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TELENOVELA WATCH: A Look At RELACIONES PELIGROSAS; Plus, Short Takes!

A few weeks ago, promotions for the Telemundo telenovela RELACIONES PELIGROSAS (weekdays at 10 p.m. ET) announced the telenovela was entering a “nueva etapa,” or “new stage.”  When a network makes such an announcement, it sometimes means the story is developing naturally into its second or third act; but far more often, new stages are a reaction to stagnant or poor ratings.  The network is telling its audience, “You haven’t been watching the telenovela so far; well here is something new you may like more.”  This is certainly the case with RELACIONES PELIGROSAS, which has languished far behind Telemundo’s other telenovelas in the ratings all year.

RELACIONES PELIGROSAS, a telenovela adaptation of a popular TV series from Spain, FÍSICA O QUÍMICA, explored the relationships among high school students, their parents and teachers.  Initially, the telenovela was an interesting hybrid of traditional telenovela with a clear pair of protagonists taking the central story, and a more open American soap opera story structure featuring dozens of characters floating in their own, fairly independent plots.  The main plot line, a forbidden love story between a new teacher just arrived from Mexico, Miranda Cruz (Sandra Echeverría), and her student, Mauricio Blanco (Gabriel Coronel), was featured in every episode, surrounded by side stories focusing primarily on youth issues such as drugs, racist and homophobic bullying, child abuse, anorexia nervosa, and illegal immigration.

Early on, the telenovela aggressively pushed the envelope.  An early fantasy sequence featured a bizarre, almost ritualized act of students passing an ice cube through a series of kisses, including some same-sex passes; there was copious nudity not just focusing on the lead actress, but also her young lover as well as a few scenes of young men in the locker room showers.

As ambitious as the telenovela was in its content and storytelling, it was often a frustrating viewing experience.  The central Miranda/Mauricio relationship had a dreamy, telenovela romanticism of star-crossed, destined lovers, citing Trisan and Isolde, which clashed in tone with the ripped from the headlines tone of the students’ stories.  In those social issues stories, the dialogue too often lapsed into public service announcements and the show was very clumsy in its attempts to tie its storylines to real-life cases, usually set up with tin-eared lines that were variations of “I saw on television about (insert real-life case).”  As clumsy as those student issues stories could be, they also provided some of the telenovela’s most powerful moments: Alejandro (Kevin Aponte), a bullied gay student standing up for himself, saying he is not going to take his own life because he is stronger than those bullying him; Nora (Cristina Mason), discovering she and her parents are in the country illegally and the destruction of her family after her father is deported.

For all the problems, RELACIONES PELIGROSAS was an honest attempt at something different from Telemundo, but this has largely fallen by the wayside with the “nueva etapa.”  In the past three weeks, RELACIONES PELIGROSAS has adopted a much more conventional telenovela structure, consolidating its myriad of storylines into basically three: the Miranda/Mauricio romance, the evil pharmaceutical company testing potentially fatal drugs on high school students, and the relationship of a pair of teachers with their exes acting as spoilers.  The students not tied in some way to those three stories have all but disappeared: Cassius (Andy Pérez), a Haitian immigrant in a bi-racial romance with Mauricio’s sister, Sofie (Ana Carolina Grajales), hasn’t appeared in weeks.  Nora, Alejandro and his potential love-interest, Diego (Jonathan Freudman) had a total of three scenes over the past two weeks, all lasting a few seconds of screen time.  Even the second credited actor, Ana Layevska as Patty, a sexphobic teacher and Miranda’s roommate and confidante, who provided much needed comic relief in the first months of the run (the show is seriously lacking in humor), has been reduced to a purely supporting role for the Miranda/Mauricio story.  Her own story, a romance with an ex-con named Joaco (Christian de la Campa), a wonderfully sweet, unlikely pairing, lacks development on the backburner.

With the new stage, RELACIONES PELIGROSAS has lost its audaciousness.  The frank sexuality of the early episodes is gone.  The gay kisses between Alejandro and Diego are suggested rather than shown.  Characters who were once complex shades of gray are adopting far more traditional roles as bad guys and manipulators.  Ratings for the show are already poor and have grown worse since the changes, what was at least an honorable failure is now less than that.

SHORT TAKES
UNA FAMILIA CON SUERTE is entering its final weeks on Univision (weekdays 7:00 p.m. ET).  I must confess I mostly skipped this one as I have a general aversion to the broad style of Mexican comedy featured in this telenovela.  I was also apprehensive about the length, as I saw the episode count of its Mexican run climb closer and closer to 200, I found myself less and less inclined to give it a shot.  On a whole, Televisa’s telenovelas are becoming lengthier.  From the years 2000-2001, Televisa’s telenovelas averaged 113 episodes in length; their telenovelas from 2010-2011 averaged 154 episodes, approximately two months longer.  Even more telling, from 2000-2001, Televisa produced 11 telenovelas of 100 episodes or less; 2010 had one (NIÑA DE MI CORAZÓN), 2011 had none, though LA FUERZA DEL DESTINO ran 101 episodes.  Not that there haven’t been excellent telenovelas over 200 episodes long, but with Televisa producing so many remakes, I often find it difficult to maintain interest knowing the same story has been more swiftly told before, with fewer longueurs.  As entertaining as the 2010 telenovela SOY TU DUEÑA often was, I couldn’t help but feel it noticeably dragging after seeing the same story told in 50 less episodes in the 1995 version, LA DUEÑA.

UNA MAID EN MANHATTAN (weekdays 8 p.m. ET on Telemundo) looks to me to be exhibiting some telltale signs of an extension with the unreasonable separation of the protagonists Cristobal (Eugenio Siller) and Marisa (Litzy), the sudden introduction of a new potential love interest (Shalim Ortiz) for Marisa, and the hastily tossed in subplot of the mysterious rich man proposing seemingly overnight to Marisa’s co-worker Leti (Liz Gallardo).  It’s ridiculous to expect an audience to take seriously as a potential side of a romantic triangle a character introduced this late in the story; no matter how well-written or charismatically acted, the character can’t possibly compete with a character the audience has followed over the previous five months.  Mostly, these contrived separations of the obvious protagonists and the heroine’s dalliances with the Johnny-come-lately just make me annoyed and impatient because they require the heroine to become unreasonably obstinate.

CORAZÓN APASIONADO (weekdays, 2 p.m. ET on Univision, no English friendly options), a Venevision International telenovela shot in Miami in 2011 that premiered on Univision three weeks ago is fairly typical of that studio’s productions: clichéd characters, fast-moving plots, general silliness, it is also rather fun if you’re willing to go with the flow.  It cheered my heart this week to see lead protagonist Marlene Favela catfight in a pool with the villainess played by Jessica Mas, a full ten years after her brawls in GATA SALVAJE.  CORAZÓN APASIONADO is also worth noting for a bit of trivia: its cast features a number of actors currently appearing in Telemundo productions.  It’s a pretty rare occurrence for actors to appear in simultaneous, first-run telenovelas on the rival networks.  (Back in 2008, in a bit of stunt casting, Telemundo brought Michelle Vieth into their production, LA TRAICIÓN, actually putting her opposite herself as Univision aired AL DIABLO CON LOS GUAPOS in the same timeslot.)

Thus far, CORAZÓN APASIONADO features Paulo Quevedo (Victor on UNA MAID EN MANHATTAN), Kevin Aponte (Alejandro on RELACIONES PELIGROSAS), Eduardo Ibarrola (Olivares on RELACIONES PELIGROSAS), and Daniela Navarro (Olivia Kloster on RELACIONES PELIGROSAS).  The crediting in telenovelas can be downright bizarre; CORAZÓN APASIONADO credits Daniela Navarro’s appearance as her debut, which is news to anybody who saw the 2004 Venezuelan telenovela ESTRAMBÓTICA ANASTASIA, in which she had a fairly substantial role as the sister of the male protagonist.

RELATED:
- TELENOVELA WATCH: No Spanish? Our New, Weekly Column Makes Telenovelas Fun for Everyone!
- VOTE: Daytime Soap Best of the Week Poll (April 23-27, 2012)
- VOTE: Primetmie Soap of the Week Poll (April 22-28, 2012)

R.G. Morin writes a weekly column for We Love Soaps, "Telenovela Watch: A weekly look at the world of telenovelas for non-Spanish speakers." For feedback or questions, you can email R.G. Morin at argeemorin@hotmail.com.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this column - I have been watching american soaps all my life but never knew much about these telenovelas which are now so much more vibrant and popular than their US cousins.

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  2. Just want to add I agree with your criticism of RP - my favorite characters are the students. I don't like seeing the show push them into the background!

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  3. Relaciones Peligrosos was on the right track, now I feel that they are writing just for the sake of writing. The bully stories with Cassius was real, the Haitian immigrant father was believable. I totally enjoyed Sophie and Cassius. They drop that story. JP has turned into a manipulator. The only thing that keeps me interested now is Paty and jaoco. Olivia is too smart to compromise her badge with the Mauricio obsession. The writers need to fluff it up.

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  4. I agree with most of your critique on Relaciones Peligrosas. I'm still sticking with it, but like other viewers, I was actually more attracted to the interplay of the teenage characters and their stories. In fact, the main Mauricio-Miranda storyline was probably my least favorite. It's now only tolerable because of the attractive interloper, Juan Pablo. I do, however, still find the other two 'adult' stories involving Santiago-Ana and Patty-Joaco entertaining, but am missing the teens.

    But as far as ratings, I would also suggest that at least some of RP's drop can be attributed to its now two faltering lead-ins, Una Maid en Manhattan and Corazon Valiente. I see that, back in March, one can find broadcast dates where both Una Maid (8pm) and Corazon Valiente (9pm) were pulling in 1.7 million viewers. I haven't done the math, but I would guess they were usually averaging something like 1.5 and 1.6 million back then. But within the last month, they've both fallen as well, and during the week of April 16-20, Una Maid's average was only about 1.3 million and Corazon Valiente's was down to a 1.14 million average. So, I'd say the 10pm RP is obviously going to take a hit from these drops, because the "lead-in phenomenon" typically has some affect on performance.

    Also, if possible, could you further expand on the ability or at least the process of how changes to a telenovela are made mid-stream. Since these shows have something of a pre-determined beginning and end (unlike American soaps), with a set broadcast schedule, exactly how much lead time or ''change time'' to adjust story mid-course do they typically have to work with? I've heard about this happening before, so am curious. Are they frantically re-writing scripts, or even re-shooting episodes? ... or do they always take a more wait-and-see type approach allowing for change-time? It would seem like with the Mauricio-Miranda story they're really trying to pad things with the emergence of this whole Mexican drug cartel.

    Thank you for your interesting perspective on the genre.

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  5. Fisica o Quimica made an outstanding effort at pushing the envelope in many areas, and the relationship with David and Fer was (although at times painfully, annoyingly immature) quite well-developed for a soap. It's sad that Relaciones Peligrosas retreated. Maybe at some point in the future, Telemundo will realize that what's safe and boring isn't going to attack a big audience.

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