TELENOVELA WATCH: EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA Struggles In Its Premiere Week

EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA (weeknights at 10:30 p.m. ET) premiered this week on Telemundo, staggering out of the blocks with the lowest rated premiere week of the year for the network; its numbers are comparable to the DECISIONES EXTREMAS reruns that aired on the network last month, and that is with ROSTRO benefiting from a far higher rated lead-in of PABLO ESCOBAR: EL PATRÓN DEL MAL.

Perhaps therein lies some of the problem.  On Monday and Tuesday, PABLO ESCOBAR was cut down to infuriatingly brief fifteen minute installments so EL ROSTRO could premiere with fairly full forty minute episodes – I wonder if PABLO viewers, angered by the morsel of their program doled out, changed the channel in protest.

I’m also not sure how congruous the two shows are on the schedule. I personally find it jarring going from the gritty, hyper-real, single-camera world depicted in PABLO to the polished, multi-camera soap world of EL ROSTRO.  After watching Friday’s episode of PABLO ESCOBAR dealing with the November 6th, 1985 siege of the Palace of Justice by armed guerrillas and the subsequent army response, depicted through documentary news footage intercut with the dramatic recreations from the cast of the show, devastating portrayals of genuine tragedy from recent history, it’s difficult to make the jump back into a soapier state of mind.

As for EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA itself, it certainly features an intriguing and original premise for a telenovela.  Diego (Jorge Eduardo García), a bullied child and seemingly autistic math savant, murders seven of his classmates and is dubbed “the Monster Child” by the press.  Twenty years later, Diego (now David Chacarro) is released from prison thanks to the efforts of his psychologist of two years, Antonia (Maritza Rodríguez), and a rich, mysterious benefactor, Ezequiel Alvarado (Saúl Lisazo), who provides Diego with a new identity and a job, bodyguard to his fiancée Mariana (Elizabeth Gutiérrez).  Ezequiel has doubts as to the faithfulness of his fiancée, which prove to be well-founded when she sleeps with his son Luciano (Jonathan Islas).

It seems Diego needs the new identity to keep him safe from a dangerousMafioso who has sworn vengeance because his son was one of the kids killed by Diego.  Meanwhile, the sister of another of the murdered kids, Verónica (Wanda D’Isidoro), is now a TV reporter who wants to find and expose the newly released Diego for revenge.

By weeks end, Ezequiel’s villainous nature is revealed when he blows away an associate he is wrongly convinced slept with Mariana.  At the end of Friday’s episode, Ezequiel seemed to be grooming Diego into becoming his personal hitman, giving him a gun and telling him he’s a natural born killer.

As this telenovela is a mystery story, doubts are already being introduced as to whether Diego actually committed the murders with plot tidbits like the gun going missing and only one of his classmates willing to testify against him.  The biggest mystery of all is Ezequiel’s interest in Diego.  No doubt the fact Ezequiel’s son Luciano was another classmate of Diego will play some role.

A great deal of the story thus far doesn’t make much sense to me.  It’s difficult to know at this early stage whether the incongruities are part of the mystery being set up and will ultimately be revealed to somehow fit together, or whether it’s just poor storytelling.  There are several elements that seem to have nothing to do with the mystery that ring outright false to me, like Diego’s siblings not knowing of his crime and believing him dead – if it spurred a media circus, how could they not be aware of what their brother did, and in twenty years, they never read a story in a newspaper or did an internet search on their brother?

Another, bigger problem so far for me is EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA is pretty dour and lacking in energy.  Despite the unique premise, the production seems curiously tired, which is odd because novelas usually start off like gangbusters.Perhaps part of the problem is aside from the main protagonist, the characters are too simply drawn, relying on pretty common telenovela types, several of which we’ve seen these same actors play before.  Wanda D’Isidoro literally just played an unscrupulous reporter in her previous novela, UNA MAID EN MANHATTAN.  In the 2010 telenovela EL CLON, Saúl Lisazo played another rich man with a beautiful younger fiancée.  The female protagonist, Maritza Rodríguez, just played a psychologist on her previous novela which ended earlier this year, LA CASA DE AL LADO, though so far, I think she is much better on EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA than she was on that earlier novela where her character seemed all doe-eyed gawps and sniveling, it was only when the character’s wicked twin was introduced and Rodríguez was able to slip into an antagonist role that she came to life.  She’s alive from the start on this new soap, playing her psychologist as a kind of mama bear, protecting Diego from the reporter, upbraiding him when he acts irresponsibly, tucking him into bed later that night.

The central protagonist is well-acted by Chocarro, who is very vulnerable here and very good at portraying Diego’s difficulty at adjusting to the world he’s been absent from for twenty years, his detachment from the universe, his uncertainty in how to engage with fellow humans, his alienation, but it’s the kind of character that probably works better in a two hour film than a telenovela; I’m not sure it’s the kind of character I necessarily want to spend five nights a week with.

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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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