TELENOVELA WATCH: EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS and QUÉ BONITO AMOR Dueling Premieres; PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA Review; AMOR BRAVÍO Grand Finale

There are dueling premieres scheduled for Monday, April 15 at 10 p.m. ET as EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS debuts on Telemundo and QUÉ BONITO AMOR debuts on Univision. The two telenovelas appear to be on opposite ends of the telenovela spectrum: a sordid, based-on-true-events narco-novela and a traditional romance amongst mariachis performing in a nightclub. (Tip to viewers that first night: you may want to tune in or set or DVRs a few minutes early as both networks tend to kick off their novela premieres ahead of the scheduled time.)

EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS is inspired by the life of Mexican drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who rose to power through the 1980s and 1990s, amassing an estimated net-worth of 25 billion dollars. He was known as the “Lord of the Skies” for his use of dozens of private Boeing 727 jets to transport cocaine out of Colombia to Mexico.

A co-production between Telemundo and Colombia’s Caracol TV shot in Mexico, EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS stars Rafael Amaya (ALGUIEN TE MIRA) as a fictionalized version of Carrillo named Aurelio Casillas. Gabriel Porras (LA CASA DE AL LADO) plays the policeman out to capture Casillas.

The cast also includes Ximena Herrera (NI CONTIGO, NI SIN TI), Robinson Díaz (VECINOS; EL CARTEL DE LOS SAPOS), Fernanda Castillo (AMOR BRAVÍO), and Carmen Villalobos (MADE IN CARTAGENA). Andrés Parra, TV’s Pablo Escobar, makes a “special appearance.”

QUÉ BONITO AMOR is a Mexican telenovela from Televisa based on the 2006 Colombian telenovela LA HIJA DEL MARIACHI. It tells the story of Santos, a wealthy Los Angeles businessman who is forced to flee the US when he is framed for fraud by a business partner. He ends up in Mexico City, where he assumes a false identity and gets a job singing in a nightclub. There, he falls in love with María, a fellow singer, but the eventual revelation of his true identity will threaten their romance.

Produced by Salvador Mejía (TRIUNFO DEL AMOR), QUÉ BONITO AMOR stars Jorge Salinas (LA QUE NO PODÍA AMAR) as Santos and Danna García (ALGUIEN TE MIRA) as María; also starring Pablo Montero (TRIUNFO DEL AMOR), Malillany Marín (HASTA QUE EL DINERO NOS SEPARE), Arturo Peniche (VICTORIA), and Angélica María.

ON ADAPTATIONS AND REMAKES
The arrival of QUÉ BONITO AMOR continues the preponderance of telenovela remakes and adaptations currently airing in the US. Only one of the seven telenovelas in prime time on Univision and Telemundo will not have had a previous version; and some of them have had more than one previous version.

It is perhaps a bit of trivial nomenclature, but in discussing “remakes,” I am referring to new versions of old, classic stories whose first telenovela versions often date back as far as the 1960s, usually with a new version produced every fifteen years or so; and in discussing “adaptations,” I am referring to new versions of telenovelas recently produced in other countries, usually within the past five years.

The concept of having nationalized versions of the same telenovela is becoming increasingly absurd as the proliferation of television channels and the internet make all the versions available to audiences. QUÉ BONITO AMOR may be an especially difficult sell in the US given the popularity of the Colombian original, LA HIJA DEL MARIACHI, at least judging by how often it has been repeated here – four times in the last six years.

Of course, each work should be judged on its own merits, but there is an unavoidable déjà vu that sets in when watching a new adaptation of a telenovela that you have seen a recent version of. I confess, it was with a certain reluctance that I delved into the first weeks of Televisa’s PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Univision) having just watched and mostly enjoyed its Colombian original from 2011, EL SECRETARIO, but it turned out that the déjà vu effect was the least of this novela’s problems.

While the comedy acting in EL SECRETARIO is by no means subtle, the playing in PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA is inflated to preposterous degrees. Not a scene passes without giving every actor present an individual close up for them to hammily mug, which is then combined with cartoon-like sound effects so that the whole enterprise becomes overbearing. The cast is working awfully hard for little payoff, and it becomes rather disheartening seeing performers I enjoy like Kika Edgar and María Elisa Camargo adrift. Only Carmen Salinas and Claudia Álvarez come off relatively unscathed.

But for me, the fatal blow to PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA is Fernando Colunga is miscast as the male lead. He is simply twenty years too old for the role so the entire novela becomes irreparably skewed – a story which is a charming comedy when the character is around thirty years old becomes rather pathetic when the character is nearing fifty. And while one shouldn’t begrudge an actor wanting to try new things, Colunga exhibits little aptitude for comedy. Nor is he a suitable straight man for the broader comedic characters to bounce off of because he is not a particularly adept reactor – his reaction shots are neither diverse nor expressive enough, largely limited to faux-awkward, reticent smiles and a lot of coy shrugging.

PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA is a big hit in Mexico (less so here), so I wonder if my general disinclination toward Televisa comedies is at play. While Televisa’s whole-hog comedies leave me stone-faced, I often find the comic relief in their non-comedic telenovelas funny. No telenovela performance has made me laugh as much in recent weeks as Ernesto Laguardia’s villainous lawyer, Rómulo, on Televisa’s CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS (weeknights at 7 p.m. ET on Univision). Blusterous and boorish, chomping a cigar and laughing a troll-like cackle at his own bad jokes as he bullies all who come in his path – I always conjure up a mental image of Rómulo doing a goblin jig on people’s graves. And then you put him in scenes opposite Victoria Ruffo’s self-sacrificing everymom, the eternally patient, unfazeable Refugio, and you got comedic gold.

A remake from a story first done in the 1960s, I find the dated aspects to be a lot of the charm of CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS. The corniness is enormously endearing and the central conflict of the self-sacrificing mother rejected by her ambitious son who is ashamed of the poverty in which he was brought up, works as pure melodrama as effectively as ever. Add in the nicely rounded performances from the fine cast highlighted by Adriana Louvier, Raquel Garza, Maribel Guardia, Mané de la Parra, África Zavala, and Arturo Carmona and this is a telenovela that works despite the mustiness.

One of the recurring problems with Televisa’s remakes of telenovelas of yesteryear is the new versions simply run many more episodes. A story that once was efficiently told in 60 to 100 episodes is now protracted to over 150 episodes. The result is even their better telenovela remakes in recent years become attenuated and could do with a trim of about two months.

AMOR BRAVÍO, which ends tonight at 10 p.m. ET on Univision, used a different tactic to deal with the longer length of modern Televisa telenovelas, though I still don’t think it quite worked. The original storyline of AMOR BRAVÍO was largely wrapped up weeks ago, but the writers set up a plot trump card early on – the hero’s first wife, thought murdered in a thwarted attempt on his life, didn’t die after all and re-enters the story to provide an additional obstacle to the novela’s central love story.

Unfortunately, after the initial whambam shock of the re-introduction of the character into the story – which provided a few episodes of excellent material to the cast, especially the lead actress Silvia Navarro – what was left afterward was a plot essentially in standstill for over a month. Another stall device, the hero contracting a virus intended to wipe out the ranch’s cattle – provided another week of delay. It was only as the telenovela entered its final two weeks that the story strands began slowly creeping forward again before a sudden mad dash for the finish line in the last three episodes.

As the story of the original novela wrapped, AMOR BRAVÍO lost the facet I most enjoyed in its first 100 episodes – the dynamic plots and counterplots between the proactive protagonists and the villains. I don’t think AMOR BRAVÍO ever fully recovered from the loss of the intermediary characters played by Flavio Medina and Laura Carmine, who were not full-on villains like those played by César Évora and Leticia Calderón, but sort of sub-villains that could vacillate back and forth, changing allegiances between the protagonists and antagonists, adding just that extra layer of complexity to keep proceedings unpredictable.

Still, even if the final third of AMOR BRAVÍO hasn’t been quite as good as the first two-thirds, it remained the best telenovela airing on Univision, and these final episodes have been superb.

VIVIR A DESTIEMPO
There is a third telenovela premiere scheduled for Monday, April 15, as VIVIR A DESTIEMPO debuts on Azteca America at 6 p.m. ET. It is always with some trepidation that the audience must embark on viewing a telenovela on Azteca America given the network’s haste to slice-and-dice a telenovela’s run – the previous occupier of this timeslot, LA OTRA CARA DEL ALMA, was butchered, having its six month run condensed to a ludicrous six weeks.

Produced by Fides Velasco and written by Eric Vonn (CIELO ROJO) from an original story, VIVIR A DESTIEMPO stars Edith González (DOÑA BÁRBARA; CIELO ROJO) as Paula Duarte, a housewife in a nightmarish marriage to a selfish and unfaithful man played by Humberto Zurita (LA REINA DEL SUR). Paula attempts to regain a love she lost in her youth when Alejandro, played by Ramiro Fumazoni, whom she was engaged to years ago, reenters her life.

VIVIR A DESTIEMPO also stars Andrea Noli (AMOR CAUTIVO), Marta Verduzco, Juan Manuel Bernal, and Verónica Merchant.

RELATED:
- TELENOVELA WATCH: ROSA DIAMANTE Ending; PASIÓN PROHIBIDA Premieres Jan. 22; ¿QUIÉN ERES TÚ? Pulled (January 21, 2013)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: PASION PROHIBIDA Initial Impressions (February 8, 2013)
- TELENOVELA WATCH: Two Premieres This Week - LOS 3 CAÍNES and LA OTRA CARA DEL ALMA (March 4, 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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