‘Vida’ Creator Tanya Saracho On Game Changer Latinx Series’ Final Season, Love, Legacy & Building It Right
“I would love to know Vida has been the entry point to so many people, because I think we built it right,” says Tanya Saracho of the Latinx series she created that begins its third and final season tonight on Starz at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT. “You know, my big motto is no stories about us without us,” the showrunner adds of the barrier breaking Vida and its goals on both sides of the camera and in the culture itself.
Having debuted back in May 2018, the East L.A.-set and LGBTQ-focused Vida saw estranged sisters Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) returning to their old neighborhood to bury their mother, sell her bar and get back to their very different lives, only to discover secrets of identity, family and community.
The first season of the nuanced and also specific Vida was one of the very best new shows of 2018 in my opinion. Even if some of you have already watched the Saracho co-penned Season 3 opener on Starz’ app, no spoilers, but let me say Vida remains a glorious original and one of the best shows of this era of Peak TV.
Last month, the Lionsgate-owned premium cabler formally pulled the plug on more seasons of the GLAAD Media Award winning show, however that didn’t mean Saracho, Prada, Barrera, co-stars Ser Anzoategui, Carlos Miranda and the rest of the Vida team were exiting quietly.
Even if they weren’t able to tell all the stories they wanted to, Saracho says this last season sees Vida go places that have never been seen on the small screen before. Talking about gentrification, legacy and love, the former playwright also says that even if Vida concluded before she thought it should, the show still ended up exactly as she wanted it to.
DEADLINE: There’s a great line in Season 3 where Lyn says I’m going to make Vida the spot in Latinx culture, and I wanted to know, as TV series, do you feel that that was what you were able to do? Did you make Vida the spot?
SARACHO: In a very specific way, I hope so. That, for this time and place, for this moment, it was the queer Latinx show – the definitive show. I don’t mind saying that, yes.
You know, I’ve had a lot of my words in Lyn as a character for all three seasons. Specifically, because she’s trying to shape the idea of the bar, of this world. So, in lots of ways, the bar is also the show, you know? And even when she talks about the aesthetic, I want it to be this defining thing for us and the viewers
DEADLINE: With that, and with Starz’s official announcement last month that the show wasn’t going to renewed for a fourth season, were you able to tell that defining story the way you wanted in the end?
SARACHO: So, the first day we got into the writers’ room, we made a whole wall of the shit we could not leave without saying. We cannot leave without saying this about immigration. We cannot leave without saying this about this and we wanted to blow up the bar or burn it. We had some good-ass stuff that you just need two more seasons to say. But the reality was I had six episodes, and it was like, fuck … so…I mean, the season got written really fast and easily because we had so much.
DEADLINE: What weren’t you able to tell?
SARACHO: There’s a love triangle between Baco, Raul Castillo’s character, and Emma and Nico that didn’t get told. You know, there’s stuff that Lyn was supposed to… well, let’s just say was taking my time with Lyn. You know, like, I want her to not have such a win yet. But we had to sort of hurry that, but the core, the last image was always going to be the last image. The last image that you saw of them two. So, I just sped us up to that image and served the storyline that I had, like, set up last season, which is the dad, you know?
So, I just leaned on that. You know what I mean? Because I had.
DEADLINE: No spoilers, with a whole season to go, but did that get you to that last image in a way that was true to where you had wanted to be?
SARACHO: Yes, because in the end, this was always a love story between two sisters, and that story got told. Right now, I am very proud and satisfied with what we told in these three seasons, you know? It was always going to be this story, you know? It was just going to have a little bit more fat in it, you know, be more plump.
DEADLINE: You know, one of the things that you have always prided yourself on and you’ve always been very, very clear on is that the representation not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera, as well. How does that part of the legacy of the show feel to you now going into this final season?
SARACHO: You know, that’s the part that upsets me the most, that I don’t have a show now to give people jobs, especially now with the coronavirus. Yes, I’m sad about the story ending, but this past season, we had four new Latina staff writers that got into the WGA …
DEADLINE: That’s great…
SARACHO: Yes, and now they’re working on other shows, or some of my other writers are out there being boss, or our cinematographer doing Hulu’s High Fidelity and I could never get her now and that fills me with such joy and pride. Now the show is over, I don’t have that. Now I just have my cats and my garden. I have nothing right now, but I do have that the way we made Vida was as important as what we made.
I love that we’ve opened so many doors and that I was allowed to do that, because, you know, I have a lot of Latina showrunner friends. There’s, like, six right now, (LAUGHS) and we share notes, and sometimes they’re executives or whatever. The thing is the big machine says you have to have people who are vetted. That’s the big thing. Is do they have a name? Do they have a CV? And I didn’t have to do that with Vida, including with myself.
DEADLINE: That’s real change in action …
SARACHO: I hope so. I would love to know Vida has been the entry point to so many people, because I think we built it right. You know, my big motto is no stories about us without us. At every point where it matters for authenticity of this particular show, there’s usually a female or Latinx involved. I hope, Dominic, I hope they let me do that again, somebody lets me do that again.
DEADLINE: Looking at what you did this final season, you’ve talked about the father coming back into Emma and Lyn’s lives, which are complicated enough to be begin with. How dos that addition to the roller coaster take us to the end?
SARACHO: It was the partners I guess, you know? There’s Lyn’s version of a healthy, great relationship, and then we’ve never seen Emma like this. She has this epic frolic that occurs with Nico. I wanted that to be like that first weekend together where you can’t get out of bed, it was like I was going back to my 20s and I wanted to capture the lovely funk of that. Then, because this is Vida, everything just breaks down …after we start in bliss and with great plans. (LAUGHS)
DEADLINE: Well, Season 3 opens like literally 36 hours after the end of Season 2 …
SARACHO: Yes, and let me say as a part of these last episodes I’m really excited about some of imagery, the tone too…
DEADLINE: Like what?
SARACHO: Like, I’ve never seen drag kings on TV, proper drag kings, not just a girl in drag. That has been a privilege to be able to have not just those clear conversations or conversations about identity or Latinidad that I have never seen, and some of the imagery this season I’ve never seen.
I’ve been thirsty for a long time, and drag kings, like a gender-bent quinceañera, you know, a queer-ceanera. That kind of stuff, it’s my life’s joy that we got a chance to do that. it feels radical to put that imagery out there. Brown people living their best life seems like a radical action. I know I just sound so proud, but it feels like, yeah, we got it in. We got it in right before we had to go, you know?
DEADLINE: Obviously, in so many ways, Vida is a show about gentrification, including the L.A. neighborhood is takes place in, Boyle Heights. You are not a native Angeleno, you came out here from Chicago, but you told this very local story in many ways. Over that time, Boyle Heights has fought back about become another casualty of Caucasian culture. How has the relationship between the show and the neighborhood changed over the three seasons, if it has?
SARACHO: I mean, the reaction, especially to Season 1 and Season 2 we would get protested on set and I would get protested online. They broke into our base camp, it was scary. You show up with your Hollywood trucks, and you take over a block or two, and I mean, it pissed people off, and I get it. I get it the reaction.
I mean, this is a community that’s getting erased, you know? A community that’s getting uprooted by change. So, yeah, it’s tough, but that neighborhood is tough, and it’s going to be fine. But by the time we were filming Season 3, the protests had died down.
DEADLINE: Was that because Netflix’s Gentefied was now on the scene?
SARACHO: (LAUGHS) I don’t know, maybe. I do know that people in the neighborhood were starting to see us differently though.
SARACHO: Well, Season 1, we did a community screening in Boyle Heights
DEADLINE: I remember that ..
SARACHO: Yeah, it was really tense when we showed up with the cast and my producers and me to mingle before the screening. People were not about it. They were not about talking to us and schmoozing.
They wanted to see two episodes and see what the hell I had done with their world, you know. Afterwards, they came out at the end of the first two episodes, and they were so warm. I can’t count how many people were like, I was ready to hate it. Or they were like, oh my god, I didn’t know what to expect, and I love it. Oh my god, you captured Boyle Heights. That was really meaningful. At least these people, these 120 people that saw the screening, they came to hate with a sign, you know, and then they saw it for what it really was. I hope others in the community felt that over the first two seasons. That they saw that we were respectful and we understood
DEADLINE: On the cusp of the debut of the final season, what have you understood about Vida and where you think it will stand in the test of time?
SARACHO: I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy, I’ll admit. You know, I’m in a quarantine, so what else am I going to do with things? But also, because I never stop and think about the footprint it’s leaving. That kind of stuff, it’s like a 20/20 vision type of thing.
Now looking back a bit, I really hope that Vida in the timeline of Latinidad in this industry made some kind of a dent, moved things. That we can look, right, and be like oh, and then there was Vida back in the second decade of the century. I know it’s lofty, but the contribution of that will be that’s who queer Latinas in LA were then and it captured a true moment
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