The first week of January has become a de facto second week of premiere for broadcast networks, featuring new mid-season shows and old favorites. (This is us, black-ish) they kept out of the fall. First up is Fox with a series about a Cambodian doctor who works as a janitor in Las Vegas, waiting for an operation to save his son’s life, when he gets caught up in the cartel business.
THE CLEANING LADY: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening shot: A balcony overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. A woman with cleaning supplies walks up to the railing and looks up.
The essence: Thony De La Rosa (Élodie Yung) is working a concert cleaning up after an elaborate engagement party. He got the job from his sister-in-law Fiona (Martha Millan); Thony, who came to the United States to receive a bone marrow transplant for his immunosuppressed son Luca (Sebastien and Valentino LaSalle), stays with Fiona and her family. One problem: the donor failed and Thony’s visa expired, which means that both she and Luca are undocumented. Fiona is also undocumented, but more for reasons of moving to have a better life for herself and her children.
After the customer starts kicking Thony, Fiona punches him in the throat. When he falls to the ground without breathing, Thony opens an airway using whatever sharp instrument he has on hand. It turns out that she is a doctor in her home country, Cambodia, and where she lives in the Philippines, and she hopes to return to that life, and to her husband, when Luca receives that transplant.
While working on setting up an underground fighting club, she witnesses some cartel members kill the man who hired her. To save his life, he tells Arman Morales (Adan Canto), who is the local chief, that he knows how to clean the blood so that nothing remains. He not only forgives her, but pays her for work and tells her that he is officially on duty. She is reluctant, but basically has no other choice. She delves deeper when Arman makes a few calls and puts Luca back on the donor list after Thony got into trouble due to his expired visa.
Meanwhile, Fiona gets a waitress job at an exclusive club, but when the boss asks her to sell Ecstacy separately, Thony ironically tells her not to, because if she gets caught she will be deported. This is when it almost explodes while cleaning the former safe location of the poster; Arman takes her out, but learns that her boss, Hayak Barsamian (Navid Negahban), must no longer have her around.
What shows will it remind you of? The cleaner Satisfy Breaking Bad Satisfy Good girls, perhaps with some of the immigration issues addressed by The bridge thrown in.
Our Take: While we watched The cleaning lady, created by Miranda Kwok (The 100), we have the gnawing feeling that we occasionally get when we watch drama that would have been so much better if it was on a streaming service rather than a streaming network. Nothing on the show was overwhelmingly stupid, as network dramas have the potential to be, but it was frustrating.
Why? Because the show touches on so many topics that it can make for a really compelling drama, there seems to be a penchant for the default show for action scenes and “scary poster” tropes most of the time.
What we do appreciate is that the show shows how there are many reasons why people reside in the US without proper documentation. Some, like Fiona, want a better life. Others, like Thony, stay longer than the visa. Thony is here to give your child the treatment he needs; he is so immunosuppressed that his room is surrounded by plastic and anyone who enters his environment has to shower, wash and change clothes. Thony puts him in an astronaut suit and a child-sized helmet to take to the doctor’s office. She is not taking from anyone; she is here to make sure her son survives.
We look forward to seeing more about this, about what families like Thony and Fiona have to do to avoid being deported, and what the country’s current immigration policies mean to their daily lives. A treatise on the patent injustice of the American healthcare system would also be intriguing. However, based on the pilot, we will be surprised that the program is so in-depth. It seems like it will be more about Thony working for Arman and doing everything he can to not get her killed, while being hunted by FBI agent Garrett Miller (Oliver Hudson).
And sure, that could end up being a good show. It’s not that we haven’t seen and enjoyed shows where people inadvertently get caught up in organized crime and see how it affects their entire lives. But The cleaning lady It feels like a show that can be a lot more complex than it is, and it will likely not be given that opportunity, given that it airs on Fox and not on a cable network or streaming service.
Sex and skin: Not much. And since it’s Fox, we don’t expect to see much.
Farewell shot: When Thony gets a call on his burner phone for another concert, Agent Miller shows his partner his photo on his laptop and says “That’s her,” and takes some photos.
Sleeping star: Martha Millan is a good counterattack for Yung as Fiona. She has built a great life for herself and her family in Las Vegas, and she is determined to make it even better. But she is also there to provide emotional support to Thuny as she tries to figure out how to get her son treated.
Most of the Pilot-y line: Why does it seem like the only way for people to reveal that they are doctors is to give someone an emergency tracheostomy? It seems to be a television shortcut for “This person really knows what he’s doing.”
Our calling: STREAM IT. We wish The cleaning lady I would dive a little deeper under the surface on some of the issues that Thony and his family face, we agree with a more action oriented show, good and bad because Yung and the rest of the cast do a good job with the material that is it gives them.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a television junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and other places.