Chelsea Handler’s NETFLIX Talk Show Made Me Get Up and Vacuum!


Over the past 20+ years I’ve watched, analyzed and programmed countless new talk shows.  Most of them failed.  That’s because launching a successful talk show takes more than just a familiar face.  It’s takes a strong point of view, a clear identity and talent with whom the audience connects.  Chelsea Handler’s new talk show for NETFLIX is an interesting experiment.  The streaming service known for popular and acclaimed scripted series has not just dipped its toe into the talk show genre, but jumped in head first.

I like Chelsea Handler. I enjoyed her show on E!  I especially enjoyed her when she covered topics in which she was particularly interested or invested.  By the end of her run on E! Handler was honest about not wanting to talk about the Kardashians and Justin Bieber anymore.  Her show on NETFLIX affords her the freedom to more clearly define her voice, not just as a comedian but as citizen of the world.

So, having experienced what I can honestly say are some of the worst talk show launches ever, I chose not to watch the first week’s batch of episodes that NETFLIX made available for streaming.  Instead I started with week 2.  I immediately had the same problem with Chelsea that I had on her E! talk show, her monologue.  Although this really doesn’t count as a traditional monologue since she she only covered one topic and quickly moved on to her guest, Christina Aguilera.  The interview portion was fine, but Chelsea lost me when the segment moved into Aguilera giving her voice lessons. Next, was an interview with openly gay soccer star Robbie Rogers and some sports critic.  Talking about why soccer isn’t as popular in America as it is in the rest of the world is not in Handler’s wheelhouse and that’s not unexpected.  As Handler tried to keep the segment interesting by making fun of the critic, I decided I should vacuum my living room.  When I turned to the tv, there was pretaped segment of Chelsea learning how to figure skate on, so I decided I would clean the stairs.

Then, as I turned the vacuum off, I look up at the tv and Chelsea was back with Rogers and the sports critic talking about Rogers’ experience coming out as a major sports star and the reception of homosexual athletes in the world of sports.  It was a topic in which she was invested.  She asked great questions. It was an interesting conversation.  Even the critic was interesting.  I was seeing Handler in her wheelhouse, in her voice.

As anyone with NETFLIX knows, after an episode of a show ends, it will automatically take you to another episode.  This one was a conversation with comedian Wanda Sykes, where they discussed why Sykes would perform in North Carolina despite their recent transphobic bathroom law.  They then segued into the presidential election. It was a compelling discussion about why they like Hilary Clinton, but also why they weren’t necessarily excited by her.  They were smart and funny. Not a surprise.  During the segment, Chelsea introduced President Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau (not the actor/director) and the three continued an compelling conversation about their election with Favreau sharing two insightful and funny stories about President Obama.

Chelsea Handler will produce at least 90 episodes of her show for NETFLIX.  This gives her the time to find her footing and the right voice for the show.  It will be interesting to see what happens with this show.  Unlike the scripted shows on NETFLIX this isn’t a show that I would binge in one sitting.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz about it, and I’ve seen no promotion.  Honestly, I forgot the show had debuted until I saw it on the home screen when I went to check out some viewing options on the streaming service.  Chelsea Handler has 5.8 million Twitter followers,so maybe that’s all the promotion she needs.  I follow her and can’t remember seeing one tweet from her about the show.  She should put her assistant on that, stat!

Have you watched Chelsea on NETFLIX?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” GETS SEASON 2 (MOSTLY) RIGHT!

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NETFLIX found an unexpected gem in season 1 of “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” from c0-creator Tina Fey.  The show was orginally set to air on NBC but lucky for all involved moved to NETFLIX where its quirky humor was more likely to find a more accepting audience. The show continues its sometimes frenetic story telling pace, along with Tina Fey’s sharp and smart writing.

Season 2 picks up not long after where the season 1 finale left off.  After successfully testifying against the cult leader that kept Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and other women hostage in an underground bunker for fifteen years, she’s determined to put her past behind her and make up for all the time she lost. This being the strongest story thread in the new season, finds us going along on a journey with Kimmy as she  must figure out who she is and learn how to deal with the demons of her past. Kemper continues to be charming in the role and I really can’t think of anyone else who could play the role.

This season also gives a bigger platform to the character of Titus, played by breakout star Tituss Burgess. As with many sitcom supporting characters that become popular, the show gives Titus bigger story, which isn’t always a good thing.  In a season where all the characters are searching for the truth of who they are and what they want for there lives, Titus’ larger than life character is often to0 much in early episodes of the second season.  Fortunately, with the introduction of construction worker and love interest Mikey (Mike Carlsen), Titus becomes less caricature and more human. While he’s given plenty of fun musical numbers throughout the season, nothing comes close to his season one performance of “Peeno Noir.”

This season “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” shares the love of developing the characters of Kimmy’s landlord Lillian (Carole Kane) and her suedo-boss Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski).  Each are given very well throughout character driven story arcs that stay true to the characters to whom we were first introduced in season 1.  Both are incredibly talent actresses and should be on the short list for Best Supporting Actress in comedy category come Emmy time.

This season also boasts two spectacular guest stars.  Tina Fey  plays a therapist with whom Kimmy becomes unusually closed, while Lisa Kudrow pops up in a surprising role. I’m not going to spoil it, so you’ll have to watch to find out!  Again, both actresses should earn Guest Actress Emmy nods.

Like many sitcoms before it “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” addresses the theme of family, the one you’re born into and the one you create for yourself.  I think of this particular group of “THE GOLDEN GIRLS” on acid. The early episodes of season 2 are a little uneven but ultimately saved by an overall story arc that leads to a very satisfying season finale. If you liked season 1, you’ll enjoy season 2.  Again, I was bit frustrated early on and could have done with less Titus, but it all works out in the end.  I will say that this is a show that should be binged. If I had to watch from one week to the next, I probably would have given up by episode 4. But, thankfully NETFLIX put all 13 episodes up at once that made for a quick, easy and ultimately satisfying binge.

In case you missed it, here’s Titus performing “Peeno Noir” from season 1.

The 5 Best Gifts TV Gave Us in 2015!

With over 400 scripted series on television and countless reality shows, there really is something for every spread across broadcast, cable and digital platforms.  But quantity does not equal quality.  With Christmas right around the corner, here’s my list of the 5 Best Gifts TV (including digital platforms) gave us in 2015 (in no particular order).

  1. Live Scripted Performances on NBC – In the pioneering days of television almost every program was performed live, but in recent history live performances have mostly been relegated to awards shows, reality show finales, the Super Bowl and 2 soaps during sweeps months (“One Life to Live” & “General Hospital”) and sitcoms like “Roc,””Will & Grace” and more recently “Hot in Cleveland.”  But in the spring of 2015, NBC aired a one hour live edition of its struggling sitcom “Undateable.” With musical performances from British pop star Ed Sheeran and guest stars including “Scandal’s” Scott Foley, the show served up it’s funniest episode up to that point prompting NBC to order of third season of all live episodes.  “Undateable” has become the most creative, daring and by far funniest sitcom on broadcast television this season.  While the live production isn’t without it’s technical problems, which have vastly improved, it all still works.  Watching the cast make each other laugh and use timely, real world references is just plain fun, something most returning sitcoms are missing this season. During the past few years NBC has also been staging live productions of classic musicals during the holiday season.  While “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” fell flat, this year the the network wisely chose to update “The Wiz” featuring new-comer Shanice Williams as Dorothy and an all-star cast (Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and Ne-Yo). “The Wiz” was a success on all fronts. It was expertly directed, choreographed and performed. The success of “The Wiz”should signal a change in the way NBC approaches its live musical productions. With FOX airing a live production of “Grease” this winter I’m hoping other networks look for creative ways to deliver more live scripted programs, especially on the one hour drama front. I would love to see a live episode of “The Good Wife” set in a courtroom during a big trial.
  2. “Empire” (FOX) – “Empire” premiered it’s first season in January of 2015 and became an instant hit and pop culture sensation.  Oscar nominee Taranji P. Henson gave the break-out performance of the year as mother and ex-con Cookie Lyon, but it should be noted that Terrence Howard’s underrated and under appreciated performance and patriarch Lucious Lyon is giving other classic primetime soap villains JR Ewing (“Dallas”), Alexis Carrington, (“Dynasty”) and Angela Channing (“Falcon Crest”).While season 2, which premiered this fall hasn’t benefited from the strong narrative of season 1, and has had some story missteps (Jamal sleeping with a woman, sigh…) “Empire” overall delivers soapy goodness.
  3. “Looking” – Season 2 (HBO) – In 2015 HBO delivered the second season of “Looking,” the half hour dreamed about a group of gay men in San Francisco facing challenges in romance, family and career. The show delivered a sexy and nuanced love triangle between Patrick, Kevin and Richie which I’m sure the writers planned on diving deeper into in season 3 if there was one.  Unfortunately HBO decided to cancel the quiet series that didn’t make as much noise as the creatively challenged “Girls.”  The second season of the show was also notable for introducing HIV positive character Eddie and being the first tv show to have a characters talk about PreP (Truvada) a drug the FDA has approved for use to help prevent HIV infections in conjunction with other safer sex practices such as condom use. HBO ordered a two-hour wrap up movie of “Looking” to air in early 2016, but it still stings that a thoughtful show about gay men as leads had such a short life.  Luckily, for fans of the show and for those yet to discover it, episodes of “Looking” will live on HBO GO (HBO’s digital platform) forever. And if we’re really lucky, the “Looking” movie will do well enough for HBO to revisit the characters with more tv movies.
  4. Mature Audiences Matter on Digital Platforms – With the broadcast networks still chasing the 18-49 demo, digital platforms such as NETFLIX and AMAZON PRIME proved that stories featuring older characters still matter and can draw an audience. Shows like “Bloodline” (NETFLIX), “Grace and Frankie” (NETFLIX), “Transparent” (AMAZON PRIME) proved that older, mature characters are still compelling and can carry story.  With few exceptions, broadcast television has abandoned storytelling for older characters unless they’re male leads on procedural dramas or supporting characters.  Digital platforms have embraced these characters and delivered high quality series centered around them. A few weeks ago I was watching “The Golden Girls” and realized that today that show wouldn’t exist on broadcast television and if it did, it would be a watered down version not nearly as relatable or timeless as what we got in the 1980s.  Digital platforms have created a space for the diversity in story-telling that doesn’t exist on broadcast television.
  5. Regina King wins an Emmy! (“American Crime, ABC) – Regina King is that rare actress who started out as a child star and was able to stay out of trouble as she transitioned into an amazing adult actress.  I always thought her performance on the NBC/TNT drama “Southland” should have been earned her multiple Emmy nominations but it was her performance in the limited series “American Crime” that earned her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.  With every performance, whether on tv or the big screen, comedic or dramatic, King gives strong and nuanced performances.  Based on the reviews and buzz she could find herself back in the race for her performance in HBO’s “The Leftovers.”  King returns for the next edition of “American Crime” in 2016.

NETFLIX Comedy “Master of None” is Worth a Look

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Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”) stars in the new Netflix series “Master of None” proving himself to be a solid leading man.  The series, set in NYC, follows Dev (Ansari) a struggling, but working actor navigating life in the big city.

In between auditions for commercial, tv and movie roles, Dev surrounds himself with friends Denise (Lena Waithe), Arnold (Eric Wareheim) and Brian (Kelvin Yu). Unlike many other series set in New York, “Master of None” cast supporting characters to reflect the diversity of the population within the city.  Even the extras represent a diversity not seen in other New York centric shows like “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” and “Seinfeld.”  Much like in the FX series “Louie,” Manhattan looks and feels authentic.  I could actually feel the influence of “Louie” on the show, except “Master of None” is much lighter in tone. The show thoughtfully explored Indian stereotypes within the entertainment industry and confronted the narrow mindedness of studio and network executives head-on.

Much like many other Netflix series, “Master of None” takes viewers on Dev’s personal journey over the course of 10 episodes. Dev questions his place in the world, his choice of career and how his life would have differed without the sacrifices made for him by his parents.  The journey also includes a cute but often rocky romance with Rachel (Noel Wells).  Dev’s parents who immigrated to the U.S. warmly welcome Rachel into their lives with no hangups about her not being of Indian descent, which in 2015 is refreshing. It would have been nice if another young Indian woman had been included in the cast. It would have been a different and interesting perspective of Dev’s story.

“Master of None” is a solid show. By the finale, the story lead Dev in a natural direction that made me wonder what’s next for him.

Check out the trailer for “Master of None” below.

 

3 TV Shows That SHOULD Get a REBOOT!

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Most of the tv development news coming out in recent months has been about reboots of old series and in some cases movies.  Networks are trying to lure viewers with known brands, some of which weren’t that successful the first time around such as THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO which originally aired on ABC and is now in development at FOX.

I decided to get in on the fun and offer up some ideas for three series reboots that could be fun, compelling and relevant.

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QUEER AS FOLK originally aired on SHOWTIME from 2000-2005 and at the time was a groundbreaking series about a group of gay and lesbian young adults navigating their love lives, careers, and the political landscape of the early 2000s. I watched all five seasons of the show and thought it was at its strongest creatively in its final season.  This is when the characters took on political activism at the local level fighting for gay rights.  Ten years later, watching reruns of QUEER on Showtime, I realize how ahead of its time the show really was back then.  They were telling stories about the fight for gay marriage, HIV treatment, and job discrimination. Sadly, SHOWTIME didn’t have as high a profile for its original series as it does now so the show didn’t get the mainstream press coverage it would receive today. That’s why QUEER AS FOLK is a perfect candidate for a reboot.

The show could explore the pressures of Michael and Ben’s relationship as a married couple raising their adopted daughter. Ben, who is HIV positive, now has better treatment options with the virus now undetectable. Michael could be one of the early users of PrEP and is now an advocate for use of the drug. Now at 40, still single playboy Brian wonders what his future holds as each of his friends begin to couple off leaving him feeling like the odd man out. Brian could also suffer a bit of a midlife crisis as he discovers his age to be a challenge in the dating scene. Both Michael and Brian have children with lesbian couple Lindsay and Melanie. Gus who is Brian’s son with Lindsay, would now be a teenager and has a lot of story potential. Gus, could be an aspiring artist like his mother and a young rogue like his father.

There’s so much story potential with QUEER AS FOLK that SHOWTIME should revisit the series.

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A DIFFERENT WORLD is another show that I think found its voice during its latter seasons.  The real magic of the show was the relationship of engineering student Dwayne Wayne and socialite Whitley Gilbert. They were truly one of the best primetime love stories of the late 1980s early 90s.  By the series finale in 1993, Dwayne and Whitley were moving to Japan and expecting a baby.

22 years later, Dwayne and Whitley have returned to Virginia after Whitley accepts the position of Dean of Fine Arts Studies at Hillman College. Dwayne, who made a fortune developing video games, has “retired” and agrees to take an adjunct faculty position in the Hillman Engineering department.  Dwayne and Whitley’s oldest daughter took time off from her college studies and is now starting her junior year at Hillman. Part of  Dwayne and Whitley’s motivation to returning to Virginia is to keep an eye on their daughter.  They could have a son, who like his father was, is a late bloomer and is starting his freshman year at Hillman.  The couple find themselves to be surrogate parents to their children’s group of friends while dealing with their marital issues.  Now being financially comfortable, Dwayne would prefer if he and Whitley spent time traveling but Whitley feels as though this job at Hillman is finally her chance to be seen as more than a wife and mother.

A DIFFERENT WORLD explored issues such as date rape, racism, and domestic violence, all issues that are still relevant today.  The setting of a historically Black college is perfect to touch on contemporary issues facing young African Americans.  With Dwayne and Whitley as the entry points to the series, a reboot of A DIFFERENT WORLD would attract a multigenerational audience.  This would be a great project for NETFLIX since they’ve already revived FULL HOUSE (now FULLER HOUSE).

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MURPHY BROWN aired on CBS for 10 seasons and was widely acclaimed for its political satire. Murphy, brilliantly played by Emmy winner Candice Bergen, was a sharp investigative reporter/news anchor, recovering alcoholic, single mother and breast cancer survivor.  The show was unafraid to cover social and political topics with biting humor.

Today we’d find Murphy having just handed over the reigns of the nightly newscast that she anchored to a younger man. Still under contract with CBS Murphy has developed a daytime talk show, a la THE VIEW. Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) has become Murphy’s producing partner and serves as the executive producer of the new talk show.  While Murphy envisions the talk show as a platform for discourse on social and political issues, the network wants it to have more mainstream appeal and Corky is called upon to try to convince Murphy to participate in some of the more populist aspects of the daily show, such as doing live commercials for advertisers and presenting segments about products at discount prices.  Murphy would be joined by Jessica Silverberg, the daughter of Murphy’s former producer Miles Silverberg.  Jessica’s claim to fame is as a conservative blogger with no real journalism experience. While Murphy is still fond of Miles she has little patience for his daughter. Murphy’s son Avery, now in his 20’s is following in his parents footsteps and aspires to be a journalist.  He works as a production assistant on Murphy and Corky’s former newsmagazine show FYI.  Murphy’s new talk show studio is next door to FYI, allowing Avery to stop by and see his mom and flirt, to Murphy’s horror, with Jessica.

Revisiting MURPHY BROWN would allow a television comedy to look at contemporary issues through the lens of two women from different generations and political parties. Smart, sophisticated comedies are in short supply on the broadcast networks and a reboot of MURPHY BROWN would be the perfect companion to the CBS sitcom MOM.

The Reboot of the Reboot is Being REBOOTED!

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It’s long been common practice for the movie industry to develop remakes or reboots of franchises (BATAN, BEN-HUR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and television development executives are following their lead. It seems as though every day a network is announcing a reboot of an old tv series or an adaptation of an 80s or 90s movie for television. The short list include tv revivals of HART TO HART (with a gay twist); FULL HOUSE (now called FULLER HOUSE); TWIN PEAKS; THE X-FILES; PRISON BREAK; THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR; XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS: THE A-TEAM; MACGYVER; AMAZING STORIES; GILMORE GIRLS (as a limited series on NETFLIX); and this season’s THE MUPPETS and HEROES: REBORN.

In the past, most of these shows would have just returned as television movies, but with the expanded platforms from which viewers have to choose, everyone is looking for content with built-in name and brand recognition.

Among the movies being adapted into tv series are: MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING; LETHAL WEAPON; ALL OF ME (1984 movie starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin); FATAL ATTRACTION; and CRUEL INTENTIONS, which was previously developed as a tv series called MANCHESTER PREP for FOX but the pilot was ultimately released as a movie on home video.

It’s not uncommon to see popular movies in the tv development pipeline. Often times they don’t make it to series but again, they’re a known quantity and it helps networks and other content platforms with their marketing efforts if they don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing the concept to the audience.  In the old days, this was often done with spinoff series, but that practice seems to have lost favor.

Development executives must be having a difficult time getting writers to pitch exciting original ideas.  And, with the myriad of content providers, experienced show runners are in higher demand.  This is both good and bad. It gives new talent an opportunity to shine behind the scenes, but sometimes that lack of experience can show in the execution. On the  other hand, we get new concepts such as BLACK-ISH (ABC), CLUB DE CUEROS (NETFLIX) and TRANSPARENT (AMAZON).

The burning question is just how much do viewers care about revisiting some of the brands being adapted and rebooted. This season has seen mixed results with MINORITY REPORT on FOX finding its episode order reduced after poor ratings results and LIMITLESS on CBS getting a full season pickup this week. My guess is that fans will flock to GILMORE GIRLS since the series didn’t get the satisfactory conclusion it deserved. FULLER HOUSE will probably garner some interest but since the show went off the air series star Candace Cameron Bure has become quite polarizing because of her religious and political leanings.  I still don’t get the PRISON BREAK reboot. The series had such a limited concept to begin with and ran out of creative steam by the end of season 2 of its four year run.

None of the movie adaptations really excite me.  FATAL ATTRACTION could have some soapy fun but seems limited in scope. There are stalking laws that can resolve this story by the end of the pilot.  ALL OF ME seems an odd pick for an adaptation. Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin made for a fun comedic duo, but no one remembers the film.

It will be interesting to see how far some of these projects get in the development process. Hopefully, among all the reboots and adaptations we’ll see original projects as exciting as EMPIRE, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and BLOODLINE. There are a lot of writers out there with fresh ideas, I hope network heads are encouraging their development executives to seriously consider these projects.

Are you excited for any of the reboots or adaptations? Are there any other shows or movies you’d like to see on the small screen?  Comment below.

Also, check back to read some of my ideas for series I think would be fun reboots or television adaptations. Oh, and bonus points for anyone who can name the inspiration for the title of this article.

CASTING CORNER: 3 ACTRESSES WHO SHOULD BE SERIES LEADS!

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These three talented women are familiar faces to tv viewers but none have ever headlined their own tv series, which is a shame. It’s time for Hollywood take notice and cast these women as series leads.

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KHANDI ALEXANDER

Khandi Alexander has most recently been recurring as “Mama” Maya Pope on SCANDAL.  Whether she’ll be returning for the upcoming season is unknown, as the show keeps its storyline spoilers close to the vest. But, Alexander’s talent is too powerful for her to be sitting on the sidelines. Her performance on SCANDAL is proof.

I would love to see Khandi Alexander as a corporate mogul fighting to keep the business she built from nothing into an international powerhouse. Alexander’s character would be single, by choice, but not lonely. She can have any man she wants, whenever she wants him, but on her own terms.  While she’s confident and proud of her success she struggles with her relationship with her parents who think she abandoned her past in her quest for her fortune.  Khandi Alexander would have no problem playing a strong, poweful, smart and sexy woman. She’s done it in supporting roles on a number of shows and now it’s her turn to take center stage.

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JUDY GOLD

Judy Gold is a brilliant comedian. I’ve seen her do stand up a lot and her sets consistently keep the audience laughing.  Gold has had a few guest spots on sitcoms 2 BROKE GIRLS and LOUIE and delivered standout performances.

Judy Gold should headline a show on Netfiix, Amazon or Hulu where she can have the freedom bring her unique sensibility in a fresh and uncompromising way.  Gold should star in a comedy based on her relationship with her family, a constant subject of her standup. The story could focus on Gold’s character, a divorced lesbian, who is in a new relationship but also in constant contact with her ex-wife because they share a son.  If that’s not enough Gold would ask be struggling to keep her family business afloat while caring for her elderly, spitfire mother. She has such a gift for storytelling that she would be sure to appeal to her current fans while drawing a whole new audience who have yet to discover her.

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ROSIE PEREZ

Rosie Perez is an Oscar nominee who this past year co-starred in the critically acclaimed Broadway play FISH IN THE DARK while serving as a co-host on THE VIEW.  Now that Perez is done with her hosting duties, she’s free to headline her own series. Not only is she an amazing actress, Perez is well versed in politics and science. She’s a social activist who has spent years fighting for issues impacting the Latino community, inner city youth and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

Rosie Perez should star in a gritty cable drama about a woman who wants to save the world through her social activism. When she’s asked to run for a local political office she’s at first reluctant but then considers the impact she could make by working on the inside. In the “fish-out-of-water” story Perez’s character would have to learn how to navigate the politics of politics in order to make  a difference for her community. She would be torn between her new professional world and colleagues as she tries to maintain the relationships with her community in which she still lives. Some of the activists with which she once worked will consider her a sell-out while others will try to leverage their relationship with her to move their agenda forward.  Rosie Perez is a star who deserves a star vehicle that shows off her amazing acting chops.