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Keep Breathing and the Unique Joy of Recognizing Soap Stars on Premium TV

One Life to Live's Florencia Lozano is the gem inside a mediocre Netflix drama.
  • Former One Life to Live star Florencia Lozano in Netflix's Keep Breathing. (Photo: Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix)
    Former One Life to Live star Florencia Lozano in Netflix's Keep Breathing. (Photo: Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix)

    Like far too many of its brethren, the new Netflix drama series Keep Breathing is overdetermined and underbaked. It's a show that reminds us of the days when Netflix used to tout how their algorithm informed their programming choices based on the kinds of shows and movies its users watched. Keep Breathing feels like a show built to recommend to people who couldn't get enough of Showtime's Yellowjackets.

    On that show, a plane carrying a high school girls' soccer team crashes somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, and the girls have to survive on their own. (There's more going on in Yellowjackets, but that's the bare-bones elevator pitch.) In Keep Breathing, Melissa Barrera (Scream, In the Heights) plays Liv, a big-city lawyer who hops a flight on a single-engine plane to the Northwest Territories and crash lands in a wilderness that includes at least one bear. No soccer teammates to help (and/or hunt) her. Just endless flashbacks to the man she loves, the father who died, and the enigmatic and artistic mother with whom she shares a complicated relationship.

    To be sure, Keep Breathing isn't a very good show; it stretches its premise thin while padding out its episodes with ponderous flashbacks, feeling very much like a movie script that's been stretched out to series length.

    But if, like me, you happen to have been a viewer of the canceled ABC daytime drama One Life to Live, a silver lining emerges when we meet Liv's mom, played by actress Florencia Lozano. She's neither a name nor a face that's likely to be familiar for general TV audiences, but she'll be instantly recognizable to Days fans as Tea Delgado, the character she played on and off from 1996 until the show's cancelation in 2012 (and for a bit longer after the soap enjoyed a brief second life on streaming).

    Tea was a brilliant and passionate attorney who fell in love with Todd Manning, the town pariah who only committed about half of the crimes he was accused of over the course of his years in Llanview, PA. Nobody could get the temperature turned up in an argument quite like Tea, and the show took every opportunity to pit her against Blair Cramer as they battled over Todd.

    Blair was played by Kassie Wesley DePaiva, who I would encounter years after the above window-shoving incident when I finally saw an anniversary screening of Evil Dead II and discovered that my beloved Blair played Bobby Jo.

    At one point on One Life to Live, Blair found out she had a long-lost cousin named Adriana, who was played by Melissa Fumero, long before she was cast on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Todd Manning eventually found himself another beautiful and capable lawyer willing to defend him in Evangeline Williamson, played by future Tony winner and Girls5Eva star Renee Elise Goldsberry.

    Florencia Lozano's performance on Keep Breathing is not only a welcome presence in a show that otherwise doesn't really work, but also a reminder of what a gift it is when your favorite soap actors pop up where you least expect them. This kind of thing used to happen a lot more often when One Life to Live, All My Children, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and Another World were all shot in New York City. Back then, primetime procedurals that also filmed in the City made great use of this community of skilled performers, and so any given Law & Order episode brought with it the possibility of seeing a familiar face.

    What's especially great about spotting a soap opera performer outside of their element is that it feels like a secret that only you are in on. Soaps remain one of the truest subcultures in entertainment, where performers can amass decades-long careers and still only be known to the fraction of the population who happen to watch their show. Soap stars don't cross over very often, which is why it's such a big deal when a Julianne Moore or Michael B. Jordan makes that leap. So finding the familiar presence of a soap opera fave tucked away in some middling Netflix show feels like a gift that's being given only to you, even if said show could have used a few more shoving-out-of-window scenes.

    Keep Breathing premieres on Netflix Thursday July 28th.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Keep Breathing, Netflix, One Life to Live, Florencia Lozano, Melissa Barrera