Friday, April 19, 2024

Starz’ New Drama ‘Vida’ Is Filling Some Deep Holes in Pop Culture

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Tanya Saracho‘s new Starz show, Vida, has been eagerly awaited by me and every other person on this earth who is over the all-white, all-cis, mostly-straight pop culture ocean we’ve been awash in since pop culture has existed. Not that there aren’t islands of greatness out there, and not that one show/movie/book can or should make all of our representation dreams come true, but the more the better. In Vida‘s premiere, “Homecoming,” the setup for success seems like a sure thing; but honestly, it seemed like that before airing, too. With an all-Latinx and half-queer writers room and every director being either a woman of color or Latinx, Saracho has already created something the world needs a lot more of: narratives driven entirely by womxn, POC, LGBTQIA+ people — and, for those people to get paid.

So! Here we are at S1E1. The very first scene introduces us to Marisol, a young woman who is taking to her YouTube channel to rail against the colonizers of her neighborhood, Boyle Heights, which she will fight to defend. Gentrification is labeled colonization in the first lines of the show, so there’s no tiptoeing around. Gentrification comes up later in the episode and, I assume, will continue to do so throughout the season, because this story isn’t just about the individual characters; it’s about the neighborhood.

One resident of which, Vidalia, an older woman, is shown getting out of bed and scrambling to the bathroom for pills before her nose starts bleeding and she collapses on the floor, blood pooling beneath her head, dead from an aneurism caused by cancer. This event is the catalyst for the return of Vida’s two adult daughters, Lyn and Emma, for her funeral.

Emma, the older daughter, has built a high-power career in Chicago and seems less than enthused to be home. There was clearly a lot of animosity between Emma and Vida, and Emma’s not letting any of it go despite the fact that her mother’s dead. But she also isn’t saying why she resented her so much. (It’s pretty heavily hinted at, but I’ll get to that.)

Lyn has her priorities invested in men and fledgeling creative business ventures, and the sisters clash for this and many other reasons. They behave like the teenagers we all usually revert to when we’re back in our parents’ houses; I know you know what I’m talking about. Except this time, Lyn and Emma’s mother is dead and the person she’s left behind—her person, as in, her actual wife of two years—is Eddy.

In love.

Eddy is 100% the beating heart of this show. She’s unapologetically butch (can I get an amen) and tender and kind and strong and all the things. She’s played so beautifully by out nonbinary actor Ser Anzoategui. They play the female late-in-life partner of Vida, who was more or less an open secret to Lyn (even though Lyn didn’t know they were married until her on-and-off fling Johnny tells her after eating her out in the stairwell at the funeral reception).

Emma, however, had no idea Eddy existed. Add it to the list of things she’s pissed about. Not least because, as Emma rants to Lyn, being with a woman makes Vida a hypocrite. Lyn does not understand this, but it seems obvious after an encounter at Vida’s funeral with Cruz. We don’t really know who Cruz is, except that when Emma and Lyn were in high school, she was in college, and there’s definitely sexual tension between her and Emma.

That smile tho.

The funeral service is gut-wrenching, but the reception at the aptly named El Bar — the bar Vida ran when the girls were growing up and then most recently with Eddy — is even more emotional. Eddy is distraught, unable to stop crying or eat. The entire neighborhood, including a rad posse of lesbians (we are pretty rad in general and take care of our own), are rallying around Eddy. There’s not a trace of homophobia to be seen. What a light in the dark, y’all. There’s all this love around her, even when she tries to hurt herself with a small knife in her despair.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of love from Emma, who is ignoring everyone and being pretty shitty about everything. She keeps spotting a little girl in a pink dress on the roof, who seems to be a metaphor for her younger self, but I think is also a ghost maybe? I’m unsure, but the girl gives Emma the finger and it’s pretty funny.

Meanwhile, in the middle of her millionth cigarette she’s approached by a dude who wants to help her sell Vida’s building. He seems sketchy as hell and she knows it, but she’s also eager to be rid of it. Unfortunately (but actually fortunately for the story), Vida left the building to be split three ways between Emma, Lyn, and Eddy. Eddy’s not interested in selling it. El Bar is a neighborhood institution, and the home of so many good memories. But instead of having an actual conversation with Eddy about what to do about this cracked mosaic Vidalia left behind, she threatens her with a lawsuit and storms out, Lyn on her heels.

They go to a restaurant for lunch and on the way out, they witness Marisol confronting a white “Warby Parker Bitch” newslady being filmed talking about how people just need to try this authentic little hole in the wall spot. Marisol and Emma argue about what’s best for the neighborhood, and the race and class conflicts that are so real in so many cities come to the fore again. Eventually they all walk away, but I’m really interested to see how Marisol and the sisters will interact throughout the season.

Not seeing eye to eye.

Finally, we end on the most tear-jerking moment of them all, which is saying something. Lyn puts on some old VHS tapes of Vida and her girls as kids, dancing to Selena and crying. Emma makes her way up the stairs and finds her sister there, and they cry together on that couch. MY HEART.

The last scene is the camera panning out on a mural of protests from Chicanx social movements of the 60s and 70s, and right there in the center: the girl in the pink dress. See—a ghost! Maybe it’s Vida?! I don’t know but I’m already IN LOVE with this show.

That’s it for this week, tune in next week for more of this magic!

Images courtesy of Starz

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