It did not take much for MENTIR PARA VIVIR to be my most highly anticipated telenovela to come to Univision since AMOR BRAVÍO. First, the fact MENTIR PARA VIVIR is the only telenovela from Televisa to reach our screens this year that features an original story. Second, the fact that original story is by Zarattini, one of the foremost telenovela writers in Mexico. And finally, the fact MENTIR PARA VIVIR is short by recent Televisa standards, only about one hundred episodes long.
The plot from the press materials: MENTIR PARA VIVIR is the story of Oriana (Villanueva), a dedicated mother who, when she finds out her husband is engaged in illegal activities, flees with her young daughter to a small Mexican resort hotel. One afternoon, a gunshot is heard and Oriana runs to find one of the hotel guests shot dead and her daughter standing right next to him. In order to protect herself and her daughter, Oriana is forced to flee once more and assume a false identity.
LA TEMPESTAD & MARIDO EN ALQUILER
Scheduled opposite each other, LA TEMPESTAD (9 P.M. ET on Univision) and MARIDO EN ALQUILER (9 p.m. ET on Telemundo) each recently saw a major addition to their casts – Mariana Seoane to LA TEMPESTAD and Miguel Varoni to MARIDO EN ALQUILER.
Seoane’s addition to LA TEMPESTAD as Ursula, the niece of the corrupt mayor played by César Évora, looks to have been a response to the telenovela’s disappointing viewing figures in Mexico. The haste of the character’s invention shows in her vague motivations – Ursula arrives wanting both William Levy’s hero and Iván Sánchez’s villain. Lest anybody get the wrong idea about the role this character would inhabit, one of Ursula’s first acts after arriving in town is coercing the resident bad girl played by Malisha Quintana to lob a rock at the heroine’s head. We need overlook Ursula has never met the heroine and has no reason to want to do her harm – Ursula’s just a baddie, harming heroines is what they do. With Laura Carmine’s Estercita waiting in the wings, no doubt soon to recover from her amnesia and reenter the central plot, it must have been deemed there was one villainess too many and Malisha Quintana’s bad girl was offed a few episodes later.
A subplot with Ursula performing a song-and-dance act adds a bit of color and gives Sharis Cid and Nora Salinas, who assist in putting on the shows, a bit more to do. The added screen time for Nora Salinas in the role of the heroine’s free-spirited aunt is a particularly welcome bonus as she is, along with Laura Carmine, the performer who comes off best in this telenovela.
In contrast to the hasty intrusion of Seoane into the proceedings of LA TEMPESTAD, the audience has been awaiting Miguel Varoni’s debut in MARIDO EN ALQUILER since the first episode where a photograph revealed the actor would be playing the heroine’s long-missing husband and father of her three kids. He was given a grand entrance, his arrival on a tiny broken-down ship was milked for extreme silliness as Varoni, with a wild mane of long curls and thick beard, kissed the shore of his long lost homeland, like Odysseus returning to Ithaca. The character arrives accompanied by his own sub-Morricone theme tune evoking roguish whimsy, and Varoni is in prime comic ham mode. Indeed, he immediately finds the right balance for his comedic acting, but in doing so, only highlights how dreadful the vast majority of the comedic performances are in MARIDO EN ALQUILER. There seem to be two distinct worlds in MARIDO EN ALQUILER – one inhabited by real recognizably human characters and one inhabited by cartoons. Varoni is the only actor in the cast who manages to inhabit both worlds at the same time.
There is a lack of urgency and focus in MARIDO EN ALQUILER brought on by the sheer number of characters. The desultory nature of its narrative means there will be unavoidable peaks and valleys. I’ve found recent weeks particularly uninvolving. I’ve come to realize I don’t care about any of the heroine’s three children. Sadly, as the handyman heroine played by Sonya Smith has started engaging in a puerile back-and-forth with the villainess played by Maritza Rodríguez, I find myself not much caring for her, either. Juan Soler is likable as the chef husband of the villainess, but he is so ineffectual and feeble in dealing with his clearly insane wife’s antics that I no longer care about him. I do care about Maritza Rodríguez as the villainess as she continues to give the most appalling performance in a principal role I’ve seen in a telenovela since ever.
DAMA Y OBRERO
Telemundo announced last Monday DAMA Y OBRERO (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET) is in its final weeks. DAMA Y OBRERO is a telenovela that never found its stride. It is dutiful and inoffensive, but also vapid and forgettable and suffering from a woeful lack of ambition. The heroine was a sweet thing, but made dumb as a doorknob so the minimal plot would work; and the hero was even dumber. The new additions to the cast from months ago were never integrated well into the plot and any coherence to their characterizations was undermined by the many aborted story lines the writers put them through as they tried to figure what to do with them. What fleeting enjoyment this telenovela offered arose entirely from the performers, insular pockets of interest like a confrontation scene last week featuring Diana Quijano and Felicia Mercado.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.