You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Vida’ on Starz

The rare drama series to focus on Latino characters — who are female and/or queer, no less — “Vida” only somewhat lives up to the color, richness and excitement maybe promised by its title (the Spanish feminine noun for “life”). Starz certainly deserves a big gracias for disrupting Hollywood’s #SoWhiteMale status with this scrappy half-hour, which showrunner Tanya Saracho has said reflects her mission to introduce “the brown queer perspective” to TV (the show’s writers, directors and actors also identify as Latinx). Sporting vibrant East La La Land locations and piquant touches of magical realism, the first six episodes ultimately unfold like an arthouse-y pastiche of Showtime hits “The L Word” and “Shameless” and Netflix’s Cuban-spiced reboot of “One Day at a Time.” Meaning it’s got to find its own way if it’s going to stick around.

Newcomer (and last-minute cast-member replacement) Mishel Prada hits the ground running as TV’s latest prodigal daughter: Emma Hernandez, a stylish know-it-all whose existence as a 20something corporate whiz in Chicago is upended by her mother Vidalia’s sudden death. Returning to L.A.’s graffiti-streaked Boyle Heights — home to her family’s rundown bar and crumbling apartment building — the high-cheekboned snoot can’t hide her disdain for her humble beginnings, Mexican roots or, for more complicated reasons, the deceased. Key clue: At her mom’s wake, she gives the local mourners a hug-wary look worthy of Louise Linton.

Much like Emmy Rossum’s Fiona of “Shameless” (a longtime hit that follows a white working-class family in Chicago), Emma has plenty of eye rolls and sarcastic swipes for those in her orbit. Her younger sister Lyn (Mexican telenovela star Melissa Barrera), for one, gets by on her hippy-dippy veganism and languorous beauty to attract rich white cads — or ensnare her otherwise engaged love Johnny (Carlos Miranda). Then there’s Eddy (non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui), a tender-hearted woman nonetheless prone to violence, especially when she’s tipsy and crying over her departed love, who happens to be — gasp! — Emma and Lyn’s thought-to-be-straight mom. Can this reluctant makeshift family fend-off predatory developers (a la “Shameless” again, the baddies are out to “gentrify” the neighborhood) and restore Vida’s bar to its former glory? Will Emma conquer her feelings of childhood abandonment and lean in to her — hey, we thought she was straight too! — deep desire for older coffee-house owner Cruz (Marina Elena Laas)?

Life (and premium channel dramedies) is ever-full of surprises, and “Vida” doles out lots of them, many of the salacious variety. One character is furious to learn her latest hook-up secretly shot — and shared — a video of them in the act. Another gets dumped by her boyfriend in bed right after she . . . well, if you remember that famously raunchy episode of “Sex and the City” in which a fling asks Cynthia Nixon to perform a sex act she’s never done before, let’s just say “Vida” ups the ante in one of many impressively frank sex scenes. Alas, Saracho, whose previous credits include “How To Get Away With Murder” and Lifetime’s Latina-driven “Devious Maids,” doesn’t offer much new or surprising about what motivates people who find themselves in such predicaments. The characters’ personal basic troubles and quandaries are simply stretched out and reiterated, and rarely affectingly probed.

For a show that aims to celebrate and shed light on Mexican-American culture, “Vida” (inspired by a short story by Richard Villegas Jr.) also gives short shrift to the conflicts that trouble that world. With gentrification being just a candied word for swapping out the poor for the monied, humanity deserves more than scenes of a sleazy bank manager popping up now and then to threaten the Hernandez sisters with financial ruin. The guy’s drawn as thin as a smug smile. And while earthy Chelsea Rendon stands out as Marisol, a daring activist out to make sure her loved ones aren’t pushed out of their homes by latte lovers, the resistance meetings she attends are laughably unconvincing. Think Jack Lord visiting a hippie den on the original “Hawaii 5-O.”

America’s undocumented immigrants dilemma? Hinted at, but right now, nada.

English-language U.S. television hasn’t served any of us very well when it comes to shows centered on Latinos, who make up the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority (nearly 60 million people and counting). The hits can be counted on maybe one hand: “The George Lopez Show,” “Ugly Betty,” “Jane the Virgin,” “East Los High,” “Narcos.” The misses — “Resurrection Blvd.,” “Cristela” — muy dreary. PBS’ “American Family” (2002-2004), with Edward James Olmos as the head of more traditional Mexican-American family in L.A., remains the relevant gold standard, but that doesn’t mean “Vida” can’t grow into a show with even more heft while keeping its flash.

There’s plenty of potential — and talent — here. The pilot’s directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios, who won an Ariel (Mexico’s version of the Oscar) in 2015 for his debut flick, the restless-youth drama “Gueros.” Prada’s agreeable confidence inspires comparisons to younger versions of both Wendie Malick and Sonia Braga (who, trivia buffs take note, played the matriarch in “American Family”). Erika Soto as Karla, Lyn’s rightfully annoyed rival in love, is a refreshingly real presence. And Elena Campbell-Martinez charms as a Loteria card-flipping mystic who tries to give Lyn life advice, only to wind up sighing to (unseen) spirits about what a clueless nut the kid is.

Oddly, Vida — the namesake bar Emma, Lyn and stepmother Eddy aim to reboot — isn’t played up as its own inanimate character (the interior actually looks vaguely different episode to episode). Otherwise, director of photography Carmen Cabana and production designer Ruth Ammon lend the show an overall gorgeously authentic, at times LA-noirish, feel. When the sisters sit up on the roof to marvel at downtown L.A.’s twinkling skyline, you’re marveling with them.

And an episode steered by iconic lesbian director Rose Troche (she helmed ‘The L Word’ pilot and the seminal female romance ‘Go Fish’) reveals how bracing ‘Vida’ can be. When flighty Lyn, palpably rudderless and missing her mom, winds up partying in the coldest of Hollywood Hills manses with some pampered brats, she’s quietly giddy. As things turn a little ugly, though, Barrera’s eyes hauntingly express the girl from Boyle Height’s distinct epiphany: This may not be the life.

TV Review: ‘Vida’ Season 1 on Starz

Drama; 6 episodes (6 reviewed); Starz, 8:30 p.m. Sun. May 6. 30 min. 

TV Review: 'Vida' on Starz

CREW: Executive producers, Tanya Saracho, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Robing Schwartz, Stephanie Langhoff  

Crew: CAST: Melissa Barrera, Mishel Prada, Ser Anzoategui, Chelsea Rendon, Carlos Miranda, Maria Elena Laas, Ramses Jimenez, Elizabeth De Razzo, Elena Campbell-Martinez, Erika Soto, Luis Bordonada, Renee Victor.

More TV

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Norman Reedus and Ryan Hurst'The Walking

    Norman Reedus on 'The Walking Dead' Without Andrew Lincoln: 'He's With Me Every Day'

    After saying goodbye to most of the original cast on “The Walking Dead,” Norman Reedus still feels his former co-stars with him during each episode. “I’ve seen so many people come and go,” he said during a “Walking Dead” panel on Friday at PaleyFest. “Right now on the show, the ghosts of all those guys [...]

  • Series Mania: De Mensen, Reel One

    Series Mania: First Details on Co-Pro Pitching Project 'Capturing Big Mouth' (EXCLUSIVE)

    LILLE, France — Belgian production company De Mensen, which has just been acquired by France’s Newen, has teamed with Reel One Entertainment on a new cross-continental thriller series, “Capturing Big Mouth. The series will be pitched Monday at this year’s Series Mania Forum Co-pro Pitching section. It chronicles the unlikely rise and eventual fall of [...]

  • Daily Show Viacom

    Viacom, DirecTV Make Progress in Contract Talks, No Blackout After Deadline Passes

    UPDATED: Viacom and DirecTV executives went down to the wire Friday on a combative contract renewal negotiation with high stakes for both sides. The companies stayed in talks past the midnight Eastern contract expiration and the channels stayed up on AT&T’s platforms. Sources indicated early Saturday that the threat of a blackout had been averted. [...]

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

  • Ryan Murphy Walk of Fame

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” series, and Kristin Cavallari will host “Paradise Hotel” on Fox.  DATES More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute at Disney Hall Film Review: 'Shazam!' Reality star Kristin Cavallari will host Fox’s reboot of “Paradise Hotel,” an unscripted dating [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content