Pop Culturing: In 'Vida' Season 2, Sisters Doing it for Themselves (& the Community)

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Sunday May 26, 2019

Melissa Barrera, left, and Mishel Prada from the series "Vida."
Melissa Barrera, left, and Mishel Prada from the series "Vida."  (Source:Kat Marcinowski via Starz)

Returning for its second season on Starz Sunday (or you can binge the entire season via the network's app on Friday), "Vida" is more confident, proud and thrilling than its excellent freshman effort. Created by writer Tanya Saracho ("Girls," "Looking"), the intimate dramedy follows two vastly different Mexican-American sisters — Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) — who are dealing with the aftermath of their mother's sudden passing.

Season 1 saw the sisters learning that their mother, Vida, was in a relationship with another woman, bartender Eddy (Ser Anzoategui). This was especially shocking for Emma, a queer woman, since her mother had been openly homophobic and punished her as a child when she discovered that Emma was interested in girls. On top of dealing with the emotional baggage that comes with their mother's passing, the sisters also had to scramble and figure out what to do with the bar she owned, which is in major debt and also includes an apartment complex that's home to a number of undocumented residents. The sisters needed to quickly decide whether or not they should sell the building or continue to run it themselves.

Season 2 picks up not long after where the first season ended. Emma decides to leave her lucrative job in Chicago and move back home to East Los Angeles, bringing her businesswoman expertise with her in order to revive the bar and its attached apartment building, located in a gentrifying neighborhood. Emma needs to lean on her free-spirited younger sister Lyn, who has racked up thousands of dollars in debt under her dead mother's name and is keeping that a secret from her type-A sister. Meanwhile, Emma has to also help Eddy, who has been hospitalized after surviving a vicious anti-gay attack at the bar.

Melissa Barrera, left, and Mishel Prada in "Vida." Photo credit: Kat Marcinowski via Starz

Vida" Season 1 is a proud Latinx and queer dramedy" that played out like an indie movie over six half-hour episodes. In Season 2, which is bumped up to 10 half-hour episodes, that's still the same, but the series is stronger and more focused. It's less a fish-out-of-water story and more about two people fully reconnecting with their roots. It finds Emma and Lyn coming closer together as a team, despite a number of bumps in the road, to transform the passion they have for their identities and their family into something tangible; reclaiming their mother's bar and making it into a queer space for their changing Latinx community.

Things are even more complex in this sophomore season. Much of "Vida" Season 1 dealt with self-identity: Emma often faces criticisms from her own people for passing as white or straight. (Emma is strict when it comes to her job and extremely guarded when she moves about her life but refrains from identifying as gay.) The same goes for Lyn — other folks in the neighborhood think she's bougie and not respectful of her heritage and hometown. Conflict about the way in which people identify is still baked into Season 2; there's a scene early on when Emma attends a friend's same-sex wedding. There, she meets fellow queer Nico (an excellent Roberta Colindrez), who defends Emma after folks take her to task over her sexuality. It's a kind of nuanced conversation that makes "Vida" a special and vital show — you won't see this anywhere else on TV.

Elsewhere in Season 2, "Vida" takes on how late-stage capitalism is impacting the sisters and their community. Emma and Lyn are trying to turn things around with the bar the apartment complex. It's a tricky balance to stay true to their mother and the community while also running a successful small business and be decent landlords. Emma wants to make the necessary improvements to the bar, which cost big bucks, to make it a thriving hangout and enlists local contractor Baco ("Looking" star Raul Castillo), who has a good reputation of helping out the community. Nevertheless, the two butt heads; Emma wants things done professionally and on her terms, forcing the easy-going Baco to sign a contract, but he quickly figures out how to handle Emma. Emma, Lyn and Eddy also try to find an appropriate tenant for a vacant room in the apartment complex — they want someone responsible but also from the community. Their search is a minor plotline but it highlights the best parts of "Vida."

Mishel Prada, left, and Ser Anzoategui, right in a scene from "Vida." Photo credit: Kat Marcinowski via Starz

"Vida" also winks to telenovelas with drama that involves some secondary characters. Johnny (Carlos Miranda) is still trying to make amends with his pregnant wife after having a fling with Lyn but the two can't stop running into each other in the tightly knit neighborhood. Johnny's younger sister Marisol, a vlogger activist, gets folded into the sisters' lives when she's hired to watch after Eddy when she recovers at home. Her story takes a surprising left turn in the back half of Season 2 that echoes some of her biggest moments from Season 1.

It's been a fabulous year for the half-hour comedy: Hulu's "PEN15," "Shrill" and "Ramy" are some of the best shows of 2019, as are "Better Things," "Broad City" and "The Other Two." The gay comedy "Special," which contains just six 15-minute episodes, is exceptional as well. "Vida" is a bit more serious than the series previously mentioned — it has a lot on its mind and the show expresses itself authentically and beautifully. Nevertheless, it still finds moments of hilarity, making the specific story its telling about queerness, heritage and the ever-changing world around us something we can all enjoy.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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