Starz premiered a pair of two new half hour shows this week. While traditionally half hour programs are comedies, Starz has broken that mold more than once, and VIDA, one of the newbies, is certainly a drama. When the titular character dies, unseen by viewers, sisters Emma (Mishel Prada, Fear the Walking Dead: Passage) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera, Siempre Tuya Acapulco) return home for the funeral and to take care of her affairs. But secrets come out and circumstances conspire to keep the two tied to the Eastside of Los Angeles, the heavily Mexican-American neighborhood they grew up in.
Prada and Barrera are excellent as the two siblings at the center of VIDA. Their interactions reveal gobs of backstory. While much of their rocky relationship seems familiar and relatable, they are fully formed individuals, not stock characters. This allows us to both quickly understand the dynamic between them, but also not to give away a predictable story. The best scenes of the pilot are any time the two of them are talking to one another. Thankfully the premise sets this up to be a big part of the series.
Their first obstacle, and probably the biggest they face, is that their mother’s property is to be split three ways, not two. The reveal that’s roommate, Eddy (Ser Anzoategui, East Los High), is actually her widow is far from a surprise, obvious from the moment the character is introduced. But despite the stereotype the character visually appears to be, she quickly reveals herself to be a more rounded personality, sympathetic and warm. Eddy is much more than a side player, and her existence plays into a lot of possibilities moving forward. Hopefully, VIDA will give her as much prominence as the other two.
More of a trope is Johnny (Carlos Miranda, The Bling Ring), Lyn’s ex who is engaged to the mother of his soon-to-be-born child, but who of course falls right back into sexual relations with Lyn. This is a very overdone type, and not one I’ve ever encountered in real life. He is there to add tension, but unless they develop him beyond the superficial, and they may, there’s not much point in having him around beyond how he informs on Lyn’s character.
The wild card is Johnny’s sister, Mari (Chelsea Rendon, Bright), who is a rebel with some causes, seemingly. She is fighting back against the gentrification of the neighborhood, though she is doing so in such an extreme way that it’s clear she won’t succeed. Not that one would expect any single person to be able to stop a trend like this, but she is going about it in probably the least productive way. After episode one, it’s not clear exactly how she will figure into the sisters’ tale, though given their desire to sell the bar and apartment building their mother owned, there will likely be a bit of overlap.
I liked VIDA, but I didn’t love it. The characters and world are very specific, in a good way, with a well-defined universe to exist in. There is representation in the cast and story that don’t often show up on television, and the social issues raised are timely and important. There pacing is fine, and the direction is interesting. It feels like an indie drama film about a family, stretched out a bit.
Yet, it lacked a strong hook. I’m curious about what will happen next, but there’s not a character that stands out or a part that really draws focus to latch onto. The evenness of the quality is generally a good thing as a show goes on, but the pilot needs something special to really make a broader audience take notice. I can’t say I really saw that in the first episode of VIDA. Though, at only six episodes in the first season, and the apparent quality of the production, it’s probably worth giving it a chance.
VIDA airs Sundays on Starz.