Mourning the Premature Ending of “Vida”
It’s a shame that viewers will never get to really grow with the Hernandez sisters.
Avid readers might tell you that a book can trigger a much more transportive and intense experience with a story than any other medium. Usually, it’s because the details and descriptions in books, force readers to immerse themselves in stories since they have to actively read and imagine everything. But no matter how debatable this is, reading a book usually has a whimsical, distant feel to it. There is a certain lightness that it affords even when the plot of a novel is intense and dramatic. This is what good movies are often able to achieve and once in a while, what great TV shows, like Vida, are able to recreate.
Vida is a story about how two sisters, Lyn Hernandez (Melissa Barrera) and Emma Hernandez (Mishel Prada) are able to cope with the death of their mother Vidalia (Rocío López), as they discover secrets and conflicts within their family and community, while also attempting to salvage what is left of their mother’s failing dive bar. Both sisters had been estranged from their mother and their L.A. Boyle Heights neighbourhood for many years before returning, but despite the sadness wrapped up in their return, the show is fantastically relaxing and causes you to involuntarily to lean into. It evokes such a pleasurable viewing experience, you can easily lose sight of time as you obsessively binge.
Still, Vida isn’t just a great art but also an expansive drama with an earnest all-purpose push that almost attends to all the strata of the American Latinx experience (the light-skinned Mexicans that is). So every character is layered with complexities that creates a sense of familiarity and connection with viewers. Emma is very stiff, extremely shielded and closed-off to any attempts at intimacy and yet she is strong, assertive and extremely likeable. Her meticulous disposition and yearning for control and order is always countered by Lyn’s effusive and c’est la vie attitude. As is understood early on, both girls often misunderstand each other and often miss the opportunity to really support each other when they the other needs it most. But that’s the magic of this show. Vida is real and honest in a way that’s neither intrusive and eerily intense, instead, it’s balanced with meaning and weight, in line with the nuances of real life.
Emma’s sexuality is fluid but that isn’t her entire identity, in fact, she can also be mean, judgmental, cold, and also a fantastic business woman. Lyn can be naive, lazy, and immature but she’s creative and she holds a tenderness and a generosity in spirt that is so infectious, she’s able to ingratiate in almost every group with ease. Social challenges are seamlessly woven into their narrative with attention to make viewers mindful of differing perspectives, but to also simplify and explain them.
The series’s creator, Tanya Saracho, was incisive about creating a different American story that excites viewers to learn about the Mexican culture, the Lantinx community; it’s history, it’s food, it’s people, streets, and murals in such a smooth and natural way. Her efforts are most pronounced in the first season where like Lyn and Emma, viewers learn about the changing parts of their old neighbourhood, the gentrification, and entry of white faces into a space which was largely Mexican and therefore othered. In every episode, Saracho sweetens this lesson with passionate music (also by Latinx talents) and graceful storytelling.
Vida has such a beautiful emotional pull that forces people to think about important social issues such as the erasure of entire communities and the loss of the soul of minority neighbourhoods with the seriousness it deserves. These issues are never shown in passing; there are no cheap monologues that sloppily address issues briefly and then somehow forget them altogether in a manner of clips. No, with the introduction of important characters like Mari (Chelsea Rendon), a young neighbourhood girl, who is a part of an activist group dedicated to preserving the identity of their Mexican community, gentrification for example, is an issue that is easy to trace in almost every scene either in the exchanges between characters or in the background. Social concerns permeates every part of the minority experience in the show much like it does it in real life.
Just as well, Emma’s sexuality and trauma from the homophobia in the Latinx community is never minimized. In Vida, the LGBTQ community is largely embraced in a way that is probably revolutionary for American TV especially Latin American stories. Sure, shows like Broad City (with Jewish women), was lauded for discussions about sexuality, yet there were limited sexual scenes to normalized lesbian sex, or at least not nearly as much as is in Vida. Sex is so natural and in almost episode, of Vida. There are very intense sexual moments between Emma and other women and they are done with care, and patience (they last a while), almost like Saracho wanted viewers to meditate on likely how ordinary sexuality fluidity was in non-eurocentric cultures (pre-colonization of course). It’s fantastic.
Obviously, no character is flawless and entirely agreeable in the show especially Vida who turns out to be a self-hating lesbian and liar. There’s also, the neighbourhood developer who is odious to his own people, the sexist dad, the cheater, horrible fathers, and then there’s also Vida’s partner Eddy (Ser Anzoategui), a well intended softy, who is insufferably annoying. She gets in the way of progress so much in the show because of her heartache and general aversion to change. But her role is important because she almost stands as a surrogate for Vidalia and serves to remind viewers about the people in our lives who are often sweet and delicate but so shortsighted, that their good intentions end up causing harm in the end. So at its root, the entire series is also about misinterpretations, mistakes, and second chances.
It’s a shame that viewers will never get to really grow with the Hernandez sisters, to learn more about how they shape their future and their community. The third and final season is airing now, and since every episode is just thirty minutes long, it prompts a greedy reflex—a desperate need to savour every moment and second until it’s really over. But Saracho does promise a complete and satisfying story about the love between the two sisters. And so, maybe this isn’t all bad. There are a lot of series out there that could benefit from being shortened since often it seems that show runners extend stories beyond where they should end due to their profitability (think The Walking Dead for example). So in that sense, maybe the Hernandez sister’s and their legacy will be conserved before their story is unnecessarily lengthened and dampened as a result.