Netflix and a second season set to premiere later this year, is carrying on the Buffy legacy. Let me walk you through it:

1. Same Premise (and Mentor)

Both shows are about young women who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing to save the world, thanks to a set of new powers they didn’t see coming. Buffy first discovers her powers in high school (although we see her go to college+) while Charmed’s trio of Maggie, Mel, and Macy (let’s call them the 3 M’s for short) range from undergraduate to post-doc. They’re all in that figuring-out-who-you-are stage of life. It’s just that now their coming-to-age story includes defeating monsters each week and handling the season-long threats to life as we know it.

With the fate of the world resting on their young shoulders, the shows start with them learning how to control their new gifts (while navigating romances, school, and work). Enter a helpful, white British guy, representing a secret society of guardians who say they’re there to help our young heroines. Should we trust this far away bureaucracy? Both Buffy and the 3 M’s have their doubts. But is Giles/Harry a positive, crush-worthy if stiff, figure? Yes and yes. And with that premise, we’re off and running.

2. Humor Breaks Up the Darkness

Buffy and Charmed are campy and dark. The contrast of ugly demons with of-the-moment outfits is funny, dynamic, and telling in both shows. The idea that HQ for saving the world would be your mom’s house is pretty great. And the contrast between the villains being literal demons, while the superheroes are girls worried about losing their virginity is wonderful. Add in a bunch of puns and some general enjoyable silliness (see Charmed’sTouched by a Demon” or the Buffy-bot episode), and you have humor counterbalancing the serious, literal darkness surrounding our heroines.

Charmed even goes the extra mile by loading up on feminist in-jokes with Harry’s claim to fame being how Roxane Gay retweeted him once (but you have to scroll back a lot because she’s “quite prolific”), plus jabs at incels, manic pixie dream girls, and the like. It’s the updated Buffy humor you’ve been waiting for. Plus demons. Lots of demons.

3. (Intersectional) Feminist Intentions

Of course, plot and style is just part of what made Buffy so great. The key to its rabid fandom and staying power has always been its actual feminism — its centering of a small, young woman as worthy of our attention, admiration, and consideration. Charmed does the same thing, pushing the envelope by imagining that young woman as ::gasp:: not blond. Maggie, Mel, and Macy are Latina/Afro-Latina with a range of skin colors and hair textures. Sometimes their racial identity takes center stage (say when Maggie learns the truth about her dad) and sometimes it’s just in the details (they drink coquito at Christmas). But it’s always there, just like Buffy’s whiteness. Centering women of color pushes the argument further, allowing us to see more people as worthy of the supernatural feminist destiny we all crave.

Then there’s the presentation of sexuality. Buffy won accolades for its LGBTQ representation (I’m still shipping Willow and Tara) and Charmedtakes it to the next level by having one of its three principles be queer. Mel gets two women love interests in the first season and her romances are just as steamy, important, and complicated as her hetero sisters. Neither show assumes straightness and that’s how it should be.

Also on the sexuality front, both shows deal with female virginity and Charmed comes out ahead. Buffy famously lost her V-card to Angel, causing him to turn evil and setting up a multi-season arc of brooding heartbreak. The tragic costs of Buffy’s sexuality are pretty retrograde and while she eventually gets to have sex without consequences (which male heroes seem to always enjoy), nothing ever matches up with that first romance. Macy, on the other hand, starts the show a virgin not because she’s pure or religious but rather because she’s standoffish. That said, with the help of her sisters, she comes out of her shell, makes a real connection (after overcoming some magic roadblocks), and has sex. It turns out not to be that big of a deal. Because it’s not. Pretty cool, huh?

4. Charmed Picks Up Where Buffy Leaves Off

Remember how the final season of Buffy ended with Buffy changing the rules of the universe so there’d be more than one slayer? It was just too much for one person, however strong, to bear. Score one for collectivism, zero for individualism. Charmed starts there: we’ve got the “power of three,” which requires not one, but three powerful women (sisters no less) to save the world. They have to negotiate collective decision making (do decision have to be unanimous or just two-against-one?), their competing priorities (who’s practicing witchcraft versus at their job versus with their partner?), and their different personalities (because different people have different ways of solving problems). All things Buffy could ignore when she wanted to.

Charmed’s collective approach reflects its Latinx premise nicely, moving us away from the limited, bootstrap narrative attached to so many of our (white, male) heroes. In Charmed, we have a show that builds on Buffy’ssuccesses and takes us into 2020 and hopefully beyond.

So if you miss Buffy or just finished Stranger Things and want more young people + fantasy/sci-fi, let me recommend Charmed. It’s pretty delightful.

FacebookTwitter
“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 89: Love is in the Air, Just Not for Jane

This week in Jane the Virgin, Jane’s luck in love seems to have run out while other characters finally get theirs. Chapter 89 brought us more fun times with Rogelio and we finally get some clarity on Alba and Jorge’s “will they or won’t they” relationship. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their highs and lows of the episode and place their bets for how long Rafael can actually stay mad at Jane.

CRISTINA: I thought this episode brought the fun! Yes, things were sad for Jane but everyone else (except Raf and Mateo, still stuck in her love triangle) had a pretty interesting week. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Rogelio. Poor guy — after all that drama with River Pheonix, his pilot gets rejected! They want someone younger and something with more edge. So who does he draft? Jane of course.

NICOLA: I love how Jane the Virgin provides such a refuge for actors of all ages. It’s so rare to see a male latino character dealing with getting older in an emotionally open and vulnerable way. And that’s what Rogelio does best. It was good to see Rogelio stick up for himself and let Jane know that she let him down by not finishing the proposal for his show. I love how real their relationship has become.

CRISTINA: Really, everything with Rogelio is the best. And speaking of fan favorites, Petra and JR also met some obstacles in Chapter 89, specifically Petra’s daughters trying to sabotage their relationship because they think JR is a “bad guy,” having seen her shot Milos last season. Turns out there wasn’t a bad man in their room, they planted the email to Milos, and, in this episode, they make Petra think JR’s about to shot.

What I loved about this plotline was seeing Petra the mom coming through. She’s raised two little mini-me’s who are tough and smart and willing to manipulate to get their way. It was great to see them both take after their mother and use their Petra-ness “against” their mom (even if they were just trying to protect her). It spoke volumes that Petra was willing to give up her new romance for the girls and I am here for it.

NICOLA: This show has so many layers and it’s incredible. Instead of just talking about gun violence they’re able to have a comprehensive conversation about trauma, violence, and mother-daughter-dating relationships. First, it’s hard being a single mom, balancing caring for your children and falling in love (arguably for the first time). But add the crazy situations that exist in Jane the Virgin including accidentally-maybe-on-purpose killing your twin sister and it gets significantly more complicated. Petra has grown and we see that in how she deals with JR and her girls. Not only is she willing to sacrifice a new love for her kids, which season one Petra would not have done, but she seeks out therapy for her girls to process the trauma. I have loved watching Petra become this strong, caring, and open woman.

CRISTINA: And I’d argue that Rafael and Jane showed some growth this episode too. Rafael gave her a very firm rejection — no means no Jane — but the two set about figuring how to co-parent as exes. I still think they’ll end up together and everyone saying Rafael is a jerk is refusing to see him as a human being rather than just a love object. I mean, what’s a person supposed to do in his situation? He’s been clear about his boundaries and wants a partner who picks him first — it’s good that he sticks up for himself. Plus, you know if Jane actually needed something (like when Xo was sick), he’d be right there. Rafael may not want to be with Jane romantically right now, but he still loves her for who she is and as the mother of his child.

NICOLA: I agree! Rafael is doing a great job in my opinion, dealing with his feelings in a mature way. When trust is lost it takes time to rebuild no matter how much you might love someone. It’s important to carve some time for yourself and to remember that your happiness does not depend on another person. Rafael is doing the work. He is investing in his relationship with Mateo and in his career goals. Honestly, Jane could take some cues from him.

CRISTINA: Agreed. The best part of the episode was certainly Alba FINALLY getting hers. She’s come a long way from the person who said a woman who has sex before marriage is like a crushed flower — never the same (or beautiful or valuable) again. Now Alba’s found a healthy relationship with sexand love within her Catholicism and that includes more acceptance of herself and Xo. It was so great to see her and Jorge acting like the couple they are and him finally admitting his love for her. They deserve all the happiness.

NICOLA: Yes, the world of Jane the Virgin is deliberately inclusive. Each character has had the opportunity to experience love, loss, joy, anger, and moments of change no matter their race, age, class, or sexual orientation. And that’s the representation we so desperately need.

FacebookTwitter
“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 88: A Miami Girl in Montana

Jane the Virgin went on a field trip to Montana this week so our heroine could focus (and resolve!) her love triangle issues. With bedazzled cowboy boots, flannels, and hats, Chapter 88 brought the fun while also revealing just how different Michael’s become through his years on the ranch. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their highs and lows of the episode and finally pick sides between #TeamMichael and #TeamRafael.

CRISTINA: This week’s episode took place almost entirely in Montana and the city-girl-goes-country dynamic was pretty great. Yes, there were the costumes (those shoes! those hats!) but there was also the lack of technology giving Jane trouble. She couldn’t text Xo! How would her and Michael do long distance without FaceTime? So many problems being off the grid!

But the best part was seeing Jane get down and dirty. She shoveled shit, fixed a fence, and was generally the hard-working ranch hand we KNOW Latinas can be. I mean, we are the original rancheras.

NICOLA: Agreed — I definitely liked this episode. It’s one of the few episodes where we get to see Jane out of her comfort zone, and the first out of Miami. She’s away from her family, her busy schedule as a working mom, and sadly from Rafael who’s still grieving their relationship. It was fun to see. Honestly, it’s clear Jane needed this time and so did we as the audience. This whole season has mostly been us waiting to see who Jane picks and it finally came to an end. I for one was ready, regardless of who she picked.

CRISTINA: I am grateful Jane was able to sort out the love triangle — it’s been weeks of this mess! But I got a little bored without Alma, Petra, and Rogelio. Jane certainly needed the time and space to decide but I’ve got to say Michael v. Rafael is my least favorite part of the show. And a whole episode just on that — too much for me!

Of course, judging from the reactions on Twitter, I’m the only one who feels that way. Everyone was so upset — #TeamMichael because it’s time to say goodbye (again — I get it, it’s rough to have him right there and still not get that happy ending) and #TeamRafael because of all that time Jane spent “exploring it” (not to mention he’s not ready to let her back in).

NICOLA: Yeah I have to say I am also kind of annoyed and agree with you. The love triangle with Jane, Michael, and Rafael has never been my favorite storyline. I’ve always been #TeamJane and my favorite episodes are when Jane’s storyline isn’t completely driven by romance. I also think by making Michael slightly different from the goofy-loveable-crazy-about-Jane detective we loved was, forgive the pun, a total cop out. It’s clear that Jane could never have chosen between the two if Michael hadn’t changed a little.

CRISTINA: The more this season progresses (and the more reactions I read from Michael stans), the more #TeamRafael I get. He’s been such a supportive friend to Jane through everything — her marriage to Michael, her grief after he died, her ambitions to become (and grow) as a writer. I just really appreciate him. And I don’t think him having boundaries or advocating for himself is a bad thing! He’s a (fictional) person too and letting Jane walk all over him would end up being bad for both of them in the long run.

NICOLA: I agree — Rafael’s feelings are totally justified. Hey if I had just been dumped by my significant other while they try to figure out if there’s still a spark with a previously dead ex, I would also be upset and generally untrusting. I just hope once Jane wins Rafael back soon, which I’m confident will happen. Then, we can focus more time on Jane becoming the world-renowned writer we know she can be. And obviously more Rogelio. I request this every episode but it doesn’t make it any less true.

CRISTINA: You know my love for Rogelio is unending. I cannot get enough of him. Also, more swing scenes, please. The Alba-Xo-Jane matriarchial line is what Jane the Virgin should be all about. And I have no doubts Jane will win Rafael back. Gina Rodriguez is just SO hard not to love. She’s got that kind of charm that’s irresistible and if I have trouble resisting it, there’s no way Rafael will be able to. He’s just got to put up a good fight to keep the plot moving through the next few episodes!

NICOLA: Yes, we’ll see how long Rafael can resist what I’m sure will be Jane’s multi-tiered extensive, organized, and emotional strategy to win him back. And let’s face it, there’s nothing I love more than a determined confident Jane. Now that she’s made her decision, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop her from getting her telenovela-esc dream life. Or is there…(drama).

via GIPHY

FacebookTwitter
Discovery: Where to Boldly Go?

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery ended with a major cliff-hanger: Michael Burnham and the gang catapulted through space and time and we have no idea where/if/when they will end up.

To get to this moment, they had to battle artificial intelligence hell bent on “destroying all sentient life,” chase down an emo Spock and deal with his daddy-issues, solve the mystery of Michael’s parents (including finding her mother alive before losing her again), and that’s not all.

Lots of questions remain: is Control really dead? Why did Spock and friends have to vow never to speak of Discovery again (other than the show’s creators trying to explain why we never knew Spock had a sister before)? And speaking of Spock’s family, how did Sarek and Amanda manage to visit Discovery on the eve of battle but not get any ships to help? Is Captain Pike really doomed to the horrible fate he saw in the time crystal? How can we get more or Rebecca Romijn’s Number One (hair, make-up, and attitude)? Will we see more of Ash Tyler and Section 31 (or in Georgiou’s spinoff)? Was all of season two just an extended Spock (or Borg) creation story?

But, for fans of Discovery planning to tune into season three like me, the central question remains: what is in store for Michael and the crew? The finale made it clear they could go anywhere in space or time. The only hint was the possibility of finding themselves on Terralysium again. Remember it’s the Earth-like planet in the far-flung Beta Quadrant housing the few thousand technology-less humans rescued by Burham’s mother from an earlier, darker time in human history.

There are some upsides to this possibility: We could see more of Burnham’s mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham (I guess the lady astrophysicists of the future still take their husband’s last names) played by the formidable Sonja Sohn. Every moment she was on screen was electrifying and her newly-resumed relationship with Michael certainly deserves deeper exploration.

We’d also get to see how the Discovery crew (all of them seemingly scientists, engineers, and computer lovers) would survive without technology. I can’t imagine the next season will consist of them learning to grow potatoes so there is a certain Battlestar Galactica-y appeal in seeing them figure out how to live without a network. In this scenario, Discovery could delve into questions about the role of technology in our lives: what makes us stronger versus what makes us weaker? What is essential and what are we better off without? How do you keep growing if the ways in which we grow (aka technology) end up destroying us?

Alternatively, if Control really is “dead” a trip to Terralysium could put Burnham and crew on more of a Voyagerlike trajectory, battling to get home (assuming the spore drive is unusable now). If that’s the way we go, Discoverycould focus on issues of identity when so many of the traditional markers are gone. Do they stay in uniform? How do they pick a captain without Star Fleet? What does this mean for our favorite mutineer? The list goes on.

Personally, having spent the first two seasons of Discovery in the decades prior to the original Star Trek, I’d like to see the show move from prequel to sequel. Wouldn’t it be fun to catch up with Sisco, Janeway, Worf, etc. in their later years? I hear Jean Luc Picard is getting a series along those lines — perhaps Discovery could jump-start that process by taking us first to Bajor. Let’s see what Kira Nerys is up to. I can’t imagine she had kids, but wouldn’t she be a hilarious mother/grandmother? Her future could provide such interesting context into what warriors do after the war, how societies build after they’ve met their Gods. Certainly, in these troubling times, our world could use the critique of capitalism that Quark and the Ferengis always provide. How would Michael and Saru and Tully even respond to our favorite large-eared aliens? It would be so ripe!

But as much fun as that’d be, the truth is, I don’t actually care about where or when Discovery goes. I do care that the show embeds in its journey the big questions Star Trek is so good at asking about humanity and progress and morality. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Star Trek nostalgia Discovery offers, bringing me back on-board the space ships with their form-fitting uniforms, far out noises, and familiar characters. But I LOVE Star Trek’s morally based storytelling, its optimism about humanity paired with its willingness to take a hard look in the mirror (remember how Generations premiered with Q putting the entire human race on trial?).

We’re in the era of prestige television — it’d be a shame for the Star Trek franchise to abandon what made it so good, so timeless, and so influential to begin with. Discovery hasn’t gone deep on the big questions yet but it’s not too late. Let season three boldly go into the intellectual, the nerdy, the moral quandary. It’s the biggest adventure of them all.

FacebookTwitter
Killing Eve Presents the Terror of Male Entitlement

Everyone has a weakness, even our favorite female assassin. From the moment we met her, Villanelle has been nearly bulletproof. Able to anticipate and manipulate any situation, she’s maintained her confidence and dominance, until this week’s episode. For the first time since Killing Eve began, we see Villanelle like never before — scared and vulnerable.

After stealing a new, more age-appropriate wardrobe from a laundromat, a wounded Villanelle finds herself perusing the aisles of a supermarket contemplating her next move. As she enters the frozen food section, she appears desperate and frustrated until she sees a nondescript man by himself. From the moment she innocently smiles and he hesitantly smiles back, it’s clear he’s her next target. In classic Villanelle fashion, she constructs a story of a damsel in distress, searching for a rescuer, and the man, Julian, quickly comes to her aid offering her a ride and a place to stay.

What happens next is unexpected. A female assassin whose finally met her match in the human embodiment of toxic masculinity and fragility. The moment Villanelle enters his house, she is faced with a frighteningly extensive collection of dolls. And this doll collection perfectly foreshadows Julian’s relationship with women.

Dolls in and of themselves embody the worst (and most petrifying) stereotypes of women. They are meant to be aspirational versions of young girls that you can dress up and manipulate for your own enjoyment. With delicate porcelain faces and tiny adult clothes, dolls are collected with the intent to only be admired. Obviously, if you view real women like this, you have a problem.

With Villanelle, Julian seems to believe he’s found a doll of his own. Although he insists he wants to take care of her, he continuously ignores her. As she begs for ibuprofen, Julian dismisses her, saying she’s being ridiculous and that she merely has a cold, returning only with flu medicine. The more she voices her concerns and needs, the more frustrated and dismissive he gets. Villanelle is not a wallflower, but unfortunately, with Julian she learns her only way to remain safe is to play the harmless, victim female role. He implements a similar system on his mother who lives in the house with dementia, locking them both in their rooms “for their own good.”

What’s truly terrifying about this episode is that instead of a dangerous Russian prison, this episode more accurately reflects the obstacles, both mundane and horrific that many women face everyday.

Meanwhile, Eve has returned to work with some new team members, Jess and Hugo. Hugo is a cocky and entitled-Eton grad who constantly questions Eve and her work — whether it’s helping her with a slideshow or interrupting her mid-sentence. While obviously not the same situation as Villanelle, Eve is experiencing the hurdles that many women face in the workplace from (annoying/patronizing male colleges). In the end, it’s satisfying watching Eve prevail as she correctly identifies that this new victim wasn’t’ killed by Eve but a new female assassin.

Killing Eve continues to use the narrative of a spy thriller to undermine gender stereotypes and expand the genre. This episode is specifically poignant as we see an example of the horrors that many real women fall victim to: men’s need for control and dominance. In the end, Villanelle escapes Julian, making me smile for all womankind as she stabs him. Eve similarly triumphs and as an extra bonus to us lady viewers, we receive a new great skin care routine courtesy of our favorite boss Carolyn Marten. (Google’s pigs’ placenta mask)

FacebookTwitter
Why the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Finale was So Satisfying

“Romantic love is not an ending.” So says Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch in her mic-drop moment of the final episode of Crazy Ex-GirlfriendNo, she doesn’t literally drop the mic, but she may as well — staring straight into the camera and letting all us viewers know that this lesson is for us.

After four seasons of critiquing the stories we tell about romantic love, the show delivers on its feminist principles, showing how a man will not complete Rebecca no matter how handsome, rich, or well-matched with her. In fact, we spend the opening sequence of the final episode in a Christmas Carol-esque dream sequence in which Rebecca sees her future with each love interest. In them, she gets what she always wanted — becoming a pretty bride, having a happy pregnancy, being the matriarch of a loving family — but in none of them is she truly happy. Greg, Nathaniel, and Josh each fail to complete her.

Because frankly, that’s not how relationships work. No partner will fulfill allyour needs. Yes, they can help you grow and be a source of great satisfaction but they will not fill the holes inside of you. Only you can do that — no matter what romantic comedies tell you. That’s the conclusion Rebecca and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reach — and I couldn’t agree more.

While in some ways, this ending was predictable (the show has always been clear about its feminist point of view), in other ways it was quite a surprise. After all, much of the final season focused on getting Rebecca and Greg back together. He moves back to West Covina, they get back together, break up, and seem to have the most real relationship. In the penultimate episode, Rebecca goes on a date with each of her three main suitors a la The Bachelor, the idea being that she’ll be able to choose afterward. Josh and Nathaniel pull out all the stops, creating beautiful, romantic moments. Greg originally plans to just hang out for his date but he gets spooked by all the fanfare his rivals dream up. He makes arrangements for a romantic balloon-ride (with Weird Al, no less), but his plans get ruined when his car breaks down. So Rebecca and he end up just hanging out, playing games while they wait for the mechanic. In this decidedly unromantic setting, he tells her “you’re the love of my life” and at that moment, they seem fated to be together. Just like in the actual Bachelor, the sign of real love is not who you can get carried away with but who you can find magic within everyday interactions. Despite being firmly team Nathaniel, after that episode, I figured Rebecca would end up with Greg.

And in most shows, she would have. Trailblazer and general feminist badass Mindy Kaling ended the Mindy Projectby reuniting Mindy Lahiri with her first love — Chris Messina’s Daniel Castellano — a guy who belittled her about her weight, demanded she quit the job she loved (while he worked the same one), and generally gave her hell. And this was a show that started with an explicit critique of romantic comedies and continued in that vein by making Mindy more vapid and problematic as it went on.

Sex and the City famously reunited Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw and Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in an ending. He literally goes to save her from an abusive partner! With all those relationships, sexual escapades, and heartbreak, the morale of Sex and the City seemed to be that friendship is as important as romantic love. The foursome of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte is the show’s one constant. Aren’t you more invested in Carrie and Miranda’s relationship than any other on the show? And yet, the ending didn’t back that up. Carrie needs a man for her story to end — whether you count the ill-conceived movies or not.

In most stories, feminist or not, leading ladies end up with their first, often forsaken love — Mr. Big, Daniel Castellano, etc. That’s why I expected Rebecca to pick Greg and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s creators did everything to lead me in that direction, from bringing him back to leaving Greg to be the last to be turned down. But despite the misdirection and the universe seemingly pulling another way, Rebecca picks herself.

Earlier in the fourth season, she realizes the law doesn’t make her happy, but she hasn’t yet found what will. The pretzel shop is fun but it’s not (spiritually) fulfilling. Instead, she has to find her true calling and who helps her do that? Not Josh, Nathaniel, or Greg. Paula. It’s through talking to her best friend that Rebecca sets out on her real adventure — telling her story through song-writing. In the intervening year, it is Paula, Heather, and Valencia who encourage her, giving her the support she needs to overcome her self doubt. This is a show that values women’s friendships, demonstrating their real value from beginning to end.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend concludes the moment before Rebecca publicly performs for the first time. In true Rebecca-fashion, she has a long wind-up, recounting her journey since moving to West Covina and what’s she learned since turning down each of primary suitors. She says “When I’m telling my own story for the first time in my life, I am truly happy. It’s like I just met myself. Like I just met Rebecca. I came to this town to find love, and I did… And now, for the first time in my life, I can say that maybe I’m finally ready for the other kind of love… But whoever it’s with, it won’t be ‘ending up’ with someone, because romantic love is not an ending, not for me or for anyone else here. It’s just a part of your story, a part of who you are.”

It’s such a satisfying conclusion. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of romantic love, but it does knock romantic love off its pedestal. Yes, we may talk about that type of love more but it’s not the most important type of love. Committing to a partner is not an “ending” but a stop along the journey. The door is still open for Rebecca to marry and have kids with Nathaniel or Greg (Josh, thankfully, has found his happiness somewhere else) but whether she builds a relationship with one of them, someone else, or no one at all, that choice doesn’t define Rebecca. It doesn’t define any of us. Instead, our stories are really about who we are, what we do, and how we manage to love ourselves.

FacebookTwitter
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.

FacebookTwitter
Newer Posts