On Resurrection Blvd.
All right, I know I'm supposed to be down with seeing more Latinos on television and film, and I am -- when there's something to be down with. Resurrection Blvd., the new Showtime series featuring Latinos in front of and behind the camera, has earned some limited praise from critics and will surely rack up some ALMA nominations next time around. (The ALMAs are the American Latino Media Arts Awards sponsored by the NCLR, the National Council of La Raza.) This show is not the answer to the call for diversity in Hollywood, but it's a step in the right direction. The premise is this: A Mexican-American family with a history of boxing live and love in their humble but pleasant East L.A. home. The headstrong father Roberto (Tony Plana) leads the family and his prodigal son Carlos (Michael DeLorenzo) toward a middleweight boxing title. The other children include an older brother who is a trainer and ex-boxer (Mauricio Mendoza), a son in UCLA medical school (Nicholas Gonzalez), a daughter (Ruth Livier) who works as a secretary at a Beverly Hills law firm by day and cooks and cleans for the brood all other times, and a teenage daughter (Marisol Nichols) who has a knack for finding troublemaking vatos attractive. The extended family includes Roberto's sister-in-law Bibi (Elizabeth Peña) and the now feeble-minded and mute Uncle Ruben (Daniel Zacapa), also an ex-boxer.
Let's start with what's good about it: The look is slick, if a bit antiseptic. The characters are all beautiful, thin, and appealing. The performances are uniformly good, and the female characters do not serve merely as ornamentation, but have their own opinions and express them vociferously. It has a TV14 rating and is relatively free of foul language.
What's not quite right with it: The characters are all beautiful, thin, and appealing. There's not one ordinary-looking person in sight. The language is okay for kids, but there are enough sexual situations, not to mention the violence in and out of the boxing ring, to warrant an R rating. Aside from this, Resurrection Blvd. is not unlike any other family drama on regular network television. Its soap-factor ranks right up there with the popular Providence (NBC) and 7th Heaven (WB). What holds this show back, at least in the screener of the first episode I saw, was its plot development. That Uncle Ruben emerges from the shadows at a key moment in the first episode to literally dispose of the vato who nearly raped his niece and earlier shot his nephew elicited groans and laughter in my living room. After watching Ruben drool and catatonically stare at the television throughout the episode, then appear Dark Avenger-like at the end, was just too much to swallow. I half expected Uncle Ruben to pull a wrestler's mask over his face, unfurl a lamé cape, and slither up the side of a building when he was through with the bad guy.
Still, I'm down for the count. The show has enormous potential even if it does lapse into high melodrama. Yet even as I'm writing this, I'm thinking: What do I want? What is it that would make this the perfect representation of, in this case, Mexican-Americans on television?
I think the answer lies in the fact that because there are so few models to choose from, when something like Resurrection Blvd. comes around, so much is invested in it and expected of it. If it's a comedy, it can't just be funny, it must be hilarious. If it's a drama, it can't just be good, it must be fine. It has to capture the iconography of the culture, while not reducing it to local color. The actors must be good, but if they don't look like my aunts or uncles, it's not authentic. If the characters resemble my relatives too closely, it risks accusations of perpetuating stereotypes. In many ways, it reminds me of what Edward James Olmos as Abe Quintanilla in the film Selena says about being Mexican-American in the States and in Mexico: "It's exhausting!"
At the same time, in my role as a Latina critic (eeesh, there! I went and said it!), I don't want to reward mediocrity with high praise. So, what do I want? I want more. I want to see Latinos in shows as fine as The Sopranos and as dull as Murder, She Wrote. I want all the Latino writers and actors who've been scraping by in Hollywood to get a break, putting to rest the notion that there would be more Latino-oriented programs if only there were more Latinos in Hollywood. In short, I want it all. Maybe Resurrection Blvd. is the road to getting it. Resurrection Blvd. airs Monday, 9pm, on Showtime.
I'm over Sex and the City. Tomorrow, I could be into it again, but today, I'm over it. The third season of the HBO series has taken a disappointing turn: The women have become obsessively man-centered and perilously moralistic. Take the episode in which Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is dating a younger man who has had both male and female partners before her. This troubles Carrie, and she worries that she's not as hip as she imagines herself to be. Interesting stuff to explore, but the exploration doesn't go very far or very deep.
Near the end of the episode Carrie goes to a party with the boyfriend and the group breaks into a game of Spin the Bottle. Carrie finds herself lip-locking with another woman (guest Alanis Morissette). Put off, she makes up a lie about having to go out for cigarettes and leaves the party. Her parting words are about being too old for "the games these twentysomethings play."
In a show that explores the facets of sexuality with equal measures play and skill, this prompt dismissal of Carrie's encounter was a disappointment. Earlier in the episode, broader notions of sexuality and sexual identity rarely discussed in mainstream entertainment was the
topic among the women. It seemed like the perfect set-up for Carrie's girl-to-girl encounter. Not that I expected Carrie to blissfully fall into the arms of Alanis, but I didn't expect her to cut off the experience as foolish. A response somewhere in the middle would have been more interesting, complex, and realistic. It's too bad the episode punted the subject away instead of running with it. As always, stay tuned.
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