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‘Selena: The Series’ Review: Christian Serratos Shines as Selena, Even if She’s Not the Main Character

Before I talk about Netflix’s Selena: The Series, I need to come clean about something. I am extremely biased when it comes to Selena Quintanilla Perez. I believe the Tejano music star was a literal angel person sent to us from Heaven to bring joy, lift hearts, and teach us about the power of love. Her death was more than a tragedy. It is a martyrdom, and I’m shocked she hasn’t been at least canonized yet.

So what I’m saying is I’m a big Selena fan. Therefore I should be the target demographic for Netflix’s Selena: The Series. And I am. I gobbled up all nine episodes of Part 1 of Selena in record time, feeling thrilled every time Selena y Los Dinos debuted another yet one of their iconic Tejano songs.

But Selena: The Series should be called “Y Los Dinos: The Series.” The first nine episodes focus more on the Quintanilla family’s trials and Selena’s band’s creative process than on the singer herself. It is an expanded look at the tribe that made Selena a star, but it reveals next to nothing about the artist herself that fans didn’t already know.  It is fine, it is fun, but it also is a missed opportunity to go deeper into the soul of one of the most gorgeously iconic voices in music history.

Selena Quintanilla waves to fans in Selena: The Series
Photo: Netflix

Selena: The Series tells the story of the rise of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla Perez (Christian Serratos). Born to a Mexican-American family in Texas, Selena spent her childhood listening to mainstream pop and considering herself as American as apple pie. When her father Abraham (Ricardo Chavira) realizes his youngest daughter has a spectacular voice, he decides to start a family band. Pitched first as a hobby, it soon becomes not only an obsession for the former, frustrated musician, but the place where the impoverished Quintanillas pin all their financial hopes upon.

Selena: The Series takes its time showing viewers the ignoble struggles of the band, which is compelling in an almost disturbing way. While the film version of Selena’s life story cast Edward James Olmos as a strict, but loving version of patriarch Abe, Chavira’s version borders on abusive. We see the grown man shamefully push the responsibility of buying groceries with food stamps onto his teen children and he forces his teen son go dumpster diving for peach cans so they can build their own lighting rig. He works his kids to the bone in pursuit of his dreams for his family. When the rising stars finally secure a tour bus, it’s a gut job without heat, A/C, or seats. He only buys a heater because Selena, the golden goose, is losing her voice.

Throwback Quintanilla family shot in Netflix's Selena
Photo: Netflix

The most thrilling moments in Selena: The Series are when Christian Serratos gets to be Selena, the pop star. She’s got the real Selena’s every spin, dance move, and wide cheeky grin down to perfection. Indeed, Serratos seems to be almost channeling the fallen Tejano legend in each musical number. The show sagely uses the real Selena’s vocals for most of these moments, but Serratos’s own voice blends in seamlessly in a cappella scenes. And it’s an unabashed thrill to see Serratos light up from within as Selena Quintanilla did.

Ironically, though, the show’s fatal flaw is the absence of Selena’s voice as a character. Produced in part by her sister, Suzette Quintanilla, Selena: The Series is full of the family’s memories of the enchanting person behind the pop star, but Selena’s perspective is missing. For instance, Suzette (Noemi Gonzalez) tells the family that Selena is upset with her makeup during her infamous first EMI album cover shoot, but we never even get a moment of Selena grappling with the look herself. As it is, Selena is not the central character in her series, but a beautiful and charming cypher. The ghost of a woman whose marvelous life was cut tragically short before she had a say in her own legacy.

The Quintanilla siblings in Netflix's Selena
Photo: Netflix
The real leads? Her father and siblings A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria) and Suzette. It is Abraham and A.B. who get to fight for the band and shape the music they play. Suzette gets to be the girl we follow through bouts of self-doubt and the thrill of self-actualization. This would be fine if everything didn’t seemingly revolve around Selena, even though her inner life is hardly addressed. Yes, she eventually gets to pine after guitarist Chris Perez (Jesse Posey) and dream of being a fashion designer, but these are less emotional journeys than the show ticking the boxes of the singer’s biography.

All in all, Selena: The Series is pleasantly diverting, but it feels like a missed opportunity. The facts of Selena’s life have already been poured over in film, documentary, and specials. The show goes deeper on every member of the Quintanilla family except the woman who gives the series its name. As it is, Selena: The Series is a show literally haunted by the singer’s absence.

Selena: The Series Part 1 will premiere on Netflix on Friday, December 4.

Watch Selena: The Series on Netflix

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