By Shayna Maci Warner
Drop everything and watch the first three episodes of Vida. Seriously. Right now. They’re available for free on Starz, so bookmark this article, watch the show, then come back to this teaser for Season 2.
Great, now that you’re back:
There is nothing else like creator and showrunner Tanya Saracho’s queer, inter-generational Latinx gentrification odyssey on television right now. Starring Mishel Prada and Melissa Barrera as two polar opposite, gente-fying sisters who return to East Los Angeles for their mother’s funeral only to discover they must contend with her grieving widow (portrayed with heartbreaking openness by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui), Vida is, to put it mildly, complex. It’s also scorchingly sexy, wry in a way that only comes from authentic, lived experience, and politically daring as it plunges headfirst into the complications of a community desperate to find answers amidst increasingly dire economic circumstances.
The first three episodes of Season 2, which had its world premiere as part of the Tribeca TV series on Thursday, hammer home all the ways in which Vida is singular and why, in an industry which regularly shutters “niche” shows, it should be regarded as successful because of, not despite, its specificity. The show’s first season already made headlines with its boundary breaking all-Latinx writers’ room, and its sophomore year ups the ante with an all-Latina directors’ roster, the arrival of two queer media icons in the form of Raúl Castillo (Looking, We the Animals) and Roberta Calindrez (I Love Dick, Fun Home), and even more scenes that invoke feelings of “I can’t believe I just saw that, but thank god I did.”
Without spoiling the “who did what with whom” of the new season (and there is a lot of chisme to go around), some of the most standout moments are accomplished not only through plot, but through beautiful visual association. For instance, the first episode includes a fluid cut from Barrerra’s Lyn framed angelically by sunlit dust motes, to two women engaging in steamy shower sex. Saracho and her team, which includes cinematographer Carmen Cabana, create imagery that paints queer female sexuality as something approaching holy, even as they bring us back down to earth by including all-too-human details, like the impracticality of aforementioned shower sex.
Other details like condom usage, processes of sexual hygiene, and choices between a variety of vibrators highlight the weight with which Vida’s writers’ room regards queer authenticity. In the panel discussion, moderated by Lynda Lopez, following the premiere, Saracho admits that these details “may seem like five seconds, but we workshopped them for days,” and that she and the multiple queer staff writers still have their disagreements on what finally made it onto the screen. “We don’t get to see brown queers like this, and it’s important that we represent correctly.”
When asked what she is most excited for queer viewers to experience this season, Saracho points out the show’s tackling of “tourism” within queer communities, a concept used to insult and delegitimize bisexuality+ and accuse bisexual+ people of only taking a vacation in queerness rather than embodying a real and valid identity. Vida frames this concept as one that exposes rifts and provokes in-fighting — an issue rarely explored past mainstream replications of the stereotype. Colindrez and Prada also express satisfaction with getting to play out that and other microaggressions, as painful as they are to sit through. Colindrez is especially keen on the opening of a dialogue regarding queer in-community policing, and praises Vida for “shattering expectations of who gets to be what, and who gets to identify as what.”
The gutting emotion and sophistication with which these nuanced, endlessly intricate topics are explored would be reason enough to tune in. Vida’s juggling of dozens of themes in its second season opener is more fluid and mature than its first, and even in relationships rife with other interpersonal obstacles, multi-layered queerness never takes a backseat.
According to Saracho, Vida’s ability to carry out these essential, but rarely depicted, conversations has to do with representation at all levels in the industry. While praising Starz Executive Vice President of Originals Programming and Vida champion Marta Fernandez, Saracho also states her belief that “it’s dangerous to think that we’re there,” when it comes to equal opportunity and access to storytelling on this commercial level. “There are so many Latinx stories that are in development, but never make it onto the screen.”
As evidenced by recent cancellations of shows like One Day at a Time and Andi Mack, both audience ratings and hierarchical studio opinions sway the lasting success of shows which do make it to air. “They think in numbers,” Barrera says, expressing her gratitude for Vida’s family and her trepidation with executive decisions.
Lest Vida go the way of One Day at a Time (a quandry yet to be resolved or even illuminated by the ultra-secret business dealings at Netflix), Colindrez encourages everyone and their mothers to tune in. And if this “niche” show (a term that Prada had to break herself from subscribing to) doesn’t hook viewers with it queerness, they can take their pick of other themes. Pervasive patriarchy, shifting sibling relationships, sex-positivity and sex-exhaustion, communal healing, brujería, and cats all have meaningful places in this universe.
For the crowd excited for the reboot of The L Word, know you only have to wait until May 23rd to binge the entirety of Vida‘s second season and, if the astounding, multi-layered female queerness isn’t enough, you can hunt for a Shane McCutcheon name-drop as an extra incentive.
Vida also stars Chelsea Rendon, Carlos Miranda, and Maria-Elena Laas.
Shayna Maci Warner is a GLAAD Rising Star and former EIC of OutWrite Newsmagazine. She is currently working on her Master’s in Cinema Studies at NYU, where she is pursuing the production, preservation, and programming of queer film and television. You can find her writing at GLAAD, Autostraddle, and Bi Women’s Quarterly.