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TELENOVELA WATCH: AMOR BRAVÍO Premieres; Plus, CORAZÓN VALIENTE, UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR

The premiere week of AMOR BRAVÍO (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Univision) seemed to follow the current trend in telenovelas of starting with a bang – piling on drama early in an attempt to hook the audience – a trend I’m not particularly keen on, viewing telenovelas more as a marathon than a sprint.  Three episodes into AMOR BRAVÍO, the novela’s heroine, Camila (Silvia Navarro), has already been married twice and suffered the tragic loss of two loved ones, but it is difficult to connect with the drama as the characters have barely been introduced before they are biting the dust – it’s impossible for the audience to join in the mourning for characters they don’t really know.

AMOR BRAVÍO opens with dual pre-wedding nightmares of Camila and Daniel (Cristián de la Fuente) running through the woods in wedding attire, covered in blood, omens of the tragedies to befall their first husband and wife.  Indeed, Camila’s husband doesn’t survive their wedding night as an auto accident claims his life.  Camila was driving that night, blames herself for his death and sinks into depression.  Camila’s kind uncle (Rogelio Guerra) invites her to move to his ranch to recuperate.  There, she is seduced into marriage by a lawyer associated with the ranch, Alonso (Flavio Medina), part of a plot concocted by his wicked mother, Isadora (Leticia Calderón), to steal the fortune they believe Camila will inherit from her uncle.  The uncle catches wind of the plot, suffers a heart attack before he can warn Camila, but luckily, happened to leave his fortune to Daniel, who he believes to be his son from a long ago affair.  Bad guys Isadora and her accomplice, Dionisio (César Évora), prove the depths of their evil by the third episode as they arrange a hit to get rid of Daniel before he can come to Mexico from his home in Chile to claim his inheritance, but the would-be assassin winds up wounding Daniel’s wife instead.

The speed of the plot this first week has left little time for character development.  No time at all was spent on the courtship of Camila by Alonso, making it very difficult to grasp why she married him.  As Alonso, Flavio Medina reminds me a bit of the man-child characters played by Jerry Lewis, at least in his appearance.  Mentally conjuring up a split-screen between Alonso and his sure eventual rival played by Cristián de la Fuente is a comical contrast – we’ve no doubt which of the pair the bulls so often used in the transitions are referencing.

Unable to consummate his marriage with Camila due to impotence, Alonso immediately begins to exhibit paranoid traits, thinking other men are flirting with his wife and later, blaming her for his inability to perform in bed.  The rapidness of Alonso’s turn into a complete creep strains credibility – surely the turn couldn’t occur overnight (though that’s basically all the telenovela has afforded the audience), and if so, for Camila to still marry the man, only serves to make her seem dim.

Indeed, both protagonists, Camila and Daniel, seem rather ill-defined thus far.  Silvia Navarro is a good actress, but her character seems awfully low-key to me.  There’s a lot of weepy heroine work in the first episodes because of the death of her first husband and uncle; the other mode so far for the character is dumb-foundedness at her husband’s antics.  Cristián de la Fuente had far less to do in the opening episodes aside from look handsome; his storyline finally seemed to get moving at the end of the week with the attack on his wife.  Leticia Calderón and César Évora are very capable villains, but with the characters starting right off this week with an outright murder attempt, it doesn’t leave many options in the way of escalating their nefariousness – they’re starting right off the bat at evil level ten, I guess we’ll see if, like Spinal Tap, theirs goes up to eleven.

CORAZÓN VALIENTE (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on Telemundo) continues to cheerfully career along from improbable plot turn to improbable plot turn – the show has accumulated so many telenovela clichés that it long ago began to play like a parody of the medium.  Amnesia, blindness, and babies switched at birth are all fairly common telenovela plot lines – but it takes a show as nutty as CORAZÓN VALIENTE to toss them all on the screen at the same time.  Yet, despite the ludicrous, nonsensical plots, the show inexplicably sort of works – it certainly isn’t dull – it’s a shark telenovela, always moving forward or it would die, the energy never wanes with some new silliness for the heroes to overcome introduced every couple episodes.  It has maintained fairly consistent viewing figures, so the audience seems willing to go along for the ride.

What is not so amusing is this telenovela’s apparent preoccupation with rape which reared its head again this week with a scene of Samantha (Ximena Duque) tied to a chair and at the mercy of obsessed Bernardo (Manuel Landeta), who slobbered and fondled her before deciding he’s not a rapist and wants her to want him as much as he wants her.  By my count, this is the fourth time on this novela that Samantha has been defenseless before a would-be rapist; the other protagonist, Angela (Adriana Fonseca), has also had two or three such scenes; with Emma (Vanessa Pose) also having a rape threat scene as she was passed out on her bed and pawed by a guy and Nelly (Priscila Perales) getting attacked but escaping.  The telenovela also featured a thankfully short-lived plot line early on with a child molester friend of the family leering towards the hero’s little girl.

Most disturbing of all, the telenovela’s serial killer villainess, Fernanda (Aylín Mújica), has been raped twice on the telenovela.  It’s difficult to discern what the writers meant to accomplish with those scenes.  The aftermath featured zero development of plot, character or any other aspect in the novela which made their inclusion entirely pointless, or downright gratuitous aside from, I guess, showing an escalation of the perpetrators’ villainy.  As both perpetrators had already committed murders, this possible reason for their inclusion seems horribly insubstantial.  Perhaps more likely (and more disgustingly), they were meant as “punishment” for Fernanda, satisfying some imaginary bloodlust the authors felt needed to be slaked.

This dishing out of horrific punishments to the villains is probably the telenovela trope with which I’m least comfortable.  There seems to be a long standing tradition that after a villain has indulged in wickedness over 120, 150, 200 episodes or so, their punishment must somehow match the aggregate of their offenses.  Imprisonment or even death is seen as somehow insufficient for telenovela villains; no, they need to be maimed, disfigured, tortured for the audience to be satisfied.  This trope was in evidence in last week’s finale of LA QUE NO PODÍA AMAR where the villainous Cynthia (Susana González) can’t merely rot in prison, but first has to be disfigured in a fire.

UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR (weeknights at 7:00 p.m. ET on Univision) has taken a purely soapy turn as Rodrigo (Gabriel Soto) has two babies on the way from his brief marriage to Luciana (Zuria Vega) and a drunken night with his ex Gala (Jessica Coch).  Naturally, the heroine Luciana, who has moved back to her tiny village after her failed marriage to Rodrigo, keeps her pregnancy secret from Rodrigo for the time being while devious Gala wastes no time exploiting her pregnancy, with the help of her cohorts, to pressure Rodrigo into marriage.  It only takes a couple episodes before the still rash, hot-headed Rodrigo ties the knot with Gala.  That wedding made for a wonderful diptych of conflicting emotions – on one side, Rodrigo’s sorrowful siblings and cousins, fully aware he still loves Luciana but has resigned himself to an unhappy union with Gala; on the other side, the beaming exultation of Gala, her mother Julie (Frances Ondiviela) and Rodrigo’s mother Roselena (Laura Flores), the baddies winning this round.  That night, Gala drops her robe in an attempt to seduce miserable Rodrigo, who hastily shuts her down, telling her to get dressed before grabbing a pillow and blanket and spending the night away from his new wife.  Left alone, Gala sneers how much she hates Rodrigo.  A marriage built on mutual hatred – there’s a switch.

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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.

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