What is life like in the 21st century when you’re young, ripe for higher learning and experiences, and just happen to be of Latino descent? Through the insistence of Carlos Portugal and Kathleen Bedoya, gales of lies, sex, and dancing as explored for the original Hulu series, East Los High. In an effort to bring forth a more genuine depiction of young Latinos coming of age in the U.S. (as an audience, they are not as targeted for ratings as say 30-something men or the tween to early 20s of Caucasian girls). There really hasn’t been a show centered on this group or heavily featured since Nickelodeon’s premature cancellation of Taina. In between, there has been (for the considerably older) the Americanized reboot of Betty La Fea as Ugly Betty, George Lopez, and the Desperate Housewives spin-off Devious Maids. MTV also attempted the market with their pseudo-bohemia reality show Washington Heights. It had gained admirable buzz but had soon become a one season memory.
That being written, a lot of East Los High, which is gearing up for a third season, does share similarities with past teen soaps but a lot of it is more entertaining than you’d expect. It’s location is East Los Angeles, a district know for its adoption Latino cultures and the themes dialogue of the show are presented as very, very real.
In this series, the consequences are so straight forward, it makes a scarily precise beeline for “You should’ve thought about it twice”. In season 1, the beginning doesn’t lag, but it transpires typically with potential to be epic, as most teen dramas are. You can sense the after-school special vibe of ELH, but what makes it different, even with its elements of Dawson’s Creek, The O.C., and Gossip Girl, it goes there.
The teenagers have sex or are thinking about it, and the language is decreased in saccharine. In season 1 alone, there is a sex tape scandal, teenage pregnancies, the discussion of abortion options, and the scary affirmation of STDs. Sex is a temptation and a curse of sorts of ELH, and character Ceci’s natural birth is the most real and convincing for young people to witness since the ending of the Brooklyn indie Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. The writing is also very honest on how teenage boys and young men sometimes unfortunately treat or disguise sex as unimportant. The female characters take the blame for not taking precaution and guys let girls down a lot. Yet this district is not without romance. The romantic developments between resident hottie Jacob and pretty bad-ass Maya will make you gag because so unrequited and requited at the same time.
The show does have its fair share of enemies, but good or bad, no character is more polarizing than the intended good girl behavior of Jessie, played by Janine Larina. She is the Blair Waldorf of ELH and while that should obviously be Vanessa, Jessie’s despair over what she believes everyone else is (admittedly) doing and what people expect of her collide in her making some crappy, really crappy and deceitful decisions. She was just as messy as Waldorf was during Gossip Girl’s salacious season 1. You’ll pretty much hate her until the finale while acknowledging she was just emotionally trying to get by. Ceci is another character that at first is a little irritable, however we all know girls like her, and the better sides of her nature are revealed and once she’s out of the shadow of frenemy Vanessa. Danielle Vega as Ceci is a great talent to witness, with her ability to be both dramatic and of comedienne prowess. Her role is the reversal of Jessie in that at first you don’t care for you, but then you do.
The last highlight to discuss is again, the language and Spanglish factor of the show.So while the naturalized dialogue is shockingly raunchy, it is the charming smattering of Spanish jargon. By the actors, the diction is snappy and if you’ve ever been around fourth generation Latinos or even raised by a 2nd generation parent, you’ll appreciate and chuckle at the drop of “pendaja” for its comic relief, “mi amor” in times of calmness, and “felicidades” on what should be celebratory moments. It’s similar to how Latina magazine, meant for American-born Latinas may begin their advice columns to their high-strung readers with “Mi hija”. Also, in this world, even if she’s not by bloodline your grandmother, every elderly woman is “senora” or “abuelita”. The familial ties (they are adults present who care) and Spanish/Latin influences are strong despite the reckless behavior thrown in.
I almost missed out on watching East Los High because when I heard it was an all-Latino cast, I felt I knew it would be actors of a specific skin tone (very light) and…I was proven right. Afro-Latinos continued to be under-represented in the very projects that should include them in the lives of Latinos in America, I gave the show a chance however out of pure curiosity and that it was renewed for a season 3. So what was this show East Los High? It is enjoyable, honest, and leaves you wanting to vicariously witness more. It has just right amount of heart, lapses of judgment (for entertainment purposes), and lessons learned to keep the attention span of an audience and while the topics and situations are familiar, it’s one of the better explorations of self-discovery and bouncing back from mistakes for any young viewer to see.
P.S. In season 2, there’s the introduction of Filiberta, who’s an Afro-Latina!