Hulu released its first and only original series in 2013, East Los High. This short series is one of a kind, an English-language show with an all Latino cast. With only two seasons under its belt, it is making an impression. East Los High is produced and directed by Carlos Portugal, who’s worked on other Latino projects such as East Side Story and Pop Star. Portugal called for help from Advocates of Youth, Voto Latino, and the California Healthy Family Council to create a series that is informative, educational, and realistic to its audience.
East Los High is a teen drama based in East Los Angeles, an area with a reputation of being tough and dangerous – a stereotype the show wants to discourage. The show follows a group of students at the local high school and focuses on many common situations that occur in a high school setting: friendships, love, sexual encounters, and peer pressure. However, even though many of these matters can be found in other teen drama series, the difference with East Los High is their focus on Latinos and their way of addressing the issue in an honest and upfront manner.
In Season 1, a student finds that she is pregnant and viewers get to see her discuss her options with a counselor. The information provided to the character is not limited to her and can be information useful to any adolescent outside the TV screen. This situation repeats in season 2 when a student is discussing her encounter with an abusive relationship to a counselor. These scenarios, which are rather serious in nature, are seen in today’s society and are able to be addressed to a young audience watching the series.
“The wholesome kid show, the polished teen drama isn’t real life,” said Danielle Vega, East Los High’s Ceci, in an interview with LA Times. “‘East Los High is gritty, it’s in your face because the world out there is in your face. But it’s also teaching something, which is incredibly important because you look at kids these days and they don’t look up from their screens. So at least this show gives them something to think about when their eyes are glued to their devices.”
Telanovelas are known for its popularity in Latin American cultures and East Los High reflects this in their Latino-focused show. With a telanovela-esque plot and character dynamics, the series does not have a shortage of entertainment and drama. There are love triangles, revenge, mean girls, and the classic, good girl losing her way in the face of popularity. Each of these situations touches on a realistic aspect found in a teenager’s journey through high school – and there is no sugar coating.
The team of writers reflects the demographics in cast: predominately Latina. Only two men grace the writers’ desk and one African American woman. Portugal, Director and Producer, has stated that he wanted to write what he knew and encourages his writing staff to do the same. The storyline is to reflect daily lives and connect to its audience through authenticity. Admittedly, some characters and the vernacular do seem to embody a stereotype found in Latinos. However, it is fleeting and is cancelled out by the wide range of perspectives, personalities, and conduct presented by the characters.
“Since we are the culture, it never feels like, ‘Oh, we’re creating stereotypes,’” Portugal said in an interview with LA Times. “Stereotypes exist. I think one of the reasons why we are doing this is we present them, and then we start exploring them. My hope is that the people from East L.A. see themselves being portrayed as diverse individuals.”
East Los High succeeds in its uniqueness in teen dramas that are dominated by Caucasian actors and actresses. Hulu’s original series brings in a handful of new faces to the screen – freshness amongst the overdone big names. And it excels in bringing real life situations and addressing them in an educational way that takes the viewer outside the classroom. This show can be seen as a teaching method, which is a goal achieved through the help of the numerous organizations that have played a role in its creation. However, some incidents and character portrayals do seem exaggerated and it can distract from the purpose of the show. Even though the series’ main characters are the youthful faces, it has been overlooked that the counselors, doctors, teachers, and other professional in the series are Latino.
This teen drama does illustrate genuineness to American-Latino culture, a nice change to shows like George Lopez and Cristella that relies on comedic scripts. It is serious, honest, and mysterious.
East Los High has been renewed for a third season; bringing in a new set of characters as each season focuses on a new group of students. The series airs weekdays on Hulu and entire seasons are available for Hulu Plus members.