Monday, January 24, 2022

REVIEW: 'Promised Land' - Joe Sandoval Achieves the American Dream at the Expense of Many in 'A Place Called Heritage'

ABC's Promised Land - Episode 1.01 "A Place Called Heritage"

Alliances and loyalties are tested as Joe Sandoval assesses the future of his family-run Sonoma Valley wine business. Just a few hundred miles south but a world away, Carlos Rincón and sisters Juana and Rosa Sánchez cross the U.S. border from Mexico in search of a better life.

"A Place Called Heritage" was written by Matt Lopez and directed by Michael Cuesta

Joe Sandoval achieved the American Dream. For the last twenty years, he and his family have managed Heritage House Vineyard. His leadership has built the company into one of the most successful vineyards in the country. Sacrifices and painful choices were made along the way. What were the costs of achieving this dream? When crossing the border, Carlos, Juana and Rosa discuss their dreams of a better life in the United States. Juana and Rosa aspire to become a teacher and nurse. Carlos is immediately focused on the actions in front of him. He needs to survive. Two of them do ultimately make it to Heritage House where Carlos' brother can obtain papers for them. But again, it's a story built around the idea of who gets to achieve the American Dream. Carlos and Juana are given a new narrative in this new land. Their names are changed to Joe and Lettie. They eventually rise up to create this dynasty that rules the Sonoma Valley. But it comes alongside tortuous family dynamics. Billy was cast aside despite opening that door of opportunity. Similarly, the worker who is now providing these fake documents to the work hands is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Parts of this story have remained the same for decades. Joe overcame the obstacles. He built something of his life. He did so on the backs of people who weren't as lucky. He seeks comfort in working the fields by hand himself. That gives him time to think about his life and the family he has raised. But it's no longer a means of survival for him. He certainly treats this business as the only thing of value amongst this family. There is no difference between the interests of the business and the demands of the family in charge. It's ultimately seen as a personal betrayal if one of Joe's children doesn't live up to the standards he has for them. He can't accept that some paths may be different. He may only be accepting once the scheming requires him to make amends. Antonio isn't won over by such an apology. He too is happy to join his mother as those who have been scorned by Joe's past actions. Those threats are coming home to roost. Joe has to acknowledge that and adjust accordingly. He and Lettie would love the simple pleasure of being able to walk away from the business knowing their legacy is intact. Of course, that doesn't quite take into account just how young they remain. It's unclear why there is such urgency in pushing him out of this role at the head of the company. As a result, it comes across more as a plot point to set up the race to be the chosen successor amongst the children. That too is a familiar device - one best implemented by HBO's Succession but seen on plenty of other shows like FOX's Empire. Moreover, it's no longer original for a show to reveal one of its stories is shockingly set in a different time period. NBC's This Is Us stunned with that twist in its premiere several years ago. Even it has failed to recreate that magic from time to time. And here, the border crossing story with Carlos, Juana and Rosa is so tangential that it was fairly obvious that some big reveal was coming. It establishes a grand personal history for these characters. They were brought together by fate. Their journeys are still linked in several crucial ways. Playing around with time to depict those actions can be compelling. It can be laborious and forced as well. That means the power of something like Mateo walking away from the family business to start his own venture has less potency because it's required for the show to then explain the complicated personal history that informs such action. All of this may simply be noticeable and perfunctory because it's the premiere bluntly introducing these topics. Overall, the show acts as a serviceable soap opera with lofty ambitions about identity. That has a place on broadcast television. More stories need to be told and centered around the Latino American experience. Playing to some stereotypes in the beginning may be the ugly cost of business though. That's apparent here even though there is room for potential as the season develops. But again, the characters need to have urgency and agency within their individual actions instead of being purely driven by the shocking twists meant to stun the audience every few minutes or so. That already appears as a crutch that could limit the storytelling too.