The Cleaning Lady Season 1 review – an ambitious premise with messy execution

January 4, 2022
Jonathon Wilson 0
TV, TV Reviews
3

Summary

The Cleaning Lady‘s strong premise and lead performance earn it some goodwill, but its determination to be a relatively standard crime drama undermines its message.

Previous EpisodeView all
3

Summary

The Cleaning Lady‘s strong premise and lead performance earn it some goodwill, but its determination to be a relatively standard crime drama undermines its message.

This review of The Cleaning Lady Season 1 is spoiler-free.


The Cleaning Lady boasts a compelling setup and a lot of thematic ambition, so it’s a bit of a shame that it isn’t better than it is. That isn’t to say it can’t become better, keep in mind, but its overabundance of ideas and details mean it’s hard for it to really lean into being a crime or a family drama, or a way to give a voice and power to those who lack both. The overall effect is messy and not entirely successful, but it’s at least bolstered by a compelling leading performance, some interesting dynamics, and a ripe premise.

That premise is as follows: Thony (Élodie Yung, Daredevil) is the titular cleaning lady, a Cambodian undocumented immigrant whose son, Luca (Sebastien and Valentino LaSalle), has a rare immunodeficiency that his Cambodian-Filipino heritage and his family’s undocumented status make particularly dangerous and much harder to fix through conventional means. Thony suffers various indignities as a low-paid cleaner while she and Luca live with sister-in-law Fiona (Martha Millan), and she struggles to make ends meet until she’s presented with a better offer in the form of Arman (Adan Canto), a handsome mobster who immediately takes a shine to Thony and offers her a job cleaning up crime scenes, illicit parties, and whatever else career criminals need sprucing up.

Thony is intended to be broadly sympathetic in more ways than one. It wants us to understand that she’s being forced to work for Arman, but it also wants to give her enough agency that she isn’t exploited by him, which manifests as both an obvious romantic attraction and also Thony refusing to be walked over, which is a delicate balance to strike and can make her predicament seem less perilous, given how much relative power she retains in her dynamic with Arman. Luca’s medical issues say less about Thony as a mother and more about the U.S. healthcare system in a rather obvious way and are often deployed as cheap crises. And the whole undocumented thing is mostly a way to rope in ICE alongside the FBI, again mostly for broad-brush point-scoring rather than genuine character or thematic development.

This can often be the problem when you shackle an important point to a network genre show. When it’s being a crime drama, The Cleaning Lady is serviceable but predictable and overly familiar, full of arch character types and obligatory plot swerves and setups. When it’s a family drama it’s either touching by obvious design or weirdly flat, as though it’s reluctant to develop Thony or any of her relatives (there’s a plot point in the pilot about Fi debating whether or not to sell drugs) as too morally ambiguous. It’s a shame since while Thony is relatively protected by her importance to the criminal and medical (she’s trained as a doctor) action, Fiona strikes me as a better character to make the points about family and immigration that the show would quite obviously like to be clearer and more impactful.

Still, it’s hard not to like The Cleaning Lady, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The execution of the idea is definitely not without its problems, but the idea itself is a worthwhile one – a genuine attempt to address the endless woes of the disenfranchised by giving them a character who speaks for them and isn’t afraid to do so right in front of those in power. But its slavish devotion to the power of comfort-food genre television that’ll rope viewers in week on week with phony twists and turns only conspires to undermine it in the end, unless there’s more to the show that its early episodes are letting on. Let’s hope so.

You can check out The Cleaning Lady Season 1 exclusively on FOX.

Previous EpisodeView all

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.