‘Now and Then’: All Hail the Dynamo Rosie Perez!

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Ever since she erupted onto the big screen shadowboxing to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” during the opening credits of Spike Lee’s 1989 groundbreaking film Do the Right Thingto then give Lee’s Mookie a run for his money with several verbal chancletazos, and one hell of a sexy scene featuring an ice cube—the Brooklyn-born actress of Puerto Rican descent has been a force to be reckoned with.

But sometimes I have the feeling that neither the film nor television industries figured out what to do with her. For every White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Fearless (1993), It Could Happen to You (1994), and even Perdita Durango (1997), she has worked her ass off in episodes for such series as Frasier, Law & Order: Special Victims Unitand Nurse Jackie while making such egregious crimes against cinema as Puerto Ricans in Paris (2015)—which is watchable but not to say tolerable. She’s been a much sought-after voice actor for a dozen animated series and movies, the latest being Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s Mayan mythology-inspired series Maya and the Three (Netflix).

But based on her performance in the Apple TV+ bilingual miniseries Now and Then, whose first three episodes start streaming on May 20 followed by an episode every Friday for the following five weeks, the time has come for someone to give Rosie her own police procedural show, for nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing her smirk skeptically at a suspect or smile that “I told you so smile” as she does here. For now, the closest thing we have to that is this series, a very entertaining, by-the-numbers, at times predictable crime thriller about a bunch of Miami upper-class jerks who committed a crime that has come back to haunt them.

The premise is pretty much the same as I Know What You Did Last Summer’s (1997) but without a Jason Voorhes or Michael Myers-type stalker chasing after our quintet of glamorous Iberoamerican stars. Twenty years ago, six college friends—Ana, Sofia, Marcos, Pedro, Dani, and Alejandro—decide to celebrate their graduation with drunken revelry at the beach. The celebration (captured on video by Dani) takes a turn for the worse when one of the friends spikes the drinks with a drug, sending Alejandro into cardiac arrest. Speeding towards the hospital, the friends violently crash into an oncoming vehicle, killing its female driver. Scared, the now-bloodied survivors stage the scene to make it look like Alejandro was responsible for the accident and leave. 

Cut to the present: Ana (Roma’s Marina de Távira) and Pedro (José María Yazpik) are one of Miami’s top power couples—he is currently running for mayor in a bitterly contested race. Dani (Soledad Villamil) is a freelance filmmaker and a single mother. Marcos (Manolo Cardona) is a successful plastic surgeon about to get married, and Sofía (Maribel Verdú) is a failed attorney that has been hanging out for far too long with the wrong crowd. They all receive a text the day before their alumni reunion: someone has proof of what they did two decades ago and is demanding a million dollars from each them.

The cast of Apple TV+’s ‘Now and Then’

Most agree to pay the blackmailer, even though some don’t have the means to do so and others act impulsively to secure the money. One of the five is brutally murdered—the less you know about the victim’s identity and that victim’s connection to the potential blackmailer the better. The friends’ streak of bad luck continues when the detective investigating the murder turns out to be the same detective who investigated the crash years ago: Flora Mercado (Rosie Pérez), who is still pissed that one of the kids’ parents pulled some strings to shut down her investigation. 

And here’s the reason why I am calling out Rosie’s exceptional performance above the rest of this cast—who, on the basis of the first three episodes I saw, deliver consistently solid performances: while the series creators and producers cast two different sets of actors to play the quintet’s younger and older selves, Israeli director Gideon Raff convinced Rosie to play the same character in the present day and in the flashbacks without any digital enhancements—just some makeup, a bit of lighting, and Rosie’s performances were enough. This gives us a credible narrative and emotional arc we can hang onto while enjoying the series’ plot mechanics.

Rosie shows us how Flora has evolved and grown from the idealistic, enthusiastic, take-no-shit younger self to the more determined, dogged, haunted, obsessed, and troubled older self. She brings a working-class ethic to her role, one that presents a sharp contrast between her character and the five suspects who have had everything delivered to them by their parents, including a Get Out of Jail Free card. I derived far more pleasure from Rosie’s shit-eating grin during the interrogations and her childlike delight when finding a crucial piece of evidence than from the many twists and turns the plot takes.

Rosie Perez as Detective Flora in Apple TV+’s ‘Now and Then’

Created by Spanish producers Ramón Campos, Teresa Fernández-Valdés, and Gema R. Neira (creators also of the popular Spanish dramas Gran Hotel and Velvet, the latter currently streaming on Netflix), and directed by Raff (The Killing Floor, Showtime’s Homeland) and Carlos Sedes, Now and Then runs like a perfectly oiled machine with the writers and directors finding ingenious ways to make past and present collide: dialogues echo and repeat across decades, the younger and older versions of the characters share the screen, the use of filters and saturated colors, and so on. The series’ team of five writers—Neira, Campos, Paula Fernández, Curro Serrano and Javier Chacártegui—know when and how to dole out clues and key pieces of information, leaving enough room for us to draw our conclusions or make us gasp in disbelief. 

It is clear that Apple TV+ is not only going after the U.S. Latino market but after the Latin American and Spanish markets as well. The cast alone looks like the Iberoamerican version of those much-derided europuddings that for a long-time dominated the European film and TV industries with their multinational and multilingual casts. Unlike those films, the casting of actors from across the Americas, Spain, and Portugal works not only because they share cultural commonalities but because they reflect the dynamics and profile of a city long considered the capital of Latin America in the United States. Besides our five leads, Now and Then features such stalwarts of Iberoamerican film and television as Paulina García (Gloria), Jorge Perugorría (Strawberry and Chocolate), Eduardo Noriega (The Devil’s Backbone) and Joaquim de Almeida (Desperado, Fast Five).

Yes, the Miami we get here is the same glitzy, touristy, “lives of the rich and famous” white city that Spanish-language television has long favored—you will not find any signs of Qué Pasa USA?’s working-class Cuban family nor any mention of how the middle and working classes are being pushed out of the city by the high rents here. Yet, one derives great pleasure in seeing these members of the city’s hoi-polloi get their just desserts, especially when that comeuppance will most likely come from Flora’s own hands and not the characters’ hubris. So, yes, I’ll keep watching the rest of the episodes as soon as they become available.

But in the meantime, can somebody please give Rosie Pérez her own dramatic series once and for all?

 

Featured image: Rosie Perez as Detective Flora in Apple TV+’s ‘Now and Then’

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Alejandro has been active in Latino media since 1988 when he and a group of 12 independent producers launched Orgullo Latino, a weekly newsmagazine series in the Chicago Access Network. Alejandro joined ¡Exito!, the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language weekly, as a freelance reporter in 1993, where he wrote about entertainment and culture with the occasional foray into politics. He was also a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Tempo, Arts & Entertainment and Friday sections. Part of the transition team that replaced ¡Exito! with Hoy, and in 2004 he became Senior Editor for all three editions of Hoy (New York, Chicago and LA). He currently is a freelance writer, editor and media relations specialist in Chicago.

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