‘Vida’: Reflections On The Overtly Political Starz Series Premiere


Ostensibly, “Vida” is about two Mexican-American sisters returning to Los Angeles. However, it’s clearly a lot about politics.

In a highly sensitive, overly polarized political climate, we can expect to see more shows like Vida — a lot more. Am I getting ahead of myself here? Not really. Right as the show starts, two of the main characters — Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) — are revealed as sisters who have conflicting feelings toward each other, complicated by their mother’s passing.

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While in town for the funeral, the two encounter their mother’s roommate, Eddy (Ser Anzoategui). However, it turns out Eddy wasn’t just her roommate, but her wife. Throughout the episode, this inspires Lyn to call her mother a “hypocrite” — presumably because, at some point, her mother must have expressed disapproval of homosexuality (though this episode doesn’t make the specifics clear).

So, as you can see, there are already political dynamics coming into shape. To up that factor, there’s the hyperactive activist named Marisol (Chelsea Rendon), storming around with her cellphone, lamenting gentrification in her neighborhood.

In case you didn’t know, “gentrification” is when a poorer population risks displacement, replaced by more “affluent” residents and developers. She confronts a few random white people who are filming a restaurant review, about their whiteness. It’s an interesting character, given how in-your-face she is, and definitely symbolic of the times.

Not a Kid’s Show

Warning to prudish parents:  This is not a kid’s show.  There’s a sex scene in this pilot episode, between Emma and her ex, Johnny (Carlos Miranda). Of course, any time sex is involved, you can bet some drama could follow. The question is, what form will it take? This first episode doesn’t really make that clear. There’s talk that Johnny has a “baby mama,” and that this lady isn’t well-liked by either sister. Still, it’s not really clear where this is going — especially when said baby mama meets the two at their mother’s funeral, and is actually nice to them.

So, in many ways, this show functions like an R-Rated soap opera with heightened political overtones. You’ll get development in spurts, more than likely. Who knows? Maybe “Vida” will apply soap opera logic and age a child character by 10 years in 2 seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how such basic aspects pan out. And, on that note, this first episode doesn’t have many child characters. It mostly has adults who act like children, basically.

Questions Not Yet Addressed in Episode 1

Eddy. (Vida, Starz)

It’s not yet clear how the character of Eddy will progress, and how readily the sisters will accept her as a family member.  In fact, a lot of the characters, in general, has not been revealed.  There are only hints of where they stand, what they feel and think about each other, etc.  One can assume that new issues will arise as the series proceeds, but the characters are still fairly open-ended.

I’m definitely curious about Marisol, and the issues she eagerly raises.  Given the issue of gentrification, I’m wondering if this show will highlight positive solutions to issues, such as actually creating alternative social environments and organizations. Much like in real life, TV shows that deal with politics tends to get bogged down with activism that’s dependent on already-existing institutions. For example, if people are hating the nature of capitalism and greed, why not organize real people in real-time in alternative ways? Instead, people usually just protest the things they view as corrupt while expecting them to wholeheartedly change their setup.

It would be refreshing to see these characters pool together their resources intelligently, equitably and realistically. In the process, maybe not much of a war would need to be fought. It’s too early to tell if this show will venture in that direction, or if it will be swallowed up entirely by Marisol mentality of just shouting at people, as opposed to real, meaningful and hands-on organizing.

Final Thoughts

In writing this, it may appear I was getting ahead of myself, and maybe I was applying political thought too quickly. Nevertheless, this is that kind of show, and I am that kind of viewer. I suspect a lot of people will not give this one a chance, due to its openly political nature. On that note, I’m sure plenty of reviewers will be stereotypical “social justice warrior” types, who almost feel obligated to praise the show, given its issues and advocacy. On the other hand, its harshest critic will likely be the types who really do advocate gentrification — those who can’t understand even the most obvious critiques of capitalism, and who are blind to certain injustices that obviously do exist in America (and elsewhere).

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In fact, I’m hoping this show becomes more undeniably complex than that while tying it all in with the two sisters. As it continues, I hope it leads people down surprising paths, raising interesting thoughts as well as eyebrows. Basically, this is all one can hope for with Vida. It doesn’t promise to change the world, but if it changes some minds in a positive, humane way, I won’t fault it for that.

What are your thoughts?  Did Vida raise your awareness, or raise your hackles?  Feel free to let us know!