As promised, here’s the post on Tony from 13 Reasons Why.
I’d been dragging my feet on this because of other stuff going on in my life (stuff that required me to write a very “terse” email that will live in LY infamy), but the news of Ross Butler leaving Riverdale (a total mistake IMHO*) has inspired me to get moving again. Zach had been one of my favorite characters in 13 Reasons and, in my opinion, he didn’t really deserve a tape. But he is fucking up Riverdale, home of all iconic gingers, in order to remain in the 13 Reasons universe, so he’s now persona non grata for me. With the death of my other favorite 13 Reasons character (no, not Hannah; spoiler in the link) we’re back to the beloved Tony.
Tony Padilla is played by Christian Navarro, a 25-year-old actor of Puerto Rican descent. “Tony has amazing taste,” Hannah says as he spins a school dance. “This song is perfect.” Tony is also an LGBT character, though Clay somehow doesn’t know this and Tony having to tell him he is gay is genuinely funny. Clay also yells at Tony for being an “unhelpful Yoda,” which is a pretty accurate description, but remember Yoda isn’t supposed to be all that helpful at first. He makes you earn it. And Tony repeatedly tells Clay to just listen to the tapes already. Tony is like Clay’s guardian angel, and in a way, he’s Hannah’s avenging angel.
Tony’s storyline does develop, and he has his flaws, too. I just kept thinking how the character seemed to be almost a direct descendant of John “Plato” Crawford in Rebel Without a Cause. The classic tale of teen angst also has an LGBT message, as Plato falls in love with James Dean’s character. The two went on to appear in 1956’s Giant, in which Mineo played a Mexican-American soldier, despite his Sicilian heritage.
I’d hit on this Sal Mineo connection during “Tape 5, Side A” (Episode 9) probably about the time Tony helps Clay skip school, so when Wilson Cruz showed up in “Tape 5, Side B,” I almost fell out of my chair.
Real-life LGBT advocate Wilson Cruz plays the Bakers’ attorney in only two episodes, but all 90s teens remember him as Enrique Vasquez on My So-Called Life. Before Willow and Tara, before the kid from that Dawson’s River show, even before freaking ELLEN, there was Rickie. He struggled with his sexuality while Angela (and the rest of us) lusted after Jordan Catalano, only able to say the words when cheerfully confronted by Delia (played by the wonderful character actress Senta Moses) in the very last episode before the show was canceled:
Delia : Okay, but um, you’re gay, right?
Rickie : Well, I, you know, I, I-
Delia : Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t-
Rickie : No, it, it, it’s okay.
Delia : That came out so rude.
Rickie : No, uh, see I, I try not to, um, no, I, I don’t like, uh- [throws pencil down] Yeah, I’m gay. I just don’t usually say it like that.
Delia : How do you usually say it?
Rickie : I don’t usually say it. I mean, I’ve actually never said it…out loud.
(Episode 19, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”)
With Rickie, as with Plato, the sexual orientation is implied more than it is spoken aloud. Rickie has one of my all-time favorite lines in the Halloween episode when he pulls out Angela’s sweater in the girls’ bathroom and exclaims “Oh, look, mohair!” (I don’t know why, I just always thought that was hilarious.) In every high school in the 90s, there was always the guy who, though not quite ready to come out, dressed sharply and palled around with the girls. In episode 15, which features Juliana Hatfield’s guest appearance as an angel and which I just learned was titled “So-Called Angels,” Angela is freaking out because Rickie hasn’t come to school after her parents wouldn’t let him stay with them. Rayanne, telling her to chill, says:
“Maybe he’s coming in late. Maybe he’s at some Sal Mineo film festival.”
It took me a long time to respect the significance of that line, and it’s such a throw-away that I’m not sure many people ever really did. Because of course Rickie identified with Sal Mineo.
(By the way, A.J. Langer is a countess now. And the characters in both My So-Called Life and 13 Reasons Why attend school at Liberty High.)
There’s another Wilson Cruz role that has always haunted me, justifiably, because the fate of his character is so gristly. In Party Monster, Macauley Culkin’s Michael Alig makes Angel Melendez deliver drugs around the city in an angel costume. That image of him walking through the deserted city, making his way toward the mayhem in Peter’s hotel room, kept coming back to me every time Tony appeared on screen in 13 Reasons Why. Yes, you’re some sort of angel figure, but guardian angel or avenging angel?
*If played right, this could work in Riverdale‘s favor, and I hope they hit on a brilliant way to recast Reggie. Remember how Shelly Pomroy was played by three different actresses on Veronica Mars? Shelly Pomroy’s party sophomore year was so crucial to the plot of the show that Veronica was still name-checking her in college, but Shelly Pomroy herself was a very minor character and no one really noticed the recasting. They did, however, notice the recasting of Carrie Bishop, played by Leighton Meester in the show and Andrea Estella in the movie. The movie used Carrie’s stage name, Bonnie DeVille, to sort of explain away the transformation, but I always thought it would have been a treat for loyal fans if the murder victim had been Shelly Pomroy instead. That way, when yet another actress was brought in, we would have been in on the joke. Plus, Carrie/Bonnie was too cool of a girlfriend for Logan and I perceive her as more of a threat to his relationship with Veronica, if that makes sense. So if they find a way to riff on the fact that Archie’s great rival Reggie was a non-player in the first season, the recasting could actually be a good thing. I’m still mad at Ross Butler, though.