"Do you want some horchata?"And thus began Season 2 of Parenthood, the NBC drama about an upper class white family in the Bay Area. Typing this, I realize saying a TV family is White is way redundant. But I emphasize the point because of the incongruous nature of the tasty Mexican rice drink smack dab in a gringo kitchen. I mean, a buck-fifty street corner drink whirring about in a fancy blender amongst the Pottery Barn decor? Crazy. What, were the Bravermans out of wheat germ for their morning smoothies?
Still, the Horchata line was, from my perspective, a bizarre and gratifying moment. Wonderfully strange because of the aforementioned discordant presence of Mexican drink in a Norman Rockwell household: cheeky; gratifying in its suggestion that Latino culture is seeping, slowly -- horchata glass by horchata glass -- into the so-called mainstream of America. Well, at least into its one-hour drama scripts. Which, again, from my perspective, is not a bad thing at all. I love television. All of which is an admittedly long-winded intro to theme of this week's episode of Connect the Dots: the fall TV season has begun. And lots of Phantom sightings of Brown people among the pilots, second season repeats, and sitcoms.
First up, famed African American actor Blair Underwood plays a Cuban on NBC's The Event. Billed as 24 meets Lost, the intentionally puzzling show is under scrutiny because of it's unintentionally puzzling casting decision: Underwood plays a Latino. An Afro-Cuban to be precise. A color-blind casting choice which has left more than a few Latinos-Who-Care-About-Such-Things angry, because, well...probably because Blair Underwood isn't Latino. Nor is he Cuban (Afro or otherwise). He's not Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Venezuelan, Brazilian, or even from South Central. Jose Vasconcelos' utopian theory of La Raza Cosmica notwithstanding, I'm going to have to side with the angry Raza on this one. Not so much because it's the same old story of Latinos not getting a chance to actually play a Latino (which it is), but Blair Underwood as a Cuban? Puh-lease. Check out the Latino debate here. And the Latina mag story, glossing over the controversy, here.
Two new judges picked for American Idol. Simon Cowell out, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and Selena impersonator Jennifer Lopez in. I am a big Aerosmith fan from waaaay back in the day. And I'm not talking the corny "Crazy" 90s era Aerosmith, with the Alicia Silverstone jailbait videos, I'm talking "Dream On," "Toys in the Attic" badass early 70s Aerosmith. Not sure, though, how I feel about J-Lo's legitimacy as a judge for a singing competition. At least one in which contestants actually have to sing and not have their voices layered, over produced and digitally processed to hit certain notes. Go here for an unadulterated version of what Lopez sounds like before the sonic magic of Pro Tools. Be forewarned. It ain't pretty.
Speaking of judges, the one new TV show with an actual Latino in the lead is Jimmy Smit's Outlaw, also on NBC. Smits plays Cyrus Garza, a conservative Supreme Court Justice who in made up TV world was appointed by George Bush. (I'm guessing Will Smith was not available to play the Mexican American character.) The right-wing Garza's got daddy issues since his lefty Chicano father was buddies with Cesar Chavez and RFK back in the radical 60s. A quick scene of Garza watching Papi and his 60's New Left amigos on YouTube and ten minutes into Episode 1 the now remorseful Garza quits the Supreme court over a death penalty case. Great. The first Latino Supreme Court Justice on prime time TV and the vato quits before the first commercial break. How's that for a role model right at the start of High-spanic Heritage month? Oh, and did I mention homeboy's depicted as a playboy and degenerate gambler? Big deal. So the producers got some stuff right. Thankfully, in the real world, we've got salsa loving Sonia Sotomayor for our heroes. She's a badass. And probably would have made a better American Idol judge than Jenny from the Block.
"Do you want some horchata?"
Did I mention the words were spoken by actress Sarah Ramos (picture above), who plays the eldest Braverman kid? Apparently Miss Ramos is Latina. I didn't know that. She's featured this week among the young Raza celebrities in Latina mag's 25 Brightest Latino Stars Under 25. I would have probably guessed wrong on the Latinoness of many on the list. Sara Paxton? Jake T. Austin? Ni modo. These actors, and others of the Bright 25, claim their Raza bonafides by having one parent Mexican, or Argentinian, or Spanish, or a mixture of all of the above. And who am I to disagree. Talk about the future is Meztizo. La Raza Cosmica indeed. Still, one name on the list stirred the rabid cultural nationalist in me: Levi Johnson? Latino? C'mon, we have to set some kind of standard here.
Finally, the Senate Republicans in one fell filibustering swoop prevent the Defense Authorization Act from making it to the Senate floor. That's right, they didn't vote against it. They voted to not even let it be debated and voted upon. Amongst the casualties in the bill's failure are Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Dream Act, amendments added to the bill. Both measures affect millions, and both are significant to America's future. DADT deals with a wide section swath of U.S. citizens spanning all economic groups, a lot of them rich, organized, and politically connected. The Dream Act deals with a bunch of non-voting, illegal Brown kids wanting to go to college. How does this news fit our TV theme post? No surprise which group affected by the rejection of the Senate bill got the media's attention the next day. On Rachel Maddow's cable show, for instance, nearly 4/5ths of her progressive show dealt with DADT. The Dream Act? Two brief mentions totally about 15 seconds in the 60 minute show. A quick glimpse of the headlines in papers across the country reflected the same invisibility. Tavis Smiley, at least, addressed this very issue. Props to him. But the discussion took place on his radio show. And so who did Tavis feature that same night on his popular nationally broadcast PBS TV show? Ken Burns.
Do you want some horchata? Yes, please, with a shot of Tequila in it...
Make it a double.