I scarcely watch live television because I’m a Millennial, and I have gotten entirely used to no commercials, or at least only 90 seconds of commercials because I don’t feel like paying for Hulu. This means that I rely on word of mouth or remembering to check out roundups of new shows on websites like Variety so that I can try them out.
So two television shows I’ve found, even though I don’t even know what nights they air, are Quantico and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. They’re great, they’re funny (the latter), and they do a lot of shit right. Obviously they’re not perfect, because what show is, but I’m going to be really supportive here, because they are doing things better than most other shows ever hope to do. I’m going to tell you why they’re amazing, and I’m going to do so with a fair amount of rage directed at all the people who claim that diversity is an “agenda” and that there needs to be a “reason” for someone to be nonwhite. Because we all know that to be white is to be raceless and normal and universal, because race doesn’t inform the living experience of a white person, right? Ha.
I’ve somewhat grown tired of crime procedurals, because obviously they’re unrealistic, and frankly I don’t think it helps people understand how much policing is based in institutional racism when we have a disproportionate number of saintly cops on TV (I’m not saying 100% of cops are bad, but there’s very little nuance on any show about them). Like the only time you see a “bad” cop is someone with a good heart who got swept up in financial corruption. Bleh.
But I’m all about Quantico, because the casting was clearly inspired by the Shondaland approach. You know, where you actually cast based on “quality”* and let everyone audition so that you can see who best fits the role you made up in your head instead of narrowing the field before you see it – for no fucking reason.** Anyway. The main character, Alex Parrish, was clearly created with a white person in mind, because look at that name. But Priyanka Chopra plays the character, and the only change that seems to have been made is that since they didn’t change the name, they threw in the idea that she was biracial and gave her a white father. Easy peasy! I’m down with that.
I’m not Indian. But do I think it’s a total win that there is an Indian protagonist on primetime television? Yes. Because guess what? The anti-diversity trolls who call people like me Social Justice Warriors (like, do you hear yourselves? Do you not know what justice is? How can you literally say out loud “Social justice is evil”?) claim that it’s unnecessary for there to be nonwhite characters in literature, because shouldn’t we be able to identify with people who are different from us?
No shit we should. So even those of us who aren’t Indian can see Alex and go “Wow, what a cool girl!” Or we can look at one of the numerous other characters of color on the show, or the white ones! We can identify with anyone! Who knew?
If there’s any fail, it’s that the show is still picking up steam as far as its secondary characters of color, both in developing backstory and understanding how race informs the way they navigate through the world, because they were clearly written as raceless (read: white, because their characters didn’t have to think about race if they chose not to), and then casting or corporate or whoever insisted that they audition all types of people. But I will take that and let them learn how to write better than for them to write a “black character” and throw in a gang past or a Latina character and make her oversexed and give her a ridiculous accent. Grey’s Anatomy casted colorblind and then wrote in parents, microaggressions, religious traditions, and off-hand comments that spoke to what the characters became after the roles were filled with people of color. Quantico is gradually getting better at that, and I’m willing to give it the benefit of the slow start. It might have started with painting white characters brown, but they’ve given Alex a backstory set in India that’s not just some ridiculous immigration story, they do well making Nimah and Raina regular humans whose faith and ethnic background seem appropriately utilized by the FBI while not being the only thing about them.
But my favorite of the two is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s the multicultural, looks-like-the-real-world, musical comedy series that Glee could have been were it not so didactic and horrible and as formulaic with its theses as a five-paragraph middle school essay. This show is adorable, first of all, and the fact that the original music makes fun of itself and of musical genres, changing all the time, is fantastic. It’s not just covers, it’s not just trendy mashups (SO TIRED OF MASHUPS).
If you haven’t seen it, start at the beginning (the music is the best there). (You can also look up the synopsis yourself because I don’t really care to put that here.)
The best part is that it takes place in West Covina, California, which is just your average landlocked southern Cali place, and the main characters and the supporting cast look like California – that is to say, mainly a combination of white, Asian, and Latinx people. There are a few black people, of course, but it mainly seems to be a good facsimile of California’s demographics overall. Of the main cast, we have Rachel and Paula, who are white; Josh, who is Filipino; Greg, who is Latinx (though the actor is actually Italian/Portuguese/Spanish); Valencia, who is Mexican. In the supporting cast, we have a bunch of people of different colors, because that’s how the world looks, so I’m absolutely certain that they’re doing colorblind casting and that the more important thing is that people can sing if their role has music attached to it.
Or actually maybe the best part is that the way race and ethnicity are brought up is entirely natural. In the day-to-day, amongst friends, people just talk about life or obsessions with ex-boyfriends or work or whatever, but also Greg brings tacos over to Rebecca’s and makes a joke about how they’re the food of his people. There’s an occasional character named White Josh, because he’s the secondary Josh, and his friends actually refer to him like that, because whatever, it’s just cute. Or Josh’s parents invite Rebecca over for Thanksgiving dinner, and they have the traditional American spread and some traditional Filipino dishes, because that’s just what some people do, and it’s not a thing at all, but it’s also not missing from the scene. The ditzy girl who has the perfect body and acts as a foil for the main character is Mexican, because antagonists should be equal opportunity too. And you know that is a Barbie facsimile in every other show.
I love it. I love it. I love it because it’s a very good show, because it deserves a lot of points for doing cable show things on network television, for showing girls in all their craziness, lovableness, grossness, humanness, and smartness (girl lawyer! who is clumsy in some elements of her life but good at her job! who talks about having to poop!), for looking like the Real Fucking World.
Rachel Bloom won the Golden Globe, which gives the show a good chance of surviving, but please do your part by helping its Nielsen ratings (do they count Hulu? I hope so), because you will also be helping your abs, because laughing is good for them, no?
It makes me really happy to see shows like this becoming A Thing.
*Yes, assholes who claim that you don’t have to be deliberate about your reading choices in order to read diversely, because can you help it if you just read books that are “quality?” Fuck you. Go read up on hegemony.
**There are far fewer reasons to determine a character’s race prior to casting than white people would like to admit. It’s basically only a thing when you’re doing a biopic or, like, a movie about racial tensions. That’s it.