The show also loses suspense by overlaying its wilderness drama with montages that reveal truths about nature and humans’ place within it. But these truths are hardly revelatory—think realizing you need to boil water after seeing a bunch of animals peeing in lakes. It’s more silly than insightful, making how the show reveals Liv’s thought process unintentionally funny.
“Keep Breathing” also folds in a psychological thriller with flashbacks to Liv’s past, revealing a long history of emotional wounds, both given and received. The main cause of Liv’s trauma appears to be her manic, artistic mother who charms and neglects her daughter before abandoning her. Some tough conversations with her father follow, leaving Liv unwilling to connect with others, perhaps particularly when they offer real companionship.
The show’s central conceit, that for some it is hard to ‘keep breathing,’ carries some weight. The combination of physiological study and survival drama also makes sense—with no one else to talk to, it’s natural to take a hard look at yourself. And Liv does reach some revelations: that she was not to blame for her mother’s actions, but she is responsible for her own; that love is valuable even when it can hurt; that her father was imperfect; that so is she.
But “Keep Breathing” does its heroine a disservice by tying her quest to an unplanned pregnancy. Her reason to keep fighting to survive is because of a fetus inside her. At particularly hard moments, she even pulls out the ultrasound and stares at it. It’s cliché and frustrating. Why can’t she want to live for herself? To honor her father? To achieve? To love herself, her friends, and perhaps her partner too? Women are more than uteruses, waiting to be fulfilled by a baby. That career-driven Liv would be so completely upended—taking her first and extremely ill-fated vacation because of a pregnancy—seems both easy and unrealistic. Let her be more complicated than that.
Indeed “Keep Breathing” shies away from the complication it sets up. Melissa Barrera is Mexican-born and arguably broke into US stardom via Latinx productions like “Vida” and “In the Heights.” Her Liv is also Latina, although we don’t see much more than the fact of her identity. Yes, Liv and both her parents speak Spanish but how exactly little Liv learned the language with parents who primarily speak English is unclear. When who speaks what and how well is so political in our community that this shortcut feels like a betrayal. Not to mention, “Keep Breathing” doesn’t so much as dip into Liv’s feeling about being one of the few Latinas in a competitive New York law firm or how she was treated by her largely white girl scout troop. It all goes unexamined.