The Multiverse of Gina Rodriguez: Players and Better Off Dead

Gina Rodriguez, Not Dead Yet, PlayersMore than ten years ago, I worked with my old friend Angela Ortiz on her start-up of an entertainment news website called Se Fija Online – which, she told me, means something like “What’s up?” or “What’s Happening?” in Spanish. The slug: “Entertainment News about Latinos in Front and Behind the Camera.” and we covered just about everything – actors, directors, writers, producers and the stuff they made, on TV and in theaters and everywhere in between. Pretty weird, since I’m about as white as a human can be… but strangely there are no websites covering entertainment news for Swedish Americans. Not even for Scandinavians in general. It’s a scandal, I know.

Anyway: Sefija Online is still around and doing great, and I still kick in over there now and again. I have to – Angie’s and her wife as the godparents to my kids! — and I tell you, we had a great time for years and years. And among the things we got to do was to interview a bunch of young, upcoming actors – males and females – who were just beginning to make themselves known back in the day. It is amazing and gratifying to see how many of these talented young folks have become hugely successful, forces in the industry, since we sat down with them in our little makeshift studio or in one junket or another. In a few years’ time I got to be part of interviews for folks like America Ferra, Jenna Ortega, Justina Machado, Rosalyn Sanchez. Stephanie Beatriz … and Gina Rodriguez.

Gina Rodriguez has always been impressive, even back when she was a ‘starlet’ – that’s a horrible word – back when she first got noticed for that cool little indie musical, Filly Brown, more than a decade a go. We got to interview her then, and again a couple of years later when she starred in Jane the Virgin after that, and again, as I recall, a few years later when she was the voice of Carmen Sandiego in the animated Netflix series, and when she was one of the amazing voices on Lin Manuel Miranda’s music video for Puerto Rican hurricane relief, Almost Like Praying. Still makes me cry.

Anyway each time we can into her, talked to her again, I thought, ‘man, this is a smart woman. She is here for the long haul.” And she was. And now she seems to be existing on two different and weirdly related tracks, with a second season of her sitcom Not Dead Yet on ABC and a very fast and clever rom-com doing very well – with everybody but the critics – on Netflix, a movie called Players.

What’s the connection? I doubt it was intentional, though it had to have been noticed, but these two completely different performances, from two completely different companies, offer up two different versions of what might be the same character in two different universes. No seriously – think about it. In Players, she’s playing a journalist in a slowly dying newspaper, working a dead-ine beat: local sports, when she really wants to be playing, almost literally, in the big leagues. She’s got a tough boss and a bunch of very cool and quirky friends, and they spend most of their time bantering and doing bits – plays – they pick up manymen and women at bars around the city just to have wonderful sex and move on. Until she meets a very impressive Pulitzer Prize winner – sorry nominee – that she is truly attracted to, and the games get serious. It is a light, fast frothy little rom-com that’s fully self-aware of the genre and has great fun with it. And Gina, along wth her best friends – especially Daman Wayans Jr. And Tom Ellis – Lucifer himself – both in very toned down and terrific performances – are great. Gina is bubbly and smart and super-expressive and – come on – totally hot, even when she’s just hanging around. How she looked like that mere months after having a baby I do not know.

And now, meanwhile and simultaneously … Gina is also playing Nell is Not Dead Yet, where she is also a journalist, also in a dead-end job – this one writing the obits – for an entirely different but basically identical dying multi-media dailies – this one in L.A. — with dreams of being a real writer again, after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend halfway around the world and returning to her old haunts. And yes, there’s another group of quirky but cool friends, lots of fast banter, some romance, a tough boss, and another great permanence … but this time Gina’s racetrack is … a schlub. Defeated. Feeling very bad about herself and where she’s ended up in life as she approaches thirty and single. Though she’s in the same place, working the same job with similar support systems and similar ambitions… she is the opposite of Mack on Players … and she is equally convincing and enjoyable and well worth watching in both places.

It’s really a testament to Gina Rodriguez’ skill as an actress – to create two characters from almost the same place, telling wildly different versions of the same story, and making it work, at least for me, both times. I’ve noticed a lot of bad reviews for Players all over the place, and frankly … I don’t get it It’s a rom com, people. It’s not a serious romance. It’s like being disappointed because your excellent pastrami sandwich doesn’t taste like filet mignon – they’re both great, but entirely different, and I do not see how yu couldn’t enjoy the sparks that were flying off Wayans and Rodrigue and not appreciate it for exactly what it was: a romantic … comedy Say it with me now.

Anyway: Players is on Netflix and worth a watch. Tell me I you thought it was as much fun a I did. Better of Dead just started up its second season, and you can catch it on ABC or Hulu every week for a while now. You could do way worse on short-form TV, especially in comedy and especially right now. And whatever Gina decides to keep doing or does next, whether it’s acting or singing or writing or directing or mothering or all of the above – she is definitely worth watching. Oh, and Gina, if you want to sit down for another interview – with me or Sefija Online or anyone … hey, call me …


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