TELENOVELA WATCH: UniMás Premieres Three Shows, And A Trio Of Villains In The Spotlight

FIRST THOUGHTS ON THREE PREMIERES
The relaunch of Telefutura into UniMás this week with a pair of new telenovelas in prime time means viewing options for fans of telenovelas are more plentiful than ever before – four hours on Univision, three hours on Telemundo and a pair of hours on both MundoFox and UniMás.

Unfortunately, neither of the offerings from UniMás – MADE IN CARTAGENA or ¿QUIÉN ERES TÚ? - are English friendly, a curious decision from the network given Univision’s concerted efforts of late to provide English captioning on their telenovelas.

MADE IN CARTAGENA (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on UniMás) is a fast-paced Colombian action series from CMO Producciones for Caracol. It is another of the so-called “tele-series” rather than a “telenovela,” a serialized nightly drama typically with fewer episodes, higher production values, greater diversity of locations, and a more modern, cinematic look. There is an action set piece in every episode rendered through rapid, disorienting montage and liberal use of split-screens. Every episode has featured snippety flash forwards to later action, a sort of forewarning of tensions to come.

After a heist gone bad results in the death of his son, the leader of the gang of thieves, Harvey Noriega (Fernando Solórzano), plots revenge against the bank president, Vicente Domínguez (Miguel de Miguel), whom he holds responsible. Harvey’s bosses do not allow him to murder Vicente, so Harvey convinces his goddaughter Flora (Carmen Villalobos), whose brother Candelario was part of the botched robbery and is now in prison, to infiltrate the life of Vicente. To undertake this task, Flora has to distance herself from Watusi (Khris Cifuentes), her partner in a Champeta dance contest and the man whom she was going to marry.

Flora’s entrance point into Vicente’s life is by taking the same modern dance class his daughter Sofía (Matilde Lemaitre) attends. There is a PYGMALION aspect to the story as Harvey hires an etiquette teacher to help Flora pass for belonging to the same social stratum as Vicente.

The action thus far in MADE IN CARTAGENA is streamlined into concise story strands: Harvey and the criminals plotting, Vicente counterplotting and his domestic life with his daughter, Candelario’s life in prison, Watusi dealing with Flora’s sudden rejection and another dancer who has her eyes on him; the heroine Flora roves through all the strands.

For Carmen Villalobos, Flora is a continuation of the kind of earthy spitfire role we’ve seen her portray in her previous two telenovelas: MI CORAZÓN INSISTE and OJO POR OJO. After a rather thankless role in LA REINA DEL SUR that had him overshadowed by his co-stars, history may be repeating itself here for Spanish actor Miguel de Miguel as the male lead, another bland, colorless role surrounded by a more lively, variegated supporting cast.

¿QUIÉN ERES TÚ? (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET), the other new show courtesy of UniMás, is a more traditional telenovela. A Colombian production from RTI for Televisa and Univision, ¿QUIÉN ERES TÚ? is the latest adaptation of Inés Rodena’s LA USURPADORA. After the first week, I think it would be fair to classify ¿QUIÉN ERES TÚ? as a reimagining rather than a remake – the central concept of a twin assuming the life of her married sister remains, most everything else seems distinct to this telling by Jimena Romero and Lina María Uribe, which ramps up the thriller element of the story.

After years of self-imposed separation, Verónica (Laura Carmine) invites her twin sister Natalia (Carmine) to visit her. Verónica recounts a fairly farfetched tale to her sister, claiming she only has about six months left to live due to cancer, an eight-year-old son taken from her by an abusive ex and stashed away in Panama whom she wants to see before she dies, but needing to keep all this secret from her husband, Felipe (Julián Gil). Verónica’s sob story convinces Natalia to take over her life for a week, the time she needs to see and make peace with her son.

Natalia enters Verónica’s life to discover her marriage to Felipe is on very shaky ground. Felipe is convinced Verónica has a lover. Felipe’s two teenage children from a previous marriage hate Verónica. Felipe’s wealthy parents see Verónica as a gold digger; when Verónica and Felipe met, she was a maid at the hotel where he was Vice President. Natalia discovers Verónica has a drug addiction to prescription tranquilizers that she has concealed from her family. This ends up helping Natalia, giving an explanation for heraltered behavior in attempting to portray her sister to Felipe after he accidentally discovers Verónica’s addiction confronting a man he believes to be her lover, but who turns out to be her rehab sponsor. As Felipe becomes a dutiful, loving husband to try and help his “wife” with her addiction, Natalia begins to fall for him. (Seeing him in the shower probably didn’t hurt either.)

Through the first week, the writers of ¿QUIÉN ERES TÚ? have introduced a series of tantalizing little mysteries layered upon the central story. There are glimpses in flashbacks and hints in dialogue of backstory without letting the audience fully in on what is going on. In an opening flashback, we see a man (the girls’ father?) who has been sexually abusing one of the girls (seemingly Verónica) get shot by a woman (their mother?) before she turns the gun on herself, all in front of the sisters. Dialogue reveals the sisters believe Natalia “owes” Verónica for something in their past – is this related to the sexual abuse? We learn Natalia has spent time in prison, though we don’t get the specifics as to what crime she committed. Throughout the week, Natalia has been getting frantic phone calls from an ex-lover back in Mexico City claiming he is danger and she is too. This proves true after a pair of hit men do away with him, but not before learning some unspecified whatsit is now in the possession of Natalia. And what is Verónica up to in Panama? It seems she is planning to leave her life behind for Australia, but in the last episode of the week, she also seems to be setting a trap for her sister that may result in her murder.

Fresh off an entertaining turn as the avaricious sister of the heroine on AMOR BRAVÍO, Laura Carmine gets the double-duty here as the twins. She manages to differentiate between the sisters without resorting to gross exaggeration. Verónica is an icy and calculating femme fatale, every word carefully chosen, often framed in close ups showcasing her inscrutable stone-face; Carmine finally indulged in some delicious wicked lady smirks in Friday’s episode as Verónica plotted something badin store for her sister. Carmine’s sympathetic Natalia is warmer and freer with her emotions, she exudes an anxious vulnerability apropos a woman undertaking this vast deception, and she’s a bit of a flake – a nervous wreck at a family dinner, she makes blunder after blunder while knocking back three glasses of wine.

Julián Gil as the male lead had a bit of a thankless task most of the first week in the unsympathetic role of a jealous husband. He’s an actor I typically find a bit stiff and monotonous, he got to show a little more tenderness later in the week comforting his “wife” after discovering her drug problem; it will be interesting to see how well he does going forward in this protagonist role.

The supporting characters lack color and interest thus far, hopefully just a consequence of early episode expositional overload that will be rectified going forward. The telenovela features a pretty insipid title song that unfortunately plays into and out of every commercial break.

This week also saw Telemundo’s premiere of LA PATRONA (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET)which, judging by its first episodes, is out-and-out bunkum. The nice location work gives this Mexican production from Argos a quality look, but can’t mask the overall corniness of the proceedings, overflowing with clunky storytelling, two-dimensional characters and atrocious on-the-nose dialogue. LA PATRONA is the most stereotypically bad telenovela we’ve had on the air since EL TALISMÁN, and as such, it manages to be amusing camp if one can fully embrace the silliness for what it is.

Aracely Arámubla stars as Gabriela, a single-mother working as a miner to provide for her son. The only woman working in the mine, she is subjected to harassment from her fellow miners, causing her to huff and puff a lot. Arámbula has such a dollish screen presence, her attempts at feisty strength come off as petulance, almost complete with foot stamps as she growls emphasis on every pre-comma word of dialogue. She (and everything else on screen) is largely upstaged by her copious cleavage, shown off in costumes that thus far, mostly consist of tank tops under strategically buttoned shirts. You know the score by the second episode when, trapped by a cave-in with the male lead, Jorge Luis Pila, they cool each other off. He removes his shirt and she rubs mud over his chest; she has her own personal wet T-shirt contest, pouring water over her bosom – a tacky and sophomoric stab at titillation.

The mine has a new owner after Antonia Vidal, played by Christian Bach, enacting a variation of Lillian Hellman’s THE LITTLE FOXES, denies her heart-attack stricken husband his medication. He dies at her feet and Antonia proclaims herself la patrona (thunderclap). In a flashback, we see what brought upon the heart attack – he walked in on Antonia in flagrante delicto with a dopy, but hunky and much younger engineer (Christian de la Campa). Another flashback reveals she also killed her first husband. Bach is largely underplaying, but the character is such an unmitigated termagant, you half expect smoke to emit from her flared nostrils and the baying of wolves to accompany her entrances.

The scripts in the first week have been dreadful – hopefully just a case of unloading early novela exposition. At one point, a random character named and described every character at a funeral to his companion as if he were reading a Wikipedia entry on a telenovela called LA PATRONA.

THREE VILLAINS
It was a good week on three telenovelas as a trio of excellent villains rose to the fore.

On ROSA DIAMANTE (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Telemundo), Bárbi (Begoña Narváez), for most of the telenovela’s run, a ditzy comedic villain, unveiled her sadistic streak, morphing closer to full psycho mode. In a long, torturous scene, Bárbi berated her stroke-stricken father-in-law (Luis Xavier), who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, for his attempts to communicate to the rest of the family her misdeeds. There was something marvelously perverse about Bárbi’s abuse being rendered through her still bubble headed mannerisms and delivery. At one point, while enumerating her options as to how to kill him, she rested her bare feet on the poor man’s face, an ultimate degradation. Finally opting to push him in his wheelchair down a flight of stairs, he manages to clutch onto her and pull her down with him resulting in the loss of the child she was carrying and her last hope to hold onto the novela's hero. The police are zeroing in on Bárbi as evidence of her crimes accumulates; as the walls close in, there’s a growing desperation in Narváez’s performance, but she never ceases to give her scenes some comedic curveball.

With only six episodes of ROSA DIAMANTE left, Bárbi’s comeuppance is imminent.The audience will have a longer wait to see the baddies get what’s coming to them on AMOR BRAVÍO (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Univision). This week, Isadora (Leticia Calderón) managed to finagle ownership of the ranch at the center of the story, La Malquerida, and all it took was her murdering her son Alonso (Flavio Medina) and his lover Ximena (Laura Carmine). The audience was privy to some prime villainous gloating from Isadora as she waltzed through her new property and kicked the rightful owners, our heroes, out, indulging in the sort of infuriating smugness designed to raise audience ire, though Calderón makes it pretty damn funny as well.

AMOR BRAVÍO is in a transitional phase with the exits of the subordinate villains played by Medina and Carmine. In a fairly far-fetched twist, a nurse tending to Alonso turns out to be his biological mother, Rosario, played by Tina Romero (UNA MAID EN MANHATTAN), and it seems her character is to sustain the strand in the narrative previously filled by Alonso, another player with some as yet unspecified ace up her sleeve to trump Isadora’s plans.

Finally, on CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS (weeknights at 7 p.m. ET on Univision), Patricio (Alejandro Nones) is well on his way to realizing his wildest fantasies by marrying into a wealthy family. Ashamed of his poverty-stricken background, Patricio fabricates a phony version of his upbringing to tell his higher class friends and fiancée. To begin his new life, he believes he must abandon his mother and brothers. Patricio’s mother, Refugio (Victoria Ruffo), finds out about Patricio’s upcoming wedding by reading about it in a newspaper and, with some effort, manages to visit Patricio to give him her blessing. In a scene of devastating cruelty, he rejects and belittles his mother, asking how it would look for her, with her dirty hands, to be hobnobbing with his future upper crust in-laws. Friday’s excellent cliffhanger seems to be setting up further humiliation for poor Refugio, who shows up uninvited at the church as Patricio and his new wife are exiting. Patricio’s new mother-in-law asks him if Refugio is his mother; his wife scoffs at the suggestion and repeating the lie Patricio told her, says Refugio is just his old nanny. The episode concludes with a close up on Ruffo’s Everymom face, tears streaming, awaiting her son’s answer.

RELATED:
- TELENOVELA WATCH: UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR's Final Week; EL CAPO 2 Finale; AMOR BRAVÍO; ROSA DIAMANTE; Premieres: CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS, LA MARIPOSA (December 1, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: First Thoughts On CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS & LA MARIPOSA (December 8, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: Strong Start For LA MARIPOSA; LOS REY Loosely Inspired On DALLAS (December 15, 2012)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: Best & Worst Of The Year (January 1, 2013)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: TeleFutura Relaunches As UniMás (January 6, 2013)

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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