We have a new Latinx show on Amazon Freevee —Primo— and I’m happy to report that it’s good. Created by Shea Serrano, the eight-part comedy is inspired by Serrano’s own experiences growing up in San Antonio and follows 16-year-old Rafa Gonzalez as he tries to maneuver teen life with the help of his five uncles and mom.
Primo is packed with Latinx talent in front and behind the camera, including writers Debby Wolfe and Alex Zaragoza (both having worked on Lopez vs. Lopez). The cast features more Latinx actors than you can count on one hand, making up a lovable and outrageous Chicano family with varying financial practices, definitions of success, and tamale recipes.
Throughout, Christina Vidal stands out as Drea, Rafa’s mom and the only sister in a group of six siblings. If you’re of a certain age, you may remember her as the star of Nickelodeon’s short-lived but much-loved 2001 Taina, another of those Latinx shows that got canceled too soon—and which also featured Lisa Velez, a.k.a. Lisa Lisa, and Selenis Leyva.
Vidal sat down with Latino Rebels to discuss Primo, bringing that female energy to a largely male cast, and the ways in which Latinx representation has changed since her TV debut more than 20 years ago.
“Latinx stories have evolved in this beautiful way where we’re now seeing culture be a backdrop rather than the central focus of a story,” said Vidal. And that’s certainly true of Primo, where the characters don’t reflect on their Latinidad but rather just embody it, whether in their commitment to family, the over-the-top antics, or the diversity—in skin tone, profession, and worldview.
“(The largely-Latinx set) felt so family-oriented and grounded. Because in Latino culture —which I’m sure it’s like that in other cultures, but I’m just familiar with my own— family is so central,” said Vidal. “(From) the dynamics of family and even the way we would say things to each other, it was clear there were Latinos in the (writers’) room like I’ve had this conversation with my brother, with my tía, with my mom.”
The sense of eavesdropping on a conversation in your sala is possible because, in Primo, every character is complex, even if they’re also silly.
Of her character Drea, Vidal says, “She’s not just this sergeant and this wrangler, but she’s also a member of this family and a person with desires, dreams, hopes that never came true.”
So while Drea is certainly the caregiver —the keeper of family memories and the one stuck being the adult— she’s not just that.
Take, for example, the great sequence when she finds out that one of her son’s friends was shoplifting in the store where she works. She brings out a “punishment wheel” and proceeds to serve up a hilarious but heartfelt version of tough love. In that episode, titled “The Candy Bar,” Primo shows off its expansive definition of family, one that includes found and biological loved ones and allows them all to make mistakes, disagree, and learn.
That pattern was echoed behind the scenes, according to Vidal. Blockbuster’s Melissa Fumero directed “Candy Bar,” and as Vidal shared, “That scene was our first day working together and I really attribute the freedom I had creatively, comedically in that scene to Melissa… In the way that she directed, it just gave so much freedom to try different things.”
Another great Drea episode is when she finally gets some alone time. The show follows her doing all those things women do when no one else is watching before reuniting, joyfully, with the cacophony that is her family life.
Vidal can relate.
“Being a mom of two small children, there is that tension,” she said. “You’re always like, ‘I need a break.’ But then also you need the chaos back, you love your life… You just need that space to explore you.”
That Primo can depict simple truths like that —which so many other shows get wrong either by erasing the mom’s needs or demonizing her for them— speaks volumes for the show. It hits all the right notes about gender and living in a Chicano family without ever feeling preachy.
“I hope (viewers) get to feel a sense of home, a sense of representation without feeling like it’s a caricature of what it means to be Hispanic,” says Vidal.
That’s a wish that seems likely to come true. Even though she’s a comedic actress, since Taina Vidal has largely played “tough” roles, and the reason for that is no secret. Despite comedy being Latinx audiences’ favorite genre, Latinx characters undersample in it and instead oversample in crime stories.
But not so in Primo. Here’s a show that delights in loud, boisterous Latinx families, keeping the jokes coming without ever dipping into cruel or traumatic territories. As such, Primo is a joy to watch, with Vidal and her cast showcased in exactly the type of representation we’ve been asking for.
Cristina Escobar is the entertainment reporter for Latino Rebels. She is also the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade