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Selena: The Series neither captures nor honors the memory of Selena Quintanilla -- it fails to give her a voice

  • The Netflix series starring Christian Serratos as the Tejano music icon "instead focuses on her father and brother, patriarchs of the Quintanilla family, which oversees her estate," says Lorraine Ali. "They also executive produced the series. It’s an insurmountable problem for an already formulaic series, created by Moisés Zamora and directed by Hiromi Kamata. Viewers never get to the bottom of who Selena is, what drives her or what holds her back, because she’s never afforded the same amount of attention or character development as the men behind her career." For her part, Serratos' Selena is a charismatic presence -- on stage. But unlike Jennifer Lopez's Selena in the 1997 biopic, "Serratos hasn’t been given much to work with offstage," says Ali. "Netflix’s Selena is a sweet girl who likes to design clothes, dye her hair and, of course, sing — the series rarely goes deeper than that...Even as the series moves into Selena’s teen years and early 20s, it’s her career successes and trials that are used to define her, rather than the kind of characterization that might illuminate her inner life. When she does endeavor to search for who she really is, it’s through the prism of seeking advice from her dad...It’s a sad comment on child stardom, and it underscores the harsh reality that Selena’s not here to tell her own story. Other issues with the series include clunky dialogue, corny jokes and family scenes that feel overly engineered to promote a wholesome household and business picture. Selena misses out on school while on the road, playing venues across Texas, but apart from missing her friends, she’s fine — just as her father predicted she would be. Her family is not pleased when she carries on with the band’s guitarist, her eventual husband, Chris Pérez (Jesse Posey), but as overbearing as they are, they’re just looking out for her."


    • Selena: The Series mutes Selena, making her essentially the "goose that laid the golden egg" and a "beautiful ghost": "If this is a cultural element, which seems to be what the series is going for, there isn’t any discussion and that’s probably because there’s absolutely no talk about Selena’s feelings towards anything, let alone her identity as a Mexican-American," says Kristen Lopez. "Serratos is beautiful and does a lot to make Selena as much of a person as the script allows. But that tends to extend to little more than smiling, laughing, making jokes, and being an all-around perfect sister and daughter. It’s important to remember that Selena was performing from the time she was 10 years old and started to see success by the time she was 15. Yet there’s no in-depth discussion about how she feels about being the breadwinner as a teenager. Sure, we get a shopping montage; we know what she likes, but never who she is or wants to be — short of successful and falling in love. To make this even more treacly, we’re shown several — practically one an episode — moments of young girls looking up at Selena, worshipping at her figurative altar. Even her family, and eventually Chris, are given slow-motion moments to moon over her and experience that undefinable (as far as the series tells it) thing that makes Selena so special. And if you’re not sick of montages, be prepped, because nearly every song Selena sings is accompanied by a flashback, implying that she always sang about things that directly connected to her life, probably as the script’s only way to infuse her with history."
    • Selena: The Series should be viewed as a supplement to the 1997 movie starring Jennifer Lopez, not a replacement: "Selena, the movie, is centered around Lopez as Selena," says Shea Serrano. "She’s the engine for all of it, her megawatt charm powering everything forward. Selena: The Series, though, which was produced, in part, by members of her family, focuses more on the people around Selena. Doing it that way has its obvious drawbacks. (The show is at its best when Christian Serratos, who plays Selena, accesses the full capacity of her charisma, particularly the scenes in which she’s performing as Selena; it’d have been nice to see her on-screen as much as possible.) But it also allows for some neat, unexpected moments."
    • Selena: The Series sketches Selena as a saint more than a human being: "While Serratos gives a perfectly likable performance, the overall effect is saccharine: Selena as Disney princess," says Judy Berman. "Potentially fraught topics such as Abraham’s controlling behavior and the Quintanillas’ hybrid Mexican-American identities are similarly glossed. Maybe this sugarcoating was a conscious choice, made in hopes of attracting a young audience, but as Netflix’s own Baby-Sitters Club and Julie and the Phantoms have recently shown, tween TV can be wholesome without being bland. It’s difficult to dramatize a musician’s life story without giving in to pretentiousness or cliché. The songwriting process rarely makes for riveting entertainment. If you’ve seen one zany cooped-up-on-the-tour-bus sequence, you’ve seen them all. In its 244 episodes, Behind the Music solidified the rise-and-fall, triumph-to-tragedy template—one that fits Selena’s career, which the docuseries addressed in its first season, by virtue of her murder at the hands of her fan-club president, Yolanda Saldívar. Yet if most pop-star biopic scripts read as formulaic or overly expository on paper, then Selena: The Series takes lazy writing to another level."
    • Selena: The Series is really about her family, but it couldn't be called "The Quintanillas": "Some Selena devotees may not appreciate why her story needed a new adaptation after the 1997 feature film that launched Jennifer Lopez’s career, but the new iterations expands the Queen of Tejano’s narrative beyond just her," says Kiko Martinez. "In fact, if Netflix had called its new series 'The Quintanillas' instead, it might convey what the program is about more effectively. Selena: The Series is a coming-of-age show about a tight-knit family determined to make a better life for themselves using only the resources available to them. Of course, its main draw is Selena (played as a teen and adult by Christian Serratos), but the series is a true ensemble."
    • Selena: The Series is an oddly structured, ultimately unnecessary recitation of events: "The tone of Selena: The Series falls somewhere between a soap opera and a family comedy," says Alexis Nedd, adding that the "odd tone follows Selena: The Series through the nine episodes that comprise Part 1 of the show, which constitute a traditional first season of streaming television. Selena’s death is a constant elephant in the room as the episodes meander from career highlight to career highlight, and the season ends on a cliffhanger that anyone with an internet connection would be able to resolve. If Selena: The Series seemed like it had more to say about Selena other than 'she existed' and 'wasn’t the music great?,' then splitting her story into two seasons might be justifiable. This show does not have anything to say beyond those two things."
    • The episodic format advances at a snail's pace -- unlike movie biographies that by necessity race to the good stuff: Selena: The Series is earnest but dramatically flat, says Brian Lowry. The show's "quest unfolds so slowly that the episodes -- most of which run less than 40 minutes -- exhibit a conspicuous lack of momentum. Tensions do exist within the family, and eventually questions arise about Selena dating as she matures under her father's watchful and protective eye, but not in a way that elicits consistent involvement thanks to the shortage of dramatic inflection points. There is, not surprisingly, a lot of music, and key little moments, like the decision that Selena should perform in Spanish. Yet several of the episodes don't really arc toward anything, but rather abruptly end before moving on to the next chapter."
    • Selena: The Series fails to take a new approach at retelling a retelling: "Selena: The Series contains a sense of uncomfortable voyeurism, a feeling of déjà vu—things that have been seen and experienced before, but now there is an air of repeated intrusion," says Kayla Sutton. "If the attempt was to dive into more of the lives of the other family members, a title change could have leveled expectations; those looking for Selena-driven stories will not encounter them until late in the first part of the run. Selena adored her fans; she opened her life up to them, but it’s hard not to wonder if she would be okay with multiple tellings of her story from one point of view—her family’s (Selena’s father and sister serve as executive producers alongside co-showrunners Moisés Zamora and Jaime Dávila). The 2018 Telemundo series, El Secreto De Selena, was publicly condemned by the family, who also took Selena’s husband Chris Pérez to court to stop his own series about her life from being brought to fruition. While Selena’s cultural impact has been felt through the 25 years since her passing, from her signature red lip to the way she managed to make a white tee and jeans feel like the epitome of glamour, each familial telling of her story paints a saintlike picture. A different point-of-view would have given the series a nuanced story that would have set it apart from the film. Selena was and is greatly missed; that she broke down barriers for Latin women in the music industry is undeniable. Unfortunately, Selena: The Series follows in its predecessor’s footsteps too often to match the ground-breaking spirit of its subject."
    • Rather than characterization, the show gives us trivia: "Here’s a guitarist that used to be in the band, but then he quit," says Inkoo Kang. "Selena once wanted to stop by the Mall of America on the way to a show, but her dad said no. A club owner once held a grudge against Abraham. There are some genuinely interesting details, especially in the DIY workarounds that Abraham and A.B. come up with in the Quintanillas’ painfully slow reversal of fortune after the family’s eviction from their early suburban home. With the show effectively a prequel — since we know what’s to come and how the story will end — it needs all the uncertainty and doubt it can muster. Instead, we get minutiae. The weak scripts do the performers no favors. Serratos was already at a disadvantage stepping into a role that solidified Lopez as a star, and the show doesn’t give her enough of the spotlight, even when Selena’s onstage, quickly cutting away to audience reaction shots. (Like Lopez at the time of filming, Serratos was in her late 20s when she played Selena as a teenager — a casting choice that makes it harder to appreciate just how young the singer was when she began climbing the charts, and how little she got to live.)"
    • Costume designer Adela Cortazar used a super archive that helped her and her team figure out timing and form for the costumes: "What I love most about my job is dressing across time," Cortazar tells EW in Spanish from her home in Mexico City. "The challenge working on the series was finding Selena y Los Dinos in fashion magazines to become familiar with their style and what trends they followed, both individually and as a whole. This went beyond their clothing and into jewelry and accessories, too. All of which we either handmade ourselves or procured from vintage shops. The hope is that through our work, we are able to transport viewers to the past and remind those who grew up back then of those times."
    • Selena Quintanilla's husband Chris Pérez reacts to Selena: The Series on Instagram
    • Creator Moisés Zamora wanted to approach the series through a wholesome and inspirational lens: Zamora -- who set his wake-up alarm to “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” for extra inspiration -- says: "I really wanted to show what that Mexican POV was. There was a risk of mainstream media not really, perhaps connecting as much with the conjunto and cumbia music because it’s just so different from the music a lot of people connected with Selena. I really want to show what it’s like to be in this world, to come and be an American teen, but be from a Mexican working-class family of immigrants — the same people they performed for early on. That was part of the strategy. I wanted to show that because you can’t show the glitz and glam of Selena later on without taking a look at that foundation — and that foundation comes with cowboy hats and warehouses in Idaho."
    • Executive producer Jaime Dávila wanted the first season to focus on what it took to make Selena famous: "The first part focuses on the making of a legend, but what was the hard work to get there?" he said. "I think that there was something just so beautiful in showcasing what Mexican-American families are really like. I think that's a big part of growing up. All the success I've had in my life is due to my family."
    • Christian Serratos on the inevitable Jennifer Lopez comparisons: “Sometimes I do have to remind myself that I can’t please everybody because I’m human,” she says. “But the thing I tried to do first and foremost was to honestly portray her spirit because I think that’s what made her so lovely and so iconic. I think that’s why we all love her so much because there are icons and people we love, but there’s something so personal about Selena.”
    • Serratos knew she wasn't going to make everyone happy: “I knew that getting this was going to be difficult for a slew of reasons,” Serratos says. “I had to really take such care and have so much respect for everything the fans love and everything that she was to her family. And I knew I was never going to make everybody happy. I knew that because she had that star quality. We all feel a sense of ownership when it comes to Selena — that’s my homie, that’s my family, that’s my sister.”

    TOPICS: Selena: The Series, Netflix, Adela Cortazar, Christian Serratos, Jaime Dávila, Moisés Zamora, Selena Quintanilla