Vida opens with a young, vocal community activist named Mari who is fed up, and is making a video blog about the gentrification of her community. Unfortunately, she is interrupted by a call from her father. Meanwhile, a close up on an older woman waking up reveals that she is having a hard time. She makes it to the bathroom to take pills, but is not fast enough. She dies on her bathroom floor.
We meet the two sisters: Emma (Mishel Prada), who is the no-nonsense, hard-ass older sister forced to return home after the death of her mother, Vidalia; Lyn (Melissa Barrera) who is the younger, less responsible daughter. Lyn welcomes Emma home, but clearly there is some history between the two. In the midst of the reluctant reunion, we meet Eddy (Ser Anzoategui), the supposed roommate of Vidalia. Eddy seems to have been the mother’s confidant and has already made the funeral arrangements, yet Emma is instantly and vocally disapproving.
At the wake, the daughters are accepting the condolences from the public. The bar Vidalia owned is a hub of the community and there are many coming forth to express their sorrow. Cruz (Maria Elena Laas), approaches the daughters and pays some special attention to Emma. An exchange between Emma and Cruz seems to shake Emma up so she goes out for fresh air.
Eddy is taking Vidalia’s death pretty hard and in a moment of deep despair begins brandishing a knife as though she’ll inflict some self harm. The knife is quickly and skillfully taken by Johnny (Carlos Miranda), who is not only a friend of the family but also Lyn’s ex-boyfriend. In Lyn’s sorrow, her and Johnny briefly spark up their attraction with some quick sex, all while his pregnant fiancee is upstairs in the main room. The bigger bomb is dropped by Johnny when he tells Lyn that Eddy was actually married to Vidalia.
After the wake there is a confrontation, started by Emma, about the “little page” that Vidalia left. Emma wants to see it and Eddy pulls it up. We do not get to see what the last wishes entail, but whatever it is, it is another chip that is added to Emma’s shoulder. She and Lyn go storming out of the apartment but not without Emma proclaiming that their mother’s demands will not stand.
The two women arrive at a local taqueria where Emma abuses a perfectly good looking taco by stress eating to the point of frenzy. Lyn is a vegan so she does not partake. Besides, she is shaken by her sister ordering in Spanish; this seems to be a rare occurrence. Emma rants about getting rid of the building and contacting the somewhat shady property agent who approached her outside of the building during the wake. As the daughters leave the taqueria, they witness Mari approaching a woman doing a video review of the nearby Birria restaurant. Mari is yelling anti-gentrification sentiments into the face of the “Warby Parker bitch”, when Emma approaches her and begins to argue. They are both standing their ground when Lyn recognizes Mari as Johnny’s little sister; “little Mari” she calls her. Mari’s button is pushed and just as things become more escalated, Lyn pulls Emma away and asks Mari to tell Johnny hi for her. Mari not only says no, but yells that neither of the daughters are liked in the community and then calls them “whitetina”.
The daughters return to their mom’s apartment and Eddy tries to tell Emma about Nelson, the shady developer that met Emma. She does not want to hear Eddy’s advice. Instead she goes to the roof top to smoke a cigarette and finds the same girl she saw earlier in the day on the ledge of the building. Emma reprimands her and the girl flips her off. Lyn finds an old VHS recording of her, her sister and mother dancing on the rooftop to Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and that music calls to Emma who walks into the living room. Both sit on the couch transfixed at how lively and beautiful their mother was. Emma breaks down and sobs. The final scene is dusk in the neighborhood with kids playing in the street.
This show is unapologetic in giving the viewer an inside look at the culture of not just Latinx folks but Spanish culture in East Los Angeles. There are no subtitles for the viewer and this gives us a more intimate experience. The very LA version of Spanish that is infused with English slang catapults me back to my youth growing up in and around that area of Southern California.
It is clear that Emma has deep pain and anger towards her mother and with the community. She shows resentment towards those she considers “pocho”, or lacking in true Mexican heritage yet is obviously conflicted about her own identity. Emma kept saying that her mother was a hypocrite so there is indeed, something that has put a divide between her and her mother. She does not even want to acknowledge her mother as anything other than a relative when she refers to her as Vidalia.
The show caught my attention and left me wanting more. I am very interested in Cruz. It seems there is some juicy history between Cruz and Emma and that Emma is using anger to deflect from what she may be truly feeling. We get to see some wonderful cinematography and are dropped right in the middle of an active community full of life and history. The showrunner, Tanya Saracho, has created a team whose heritage falls within the Latin/Spanish diaspora and this gives us the intimate and rich story presented before us. My mouth watered at the sight of the tacos Emma was eating. I had a moment of nostalgia when the camera pans out to the skyline of LA as Emma enters the building rooftop. The production team really set me in the mood to digest this story. I look forward to the coming drama and with the season only being 6 episodes, we should, ideally, get a tight, beautifully told story.
Vida S1E1 Review Score
Starring: Chelsea Rendon, Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, Ser Anzoategui, Carlos Miranda, Maria Elena Laas