Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘Selena’ aims for sincerity, ends up overdone and cliché

“Selena: The Series” focuses on the life of the late Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla — played by Christian Serratos — and her rise to fame. Tinged with late-’80s and early-’90s aesthetics, the nine-episode Netflix series toes the line between schmaltzy and sincere, similar to shows that aired around that time, but lands on the sincere end only sometimes.

“Selena: The Series,” a Netflix-original that follows the life of late Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla, debuted on Friday. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The show relies on Selena’s issues with her record label as the primary conflict, and while it works to move the plot along, it fails to be as intriguing as Selena’s bonds with her family, friends and the world at large. The result is a mixed bag of charming relationship growth slipped between a slightly lethargic plotline about the music industry.

For a show entitled “Selena: The Series,” the focus seems to oddly be on her father Abraham Quintanilla, played by Ricardo Chavira, and how he manages his daughter’s career. Audiences don’t see Selena grow significantly as a person, but rather see the rise of a pop star through the lens of a stern parent-agent.

While this could have been an interesting, untold perspective of the singer’s life, the show becomes less engaging by shining a light on a story we are already so familiar with. For an artist who was featured in a biographical film two decades ago, the show feels unnecessary, relying on a plotline Selena is not heavily involved in.

Selena’s label issues are less documented in film and television, which is a positive of this show. But, it fails to hone in on family members other than Abraham — for instance, Selena has a brother named A.B. who worked with her on her music, but the show rarely touches on those other interactions. In this way, the series feels impersonal, especially for a biopic.

There are moments of sincerity in “Selena” that tug at the heartstrings, such as her transition from singing in English as a child to singing in Spanish professionally, which showcases Latin-American representation in the music industry. In the second episode, a Latina child gives Selena a flower as a token of appreciation after she sees her perform, and this adds emotional weight to the story.

The following episode shows how Selena’s sister Suzette, a drummer for the band, strikes a chord with a young girl aspiring to be a drummer in an industry dominated by men. These seemingly small instances of earnest admiration are present throughout the series and result in some of the show’s most heartwarming moments. The only downside is that these scenes are only a subplot to the main plot: Abraham navigating the music industry with his family.

While the show’s writing can feel stilted at times — there are moments where it feels like I’m watching a Selena-themed episode of “Full House” — the show excels at showcasing the bonds between members of the Quintanilla family. “Selena: The Series” allows family vulnerability to shine, clichés and all, and these relationships are what cement this show as a feel-good story of a rising star.

The bond Selena has with her siblings, while occasionally cheesy, oozes a wholesome charm that’s often lost in many of today’s live-action TV shows. In that sense, the series’s embrace of sentimentality found in many shows from the late ’80s not only works well as a complement to the show’s visual aesthetic, but also as a refreshing piece of media during hard times.

“Selena” is at its strongest when it showcases the impact and representation its titular pop singer brought to Latin Americans, both in her home and around the world. That is where “Selena: The Series” shines: through the infectious charm of its protagonist and the emotional connections she builds with people because of her fame.

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