Creators Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrosi, who also direct six out of the eight episodes in this stunning HBO Max co-production limited series, lovingly and masterfully weave an epic tapestry of the life of Spanish trans icon Cristina “La Veneno” Ortiz (Daniela Santiago, Isabel Torres), based on her memoirs, Not A Whore, Not A Saint, as told to her biographer, close confidant Valeria Vegas (Lola Rodríguez). Emotionally potent throughout (yes, that means I cried, a lot), the series skilfully moves back and forth over the decades effortlessly shifting tones and employing different visual styles—even incorporating animation at one point—taking in crucial episodes in her vibrant and fascinating life; her small coastal town childhood in the 1960s with her abusive mother, her initiation into sex work in Madrid’s Parque del Oeste (told through a refreshingly nonjudgemental lens), and her first of many appearances on Spanish television in the 1990s. At various points the series’ writers playfully embrace Cristina as a potentially unreliable narrator. Each episode is so rich that the series lends itself to more traditional mini-series viewing, eked out over several weeks, rather than impatiently bingeing in a few sittings, though it’s such gripping stuff you’d be forgiven for doing the latter.
Each cast member in the ensemble delivers brilliant work, with particularly impressive turns from Lola Rodríguez who plays Valeria from her teen years into adulthood and through her own transition; Daniela Santiago and Isabel Torres as Cristina at different ages enthrall with their nuanced, moving, and utterly compelling performances; while Paca la Piraña brings much warmth, humour, and authenticity to the series portraying herself.
Hilarious and heartbreaking, with unapologetically explicit, character-driven sex scenes, the series is ultimately a deeply touching celebration of chosen family, a sisterhood of trans experience. It’s not hyperbole to call this one of the finest television series focused on LGBTQ characters. Unmissable.
By James Kleinmann
Veneno, the entire limited series is now streaming on HBO Max.