Over the past few years, the call for proper inclusion and diversity onscreen has become a major talking point in the entertainment business. Following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, both film and TV have seen a concentrated effort on telling more diverse stories, and allowing for characters and settings that aren't exclusively caucasian male focused. While Netflix has become a hub for projects based around people of color, Starz' new drama Vida is one for the record books. Set in modern east LA, Vida follows the denizens of a latino neighborhood, and mixes both the traditional and contemporary feminist values for a quirky and emotional ride.
Created by TV writer Tanya Saracho (Girls, Looking, How to Get Way With Murder), Vida largely focuses on estranged siblings Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada). They return to their neighborhood in East LA after their mother suddenly dies, and are uprooted by the emotional and fiscal issues related to their loss. Their mother owned a bar and apartment building above-- allowing for the full neighborhood to become characters in the larger narrative.
While the various neighbors begin as annoyances who are bringing endless amounts of flan, the supporting characters soon begin to take just as much life as the sisters. Lyn and Emma are surprised to find out that their mother was actually secretly married, and to a woman named Eddy (Ser Anzoategui). This secret love in many ways mirrors Lyn's own issues regarding her sexuality, and the shame that her mother caused her. Eddy is perhaps the biggest scene stealer of the cast, and her somewhat manic love and grief is hypnotizing.
There are plenty of other colorful characters from the neighborhood, including Emma's childhood love Johnny (Carlos Miranda) and Lyn's former mentor and love interest Cruz (Maria Elena Laas). These love stories are some of Vida's more obvious plot lines, but what's a good drama without a love story? Weeds fans will also be happy to see Renée Victor aka Lupita pop up as a resident of the apartment building.
While the apartment building serves as a macguffin to keep the sisters in the hood and to introduce new characters, it's also part of an overarching narrative regarding Vida's setting. The series makes a particular note to focus on the problem of gentrification in the neighborhood, which is occurring at the time Lyn and Emma are trying to sell their mother's building. Supporting character Marisol (Chelsea Rendon) is a teenage activist desperately trying to keep families in their neighborhood, as corporate greed ascends and begins to kick the community's original members out.
Vida focuses on a latino (largely Mexican) neighborhood in East LA as well as a handful of LGBT women, and shines best because it unapologetically represents its characters, servicing those respective communities. The characters are constantly switching from English to Spanish, representing the Spanglish that so many Latino families regularly use. Everything from the dialogue, to the interpersonal struggles, to the food, are Latino and proud and helps further immerse you in the world created by Tanya Saracho.
Vida is also just as unapologetically queer, and features a few different same-sex relationships. While there have been a handful of shows on TV that focus on lesbian characters, they very rarely also feature women of color. But Starz' new drama shows same sex relationships with a variety of Latinas, covering the complete age gamut in the process. Love scenes are realistic and imperfect, and will surely be viewed as a step forward in regards to LGBT visibility.
Given Tanya Saracho's TV resume, it should come to no surprise that nudity is also a regular aspect of Vida. Both Girls and Looking prided themselves on featuring realistic sex scenes, and showing the vulnerability that comes with opening yourself up physically to another person. Vida's nudity is spread out among its starring cast, male and female, who have a variety of different body shapes and colors. Nude scenes are not just for fit people to help titillate audiences that want sex scenes, but to help move the story forward with integrity.
The biggest weakness in Vida is the lack of high stakes. While the characters are amusing and vulnerable in the quick 30 minute episodes, the drama isn't exactly nail biting. Lyn and Emma are generally too cool for school, which allows confrontations to feel a bit less riveting than they should. And in a world where binge watching is such a common practice, the series lacks the wow factor to keep people going for hours at a time. But if you can take your time and enjoy the ride, Vida has the authenticity to make it all worth it.
Vida will premiere May 6, 2018 on Starz. In the meantime, check out our midseason premiere list to plan your next binge watch. Plus our superhero premiere list and Amazon premiere list to ensure you don't miss a single episode.