It’s a wistful year for Latinx TV shows. Netflix canceled its well-regarded Cuban-American remake of “One Day at a Time,” and telenovela supremo “Jane the Virgin” is finishing up its last season.
But there is heartening news as well: “Vida” on Starz is back for Season 2, which kicked off last month and concludes June 23, though all 10 episodes already are available via streaming and on demand. It’s a deeply emotional tale of two estranged Mexican American sisters, coping with the death of their mother Vidalia (nicknamed “Vida”) and the discovery that she had a secret wife. There’s also the question of what to do with the apartment building and bar Vida owned in an East L.A. neighborhood ripe for gentrification — and whether rough-edged spouse Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) has any legal claim to it.
Those kind of characters and storylines could easily translate into a soap opera or an earnest and preachy show, but showrunner Tanya Saracho, who comes from the world of theater, makes sure that doesn’t happen. The key is the way she develops the show’s characters. They start off sounding like stereotypes but quickly reveal that they are full of contradictions and surprises.
Season 2 digs even deeper into the sisters at the heart of the show. Sexually adventurous Lyn (Melissa Barrera) appears to be a free spirit in touch with her roots. But she is also a lost soul, struggling to establish her identity and prove to her sister that she’s a worthy partner in handling their mother’s bar.
Her sibling Emma (Mishel Prada) is a lawyer in Chicago who has seemingly disowned her Mexican heritage. Emma is the dominant one, right down to her power suits, blunt pageboy and deep red lipstick, but it turns out she’s struggling with her sense of self as well. At her Chicago law firm, she’ll always be the woman of color. Back in her barrio, she’s deemed as an outsider because of her Anglo diction and ways. Yet for comfort she turns to a Mexican bean dish with plenty of hot sauce. And her hostile relationship with Eddy takes unexpected twists and turns.
But with all these heavy issues, “Vida” also is full of great humor with a Latinx flavor. Describing the fitness program Barre, one character says, “It’s like that white girl s--- when they pretend to be ballerinas.”
And unlike its sisters “One Day at a Time” and “Jane the Virgin,” “Vida” has a future: Starz recently renewed the series for a third season.