Promised Land (Pilot)

Starring: John Ortiz (and I suppose Bellamy Young?)

Where I Watched it: Hulu (though it originally airs on ABC)

English Audio Description Available? So far, yes.

The Plot: Centers around a Latinx family that owns a winery, and has done rather well for themselves… but dark secrets abound.

What Works: So, there’s a natural desire to jump up and down about John Ortiz finally getting to lead his own…something. He’s worked so hard in supporting character roles for years, I want this to work for him. I’m also a fan of Bellamy Young. I’m not familiar with the rest of the cast, and perhaps if I stick with this show, I might find some new favorites.

Also, conceptually, basing a show around a primarily Latinx cast feels like something we should be doing right now in 2022. Having important conversations about immigration, give me your tired and your poor, and what that really translates to in our current climate. Promised Land could be a show that has a lot to say, though many have attempted and failed very similar storylines (probably most recently the failed drama Coyote, and the unfortunately one-and-done Party of Five reboot).

What Doesn’t Work: I know this show is aimed directly at the Latinx audience, and wants to tell very specific storylines. But there is something happening with Bellamy Young’s character that is so off putting it ruins the series. When you have a show, any show, that is predominantly one race, and you introduce a singular character of an opposite race and they instantly become the center villain of the story, you have to make sure that it actually makes sense.

Here, Bellamy Young flies in like some white witch and lashes out in such a bizarrely cartoonish manner it takes you out of the series altogether. Her character is so poorly underdeveloped when she enters that there’s no depth or complexity to her character, and instead it just comes across as “evil white lady comes to ruin everything”. If Promised Land had pushed her introduction to the second episode (because she is basically inconsequential to the setup and introduction of the main cast), it would have allowed us to marinate more with our core Latinx winery peeps, and then given her more of an opportunity to slink in slowly and actually give us a richer backstory and motive than the tidbit they cram into the pilot. Instead, she’s just a terrible villain that no one will remember, and Bellamy Young is a much better actress than that.

As far as the rest of the cast and the show, this has some potential, but it is just so Goddamn melodramatic. It throws so much into the pilot, with a somewhat extensive ensemble, and ties to balance even a time shift throughout the short 43 minutes it has to establish itself as something you want to come back for.

Sometimes, you can just rest on a basic premise, and introduce secondary characters as the season develops. It is more important for your show to have a distinct voice and compelling characters than to try and throw everything in the pilot like you only have this one episode to tell your entire story. Cramming everything rarely works.

By doing so, we’re left with… a lot… going on. Just, everything from bad blood in the family, to potential company takeovers, to a complex backstory of the existence of the winery, and so on and so forth, leaving you wondering who are these people and why do I care? They give you a lot of flashy soapy storyline possibilities without any solid character development. And, it’s just so melodramatic in its delivery.

Take this show, throw it against the somewhat similar themed Our Kind Of People, and I would take the latter any day of the week. Our Kind Of People knows exactly what kind of show it is, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is a classic prime time soap, and it relishes in being a guilty pleasure. Promised Land is more worried about being a vessel for future storylines about immigration and deportation that it’s trying to cling on to the idea that it lives in the same world as Succession, like it is a real drama. It’s not. The writing is not on that level.

This show has the potential for greatness, but the show runners have no idea what to do with this cast, or the show in general. And I think it might need a new writers room.

The Blind Perspective: So, the pilot had audio description, which was helpful, but as with all shows that air on network TV, sometimes they end up skipping episodes. So, beware. I don’t know if Promised Land will be a show that is consistently described every week or not.

Final Thoughts: While I was looking forward to this, I was left feeling like this might have been better served by being retooled, put back into the development cycle and perhaps coming out next year. There’s nothing wrong with that. The Big Bang Theory went through that cycle. It’s valid. As it stands, I’d be surprised if Promised Land made it to season two.

Final Grade: D+

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