A strong cast buckles under the cotton-candy weight of the iconic singer’s glamorous life, in the years before it was cut tragically short.
Once, when my daughter was a year old, we had to take my husband to urgent care and then the pharmacy. This of course happened at night, because why wouldn’t it, and as she and I waited in the car for my husband to collect his prescription, she launched into a fit to end all fits. I tried stories and singing and Sesame Street on YouTube and when those fell flat, I connected my Apple Music to the car and hit “shuffle”. And, fairy tale though it may seem, only one thing finally worked. That’s right, for a good few weeks the only thing that my daughter respected was the song “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”, by Selena. And though as a white woman who lacks the true cultural understanding of her presence, that’s my little Selena story.
Selena: The Series, Netflix’s new 9-episode series about the life and musical career of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez is a love letter to the performer, a bright and inspiring portrait of a talented young woman whose life was cut tragically and senselessly short. It’s also, unfortunately, a shiny Time Life commemorative plate, a collection of musical montages and dramatic slo-mo that somehow both deifies and sidelines its titular character. The series, produced by Selena’s father Abraham and sister Suzette Quintanilla, features a strong cast doing their best with stiff dialogue, telling a story that we’ve seen before, for better or for worse.
The Walking Dead’s Christian Serratos plays Selena as a teenager/young woman, who along with her siblings/bandmates A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria) and Suzette (Noemi Gonzalez), travel and perform as a tightly-knit family unit under the watchful eyes of their father/manager Abraham (Ricardo Chavira). The Quintanilla children, inspired and influenced by their father and his musical past, are hampered by his need for absolute control in the guise of doing right by his family. Though Selena is the focal point of the series, both A.B. and Suzette have their own struggles that get reasonable amounts of screen time even as their sister’s career is the lynchpin of everything that they do.
Selena herself is less character than characterization, unfortunately. Her recurring plot point is a desire to discover herself, illustrated partly via a series of changing hairstyles and hair colors, but she never really becomes any more than that. One example: We see her father pull her out of school when her teacher expresses concern for how much school she’s missed, but though Selena occasionally does homework on the bus and mentions her correspondence school courses, we never really get an idea about what she thinks about this. Does she wish she’d gone to school? She mentions missing her friends once or twice, but that’s soon swept under another series of concert montages. We never really get to hear her. Selena is a background player in her own story.
This series is the first of two, so the episodes end before Selena’s marriage and murder, leaving her story on a dramatic romantic cliffhanger that almost seems cheap. Let the happy parts of her story play out, given how we know it will end.
The show is at its best when Selena and her siblings (including their unrelated bandmates) are all together, just hanging out or having fun playing music. In those scenes, you get a look at their relationship and their love, and a glimpse of the Selena that her family and friends miss. She was a superstar and an icon, but she was their sister. Selena: The Series is their way to describe their sister/daughter’s journey, but the attempt sadly falls flat.
Selena: The Series is currently streaming on Netflix.