Bench under the tree in the Royal Botanic Gardens in London

Apple TV+’s Land of Women is Pretty and Pleasant

Start

Eva Longoria’s new Apple TV+ Series, “Land of Women,” is exactly what you expect. The “Desperate Housewives” actress true to type as Gala, a beautiful and privileged woman who, despite being stubborn and difficult, is still lovable and easy to root for. 

The show kicks off at a decent clip, as Gala is betrayed by her swindler husband (James Purefoy) and must flee New York with her mother, Julia (Carmen Maura), and daughter Kate (Victoria Bazua). Looking for a place to hide, Gala selects her mother’s Spanish village, La Muga, a remote and beautiful location full of history, familial and otherwise. Naturally, said village is populated with a host of grumpy but charming characters, notably Santiago Cabrera as Gala’s love interest, Gloria Muñoz as Julia’s estranged sister, and Pep Anton Muñoz as the local police chief.

With its premise firmly in place, “Land of Women” hits the notes you can expect from an Eva Longoria joint—romance and capers. As such, it’s pretty satisfying in the way the genre can be, hitting well-worn beats with aplomb. There’s beautiful scenery here, intergenerational learning there, poisoning here, and furtive glances there. It’s comfy like an old sweater without much of a lesson or moral to get in the way of its overarching sense of warmth.

Still, it does push cultural mores a bit, mostly by allowing its central female triad more room than women normally get on screen. Longoria’s Gala is bad with people, lacking the ability to modulate herself to meet the expectations of whoever she’s talking to. In another series, she might be blamed or punished for this trait. But “Land of Women” presents it as just a quirk of her personality, allowing our heroine to muddle through, mostly succeeding in her aims.

Likewise, the show presents daughter Kate’s gender identity as important but not all-consuming. She’s trans, and while we see her mother and grandmother react to birth, believing she’ll be a boy, by the time we meet them in the show’s present some fifteen years later, everyone’s fully transitioned. There are still difficulties – Kate faces some bigots, made more powerful when armed with institutional power. But she also makes friends, engages in teenage rebellion, and creates art, as is her emo, rich-girl destiny. As such, “Land of Women” presents her trans-ness as one part of her personality and background, affecting but not defining how she interacts with the world.

The show gives similar latitude to Julia, played with delicious whimsy by Maura in the current timeline. She’s a free spirit, a girl who slept around, ran away, and never lost her sense of adventure – when we meet her, she’s selling drugs at the fancy retirement home Gala pays for. There’s a whole paternity plotline, interacting nicely with randy-grandmother jokes. But as with its other characters, “Land of Women” refrains from shaming Julia. Instead, it notes her personal flaws, pushes her to grow, and condemns the systems that punish women so much more severely for straying from society’s narrow expectations.

Women—it turns out we can be anything! That’s a relatively tame moral, one that “Land of Women” easily wears.

In addition to gender expectations, the show plays with language, allowing its characters to speak in the tongue they would actually use. That may sound small or like it should be a given, but it’s pretty big progress. Remember the first season of “Queen of the South” (2016-2021) that had its Mexican characters in Mexico speaking to each other in English (while occasionally using Spanglish state-side)? That was pretty common back then.

There’s also more attention paid to accent and regional differences in Spanish than, say, you saw in “Better Call Saul.” Here, we learn that Gala and Kate spent their daughter’s formative years in Mexico, so they don’t have Julia’s Spanish lisp.

In a meta-level critique that Longoria surely made purposefully (see her master’s degree in Chicano studies), several of the Spanish characters are played by Latinos. For those not tracking this particular dynamic, it’s common for Hollywood to cast European actors (Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz) as their colonized counterparts, something those interested in proportional representation decry as actual Latinos fight for roles. Javier Bardem faced a sizable backlash for it when he recently played Cuban Ricky Ricardo in “Being the Ricardos” and then doubled down on it.

In “Land of Women,” Mexican-American Tejana Longoria plays a prodigal Spanish daughter, and Chilean Santiago Cabrera is her Spanish paramour. This is a notable reversal, even if it doesn’t exactly advance the issue of low Latino representation—our Latino actors are not playing Latino characters. Still, it’s something.

And giving us something pleasant—lovely Spanish vistas, a little adventure, and time in a worldview that values women’s whole personhood—is what “Land of Women” is all about. It’s a small promise but one well-delivered.

Whole season screened for review.

Previous Story

Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge

Next Story

The Best Films of 2024 So Far