Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good story. I'm beginning to wonder if anyone knows how to tell a good story anymore, what with reality TV (which is a kind of storytelling) and the predilection to either blow something up or show a scantily clad woman who is usually a stripper or the victim of sexual assault.
One place you could depend on to get a good story was NBC's Peabody Award-winning drama Boomtown. Its stylish Rashomon way of storytelling made it enjoyably unpredictable and had me glued to the set. So, imagine my surprise when I watched the second season premiere only to see that it had been "reworked." According to TelevisionWeek, Boomtown producers were told to make the show "more linear." Great. Now it was like any other police drama on TV. Disheartened, I scratched it from my "appointment TV" list. I needn't have bothered. NBC decided to put the show on "hiatus" after two episodes, replacing it with Law & Order SVU reruns.
The future of Boomtown is decidedly murky. TW speculates that if Rob Lowe's new drama, The Lyon's Den (NBC), continues to perform poorly, Boomtown may return in its time slot, but who cares? Unless Boomtown producers allow the show to return to its former creative impulse, the damage is done.
Thank goodness for alternatives. This Tuesday, some storytelling magic comes to the small screen in the Independent Lens' Foto-Novelas 2 by filmmaker Carlos Avila. Following the success of the first four Foto-Novelas aired in 1997, Foto-Novelas 2 returns to the Independent Lens lineup with two charming dramas, Junkyard Saints and Broken Sky. The Mexican historieta, a graphic pulp fiction form that came of age in the mid-1900s, is the inspiration behind Avila's Foto-Novelas. In their heyday, historietas were less concerned with replicating comic book themes from the U.S. and abroad, as they were with providing a means of "political propaganda ... social communication and popular entertainment," according to Sergio Ulloa (www.pbs.org/fotonovelas2).
Under Avila's guidance, Junkyard Saints and Broken Sky are two slice-of-life dramas about ordinary people making big, life-altering decisions. In Junkyard Saints, Lalo Flores (Jeremy Ray Valdez), recently released from a youth detention center, struggles with the new reality of fatherhood. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities, Lalo makes a risky decision to double-cross a dangerous drug dealer. In the backdrop is the junkyard where Lalo works. There, his crotchety boss, Clemente (in a delightful performance by León Singer), reveals his collection of "underachieving" dashboard saints. Clemente respectfully offers the saints salvation in a shed that he has kept for 30 years. In a quirky turn of fate, one of the saints turns out to work a small miracle for Lalo.
Based on the Woody Guthrie ballad "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)," Broken Sky tells the bittersweet story of Rodrigo Cortinas (Victor Campos), a former migrant worker who, after 50 years, still mourns the death of his beloved young bride Rosario (Diane Uribe). Aged and in poor health, Rodrigo is visited by the spirit of Rosario, who pleads with him to reunite with her once and for all.
While the outcomes of the stories are somewhat expected, the journey through each is engaging, and the characters complex and deeply heartfelt. How wonderful, for once, to not see Latinos cast as one-dimensional stereotypes.
Filmed in and around San Antonio, both films feature Central Texas actors, including Austin's Irene Gonzales in a small supporting role.
Foto-Novelas 2, featuring Junkyard Saints and Broken Sky, airs Oct. 21, 9pm, on PBS.