Tello Films is a subscription service providing both fictional and non-fictional queer women programming since 2007. In the last month, it’s premiered a new urban fantasy show based on the books of the same name, Riley Parra. Below are my thoughts.
At its heart, Riley Parra is a Chosen One narrative that resembles Joss Whedon’s slayer mythology more than a little bit. I’d like to say that this is much more a case of “What if Faith never was officially called or trained but managed to make it into law enforcement” as a premise. Essentially, there’s a war between angels and demons and each side relies on a mortal champion to be their proxy in the fight. Riley was selected (without being told or trained) by her first lover to become the next proxy. Now, it’s become her turn to join the fight. She’s reluctant when she’s called, as she prefers to combat evil in her own way, by serving as a cop who protects those in No Man’s Land, the sketchy area of the city where sometimes odd things happen and have to be buried in police reports.
We’re four episodes into the series and so far Riley’s started her initiation into the supernatural world by investigating the death of the mysterious man who saved her life from what should have been a fatal fall about a year ago. That man, Redwin, turned out to be one of the angels on the side of good. Now, his fellow angel, Samael is struggling to get Riley to accept her destiny and assume champion duties the same way others before her have. She’s been both resistant and, well, not exactly practical. The series (so far) leaves off with her about to storm the home of the Big Bad and head demon in town, much against Samael’s warnings.
Overall, I think the show is a good, fun lark. The mythology, so far, isn’t anything unique or game-changing. Also, as a webseries it has a modest budget but makes the most of what it has by keeping the focus on the things it can accomplish well—focusing on the human relationships that drive Riley. There are two actors who can be a bit weak. To be honest, I think that Connor Kelly-Eiding, who plays Riley’s cop partner, Kara, can come off a bit flat and one dimensional. Additionally, Connor Trinneer as Samael seems overly didactic when he mentors Riley.
That said, there’s a ton to love here. Let’s start with Marem Hassler as Riley. In the forty minutes of webisodes, so far, Riley’s been on a roller coaster of emotions. She’s had a fun and flirty romance with a bartender, been cute and bumbling over the new M.E., Dr. Hunt, been frustrated with her new calling, been vulnerable with a priest talking about the nature of good and evil, and cried well onscreen after loss. She’s a good actress and really grounds the production. You like Riley because Marem makes her so real and relatable.
I had read on Twitter that the scene in the bar where Riley goes to return a diary from an old case to a bartender who will be able to get it to the victim’s family as closure was added late in production. I’m glad it was. It’s the first scene we meet Riley, and I think it gives us so much about her, both from her kindness and dedication to doing the right thing, even if it goes around the red-tape, and to her own confidence as a bit of a Casanova with other women. It’s a fun scene.
Also, I think the second big thing this show has going for it is that Dr. Hunt, played by Liz Vassey, is smart and quirky with her odd jokes and sly humor. My second favorite scene so far has been the one with Riley and Dr. Hunt flirting in the morgue (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I swear). It’s great to see just how darn tongue-tied Dr. Hunt makes Riley.
Finally, I like that the third episode has been willing to tackle faith. After a tragedy strikes, Riley goes to a priest to try and grapple with her lack of beliefe and, frankly, to figure out how one fights demons. I thought it was interesting how in Riley Parra’s mythology, the cross doesn’t help stop anything unless one has a personal relationship with God. in order to become a champion, Riley is going to have to believe both in herself and a higher power. After a rough life on the streets, it remains to be seen if she can do it.
Overall, Riley Parra isn’t anything new, outside of being urban fantasy webseries with a lesbian lead character and romance at its center. However, the acting and chemistry from its leads really sells it and it has quiet, reflective moments that really drive the character development well. I am optimistic to see it grow and want to watch the next two weeks to see how Riley becomes a champion and takes on the head demon in town, Marchosias.