Monday, January 3, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Cleaning Lady' - Thony Gets Pulled into a Criminal Life While Desperately Trying to Save Her Son's Life in 'TNT'

FOX's The Cleaning Lady - Episode 1.01 "TNT"

Thony, a whip-smart Cambodian doctor, struggles to make ends meet as an undocumented worker after coming to the U.S. from the Philippines in search of a medical treatment for her ailing son. After witnessing a murder, Thony cleans the crime scene to stay alive, then begins living a double life, cleaning for a crime syndicate while doing what is necessary to save her son.

"TNT" was written by Miranda Kwok and directed by Michael Offer

In the Philippines (by way of Cambodia), Thony was trained and worked as a doctor. After moving to the United States seeking medical treatment for her son, she has to work as a cleaning lady. It's a degrading examination of what possibilities await for her in a place that offers a beacon of hope in one aspect. This is the only place in the world offering a potential treatment for her son's autoimmune disease. She is desperate. As such, she is willing to do anything to provide for him. It's an understandable and immediate drive that informs everything for her character. It may be simplistic. As such, Thony can be a host of contradictions as well. She judges her sister-in-law, Fiona, for potentially taking a high-paying waitressing gig that also requires her to sell drugs. That's a viable choice presented to her. It's a way to actually provide for her family without having to endure the perils of not having the proper paperwork to be recognized legally in this country. It's a plight that so many endure. It's not frequently reflected onscreen. That makes this show a nice change of pace. One that has plenty of condemnation for the country it is airing in. That's striking and notable. Of course, it promises to be much more complicated than that because Thony isn't exactly loyal to the criminal elements that now employ her. She is already on the radar of federal law enforcement. No matter how smart and clever she may be, she may only be pulling herself deeper into despair. That presents as the only active choice she can make. She is desperate and must engage with all the drama. She doesn't like it. She tries to create moments of celebration and peace amongst her family. And yet, this uncertainty lingers over absolutely everything in her life. Nothing can arouse suspicion about her immigration status. No one in this family can risk any precarious behavior because that would then tear the entire family apart. That fear must be prioritized in every single conversation. Thony can find the humanity in just about anyone she works with. She still has her own convictions. She isn't going to tell a boxer to throw her fight just because the manager tells her to do so. She's not going to end a life when she has the skills to save it no matter how despicable the person in danger may be. She stands up for herself. That makes this an empowering tale. One where Thony has the confidence to speak her truth when most people in her position are forced to be silent. That contradiction is notable too. It's required because she is the protagonist. Everything is dark and grim in her world. She takes risks that may not pan out. They do so far because the narrative requires her in this mess. The various twists aren't that shocking or unnerving. She survives becoming entangled with the mob mostly because one man has a soft spot for cleaning ladies trying to raise a son as a single parent. That's the most viable explanation for how Thony survives all the perilous moments she is put in here. That may not be justifiable enough. Meanwhile, more players are being introduced to the audience to show just how more severe all of this will become. Thony acts with that complexity as well. She is more than just a cleaning lady. Her new colleagues realize that when they must depend upon her skills. It just all comes across as the show confusing literal darkness with thematic darkness. So much of this story happens in actual shadows. It's distracting and doesn't really reveal much about the complexity of these characters and their journeys. Thony is a solid protagonist with a unique perspective. All of that is apparent and potentially rewarding. The setup just doesn't feel secure and certain of what can be accomplished with these ambitions. That uncertainty creates a feeling of doubt even when some elements do work successfully. It may grow more confident in the future. But it's self-serious nature may prevent many from coming back for more. Plus, it's jarring whenever the show pulls Thony into an elaborate depiction of crazed, underground life. Part of it is dark to hide the horrors that lurk within. Part of it is just cultural clashes of Thony not belonging in this environment. That dichotomy is misplaced and mostly creates the sense that none of this should be taken seriously. That's a major problem given how the show believes it is telling this story with earnest appeal for Thony and the journey she must embark on to save her son.