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During the first episode of Netflix’s “Selena: The Series,” about the titular Tejano music superstar, the patriarch of the family, Abraham Quintanilla Jr. (Ricardo Chavira), strums his guitar as his 8-year-old daughter Selena (Madison Taylor Baez) sings the popular 1970s song “Feelings” like any gifted little girl would.
“The notes are good, you’re just not…” her father says as he explains that to be a compelling singer, one must tap into their own life experiences. Her mother interjects that Selena is too young to understand what lyrics like “trying to forget my feelings of love” really mean.
Those genuine emotions needed to express what’s inside someone’s heart may not have existed in Selena as a kid, but during her fleeting 23 years of life — much of it spent performing center stage and beloved by countless fans —her music elicited a response that could only be described as deep adoration.
The same can be said for the work of the team behind “Selena: The Series.” The care and compassion that has been injected into the first half of this biographical, two-part TV series is evident from the very start and never lets up during the initial nine episodes.
Some Selena devotees may not appreciate why her story needed a new adaptation after the 1997 feature film that launched Jennifer Lopez’s career, but the new iterations expands the Queen of Tejano’s narrative beyond just her. In fact, if Netflix had called its new series “The Quintanillas” instead, it might convey what the program is about more effectively.
“Selena: The Series” is a coming-of-age show about a tight-knit family determined to make a better life for themselves using only the resources available to them. Of course, its main draw is Selena (played as a teen and adult by Christian Serratos), but the series is a true ensemble.
From her birth in Lake Jackson, Texas, in 1971 to the release of her second studio album, “Ven Conmigo,” “Selena: The Series” covers a lot of ground and does it with empathy, authenticity, humor and just the right amount of pride. In the 25 years since her death, it’s been easy for Selena fans to regard her as a sort of musical deity, but showrunner Moisés Zamora and Jaime Dávila’s Campanario Entertainment avoid falling into those hero-worshipping traps, largely because the family dynamic is given the same significance as Selena stepping into the spotlight on her own.
As Selena, Serratos is equal parts charming, enthusiastic, ambitious and playful. In one adorable scene, Selena practices her Spanish by mimicking the over-exaggerated acting on the Mexican telenovelas on TV. In another, she gets excited buying a Bedazzler so she can add rhinestones to her outfits.
The series also explores the lives of Selena’s older brother A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria) and the immense pressure he is put under to write hit songs for his sister to record in the studio; and Selena’s older sister Suzette (Noemi Gonzalez), the band’s initially reluctant drummer who is trying to find how she fits into the group, but also aware of the limitations of her talent. Later in the series, audiences are introduced to Selena’s love interest and new band member Chris Perez (Jesse Posey), who would later become her husband. This is the only relationship, however, that feels unnecessarily melodramatic and out of place. How many times can Suzette give Selena the side-eye when she thinks something might be brewing between the bandmates?
Viewers should try not to make too many comparisons linking the series and director Gregory Nava’s past film. “Selena” the movie was a celebration of the singer’s life and career. “Selena: The Series” goes beyond that. It’s a celebration of family history and Tex Mex culture. It’s a recognition of the struggle Latinos face to flourish in the entertainment industry – a struggle that is a bit more manageable because of the efforts of a talented young woman from Corpus Christi who used her powerful voice and radiant spirit to reach stardom.
“Selena was here,” the singer writes on the foggy window of her tour bus as cheering fans await her arrival. Selena was here – and she still is.
“Selena: The Series” premieres Dec. 4 on Netflix