TELENOVELA WATCH: AMORES VERDADEROS First Impressions; AMOR CAUTIVO Preview

First impressions of AMORES VERDADEROS
AMORES VERDADEROS (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET) premiered this Wednesday on Univision, an action suspense telenovela produced by Televisa about two bodyguards and the women they protect and romance. The three episodes aired were not enough of a sampling to draw much of an opinion beyond some initial impressions. Thus far, AMORES VERDADEROS is a fairly mixed bag, with characters drawn too broadly and simplistically and a frequently silly plot; but featuring some appealing performances from the cast, in particular the protagonists, Eduardo Yáñez and Erika Buenfil, who manage to make the hour pass pleasantly enough.

At the center is a typical rich meets poor story. José Ángel Arriaga (Yáñez) is a simple farmer who loves the country life. He has a wife, Cristina (Mónika Sánchez) and a sweet daughter named Liliana (Sheryln). Beset with debt and in danger of losing their house, José Ángel desperately needs the foreman job available at a hacienda owned by wealthy Victoria Balvanera de Brizz (Buenfil) and her husband Nelson (Guillermo Capetillo). They are high executives at a publicity agency called Meta Imagen Internacional owned by Victoria’s millionaire father, Aníbal (Enrique Rocha). When José Ángel arrives at the hacienda for the job interview, he stumbles across a gang of men attempting to kidnap Victoria. José Ángel, being an aikido master (did I forget to mention that), manages to fight off the thugs and rescue Victoria.

After the thwarted kidnapping, Nelson decides to hire bodyguards for Victoria and their spoiled daughter, Nicole (Eiza González). Salsero (Francisco Gattorno), the head of security at Meta Imagen Internacional, is in charge of finding the bodyguards for Victoria, but it turns out he was behind the kidnapping attempt along with Kendra (Marjorie de Sousa), a recently hired model at the agency. In a fairly absurd plot turn, Salsero forges up a false dossier on José Ángel painting him as a skilled operative and selling Victoria on the idea that he would be her ideal bodyguard, the idea being Salsero will hire the inexperienced country bumpkin for the job making it easy to act against Victoria in the future.

José Ángel turns down the bodyguard job but meets the man he thinks right for the position, Francisco (Sebastián Rulli), who actually is properly trained for that line of work. The pair meets when they team up to take down some armed men holding up a fast food joint. Eventually, fate conspires to land José Ángel in jail and he is forced to take the bodyguard job protecting Victoria with Francisco given the job to watch over Nicole.

Most of the characters, with the exceptions of Rulli’s Francisco and his sister played by Susana González, are so overwhelming, broadly their “type” – there has never been a more spoiled rich girl than Eiza González’s Nicole or a more innocent, sweet country girl than Sheryln’s Liliana, etcetera, right down the line. Especially overblown are the two villains, Salsero and Kendra. Making matters worse is they are conspiring their evil deeds before the audience is clued into any deeper motivation; there seems no reason for their villainy or hatred of Victoria – as if they are antagonists merely because the novela needs antagonists. Without the character motivation, their evilness, which was already bordering on evil mustache twirling, becomes even sillier – they are so over the top, Salsero even gives an evil chuckle when we hear his thoughts in voiceover.

Yáñez is also playing a broad caricature, but he infuses his role with so much rustic charm and good humor that it hardly matters. He is full of joking little asides and idiosyncrasies, as when he berates his broken down truck, and a goofy, infectious grin. His rapport with Sheryln who plays his daughter is especially warm and lovely. Yáñez is game for the action scenes, but he is an awfully awkward, ungainly aikido master. Action never being a Televisa strong suit, even the more athletic Rulli wasn’t fully convincing in the fast food takedown. There is a quaintness to the fight scenes that I find rather endearing - they harken back to pre-CGI days, when gravity still existed and fights weren’t so frenetically edited – they feel almost like the fisticuffs from movie serials of the forties. There’s a basic unreality to way Televisa stages action that I don’t necessarily find to be a detriment – the action exists within a fantasy world, a reassuring staginess to be accompanied with stage blood so as not to impose too much grim reality upon the romantic.

One of my favorite things about telenovelas is the opportunities they afford their veteran actresses to play central roles, typically juicy antagonists like Laura Flores performed on UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR, but with occasional protagonists like Erika Buenfil here or Victoria Ruffo on the upcoming CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS. Buenfil is playing the wealthy Victoria with elegance and grace, but also with a kind of privileged languor and a character appropriate condescension toward others that somehow manages to avoid being disdainful because of the overall warmth of her persona. In her initial scenes with José Ángel, she regards him with a mystified confusion, as if encountering a being from another planet; when he gives her a good-natured pat on the shoulder, she unconsciously puts a hand to where he touched, contact from another world.

AMOR CAUTIVO
Late in the week, Telemundo revealed AMOR CAUTIVO, a Mexican telenovela from this year produced by Azteca, will make its US premiere this Monday at 11 a.m. ET. To my knowledge, this is the first Azteca production to air on Telemundo, though hopefully it won’t be the last given the scarcity of productions the usual US home for Azteca telenovelas, Azteca America, has broadcast in recent years.

AMOR CAUTIVO is a thriller based on the 2000 Venezuelan telenovela LEJANA COMO EL VIENTO. The atypical premise involves a woman played by Marimar Vega (EMPERATRIZ), kidnapped as a little girl and held in captivity for ten years, her difficult assimilation back into the world when she is rescued, and unraveling the mystery behind her kidnapping.

The male lead is a lawyer played by Arap Bethke, no stranger to Telemundo audiences having major roles in LA DIOSA CORONADA, VICTORINOS and DOÑA BÁRBARA. The cast also features Héctor Bonilla, Patricia Bernal, Andrea Noli, Cecilia Ponce, Eduardo Arroyuelo, and Fernando Ciangherotti.

RELATED:
- TELENOVELA WATCH: A Look At EL CAPO 2, Now English Friendly; Plus, AMOR BRAVIO & EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA (October 6, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR's Final Weeks, BELLA CALAMIDADES Comes To U.S.; Plus, AMOR BRAVIO, ROSA DIAMANTE & EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA (October 13, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: CORAZONES BLINDADOS Premieres Monday! Plus, ROSA DIAMANTE, AMOR BRAVIO & UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR (October 20, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: AMOR BRAVÍO Censorship, Final Stage Of UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR, PASION PROHIBIDA Casting Controversy (October 27, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: ABISMO DE PASIÓN Finale; AMORES VERDADEROS Premiere; Five Years Later On UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR (November 3, 2012)

R.G. Morin writes a regular 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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