This look back at the year in telenovelas is US based, covering works that aired at least 50 episodes this calendar year on a US broadcast network.
2013 was a down year for telenovelas. In 2012, I was able to list nine quality telenovelas; this year, only four, and I don’t know if any of those four would make my top five from last year. The one that might, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO, is impossible to fully evaluate as its final weeks were heavily condensed by its US broadcaster.
There was some improvement in the final months, so 2014 is already looking brighter with the hugely entertaining bodice-ripper LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ and the familiar, but finely acted POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR now gracing Univision’s primetime; and the return of Brazilian productions to US network television with LA VIDA SIGUE on MundoFox and the upcoming AVENIDA BRASIL on Telemundo.
It is impossible to follow everything and there were two Colombian telenovelas I regret not being able to delve into this year: CINCO VIUDAS SUELTAS (Caracol, aired on Telemundo) and ALLÁ TE ESPERO (RCN, aired on MundoFox). Both seemed respectable, quality works, but I simply was not able to see enough episodes of either to make a meaningful critique.
BEST TELENOVELAS OF 2013
SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO (Vista/RCN, aired on MundoFox)
A remake of the 1993 Colombian telenovela LA MALDICIÓN DEL PARAÍSO, there are many elements that on the surface are familiar – the central love triangle involving a woman coming between two brothers, the odious mother of the brothers, past crimes coming to light, secret paternities, and even an actual curse – all the stuff of countless telenovelas, but beautifully rendered here with an aching, languid, cool ambiance and a delicate melancholy that feels extraordinarily modern. This is a soulful, mood indigo telenovela, filled with a sense lost and longing, the lonely characters, adrift, searching for some human connection to assuage their sadness. Top to bottom, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO featured the strongest ensemble in a telenovela this year with memorable performances from Juan Pablo Espinosa, Natalia Durán, Iván López, Patricia Tamayo, Ernesto Benjumea, Silvia de Dios, Alina Lozano, Carlos Hurtado, Linda Baldrich, Carlos Torres, Mateo Rueda and Gloria Gómez.
PASIÓN PROHIBIDA (Telemundo)
If SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO is jazz, PASIÓN PROHIBIDA is opera – full of large, sweeping desires; or rather, the suppression of those desires. One of the telenovela’s greatest strokes is that all the desirers and the objects of their desire live in the same house. The story centers on a woman played by Monica Spear who floats through her life in a bubble of self-absorption, unsure if she is capable to feel anything. That bubble is burst when she falls passionately in love with a young man played by Jencarlos Canela, who is the surrogate son of her much older millionaire husband played by Roberto Vander. Most telenovelas are expansive works, sprawling with dozens and dozens of interconnected characters; PASIÓN PROHIIBIDA is remarkable for the way it concentrates, in hyper detail, primarily upon six characters, all living under the same roof, where every small thing they do is heightened in regards to their relationship to the other five. This telenovela is also amazing for the way it refuses to prod the audience as to which of the characters to identify with. Indeed, the two lead protagonists are for the most part, horrifically flawed people, and their love affair, rather than elevating them, makes them act in even more contemptible ways. And yet we root for them, sins and all. I think the reason for this is the emotional depth of Monica Spear’s performance – she suppresses so much in the early episodes that when the dam bursts and you see this woman can actually feel, and what she feels is so profound, it is terribly moving and normal human morality such as infidelity and betrayal seem insignificant – and the final great tragedy of the novela is that the object of her emotions is unworthy of them. This is Jencarlos Canela’s best performance in a telenovela to date, and it features great supporting performances from Rebecca Jones, Roberto Vander, Mercedes Molto, Henry Zakka, Carmen Aub, and as a key bridging couple, pulled to and fro by the three central families, Jorge Consejo and Sabrina Seara.
VIVIR A DESTIEMPO (Azteca, aired on Azteca America)
The best telenovela to come out of Mexico this year, Eric Vonn’s VIVIR A DESTIEMPO takes the time to establish the prosaic, day-to-day existence of its characters in a way increasingly rare in telenovelas. The audience is immersed in a cycle of the settings the characters inhabit – the bedrooms, offices, restaurants, gyms – which instills in the drama a greater feeling of authenticity. It isn’t realism, but melodrama couched in reality, bursting through the routine. At the center of VIVIR A DESTIEMPO are two of the best performances of the year – Humberto Zurita as an abusive, arrogant womanizer who seems to embody the most detestable facets of a particular brand of Mexican hyper-machismo and Edith González as his wife, the novela’s heroine, who rekindles a relationship with a past love, played by Ramiro Fumazoni, and through the course of story discovers herself as an individual apart from the roles of wife and mother by which she had up to then defined her existence. The telenovela is brimming with fine performances including those from Marcela Guirado, Andrea Noli, Verónica Merchant, Víctor Huggo Martin, and Wendy de los Cobos.
MENTIR PARA VIVIR (Televisa, airing on Univision)
There are still about forty episodes to go in the US run and the story in the recent episodes has gotten a bit ragged, but for the most part, MENTIR PARA VIVIR is just first-rate telenovela-making – a good story, rounded and interesting characters, good acting, and imaginative direction. This is a beautifully paced telenovela – the story always seems to be moving forward, but never to the detriment of the characterization. One of the best aspects of MENTIR PARA VIVIR is how it utilizes the telenovela form – the way seeds of storylines are planted in early episodes to burgeon later. Look at how Luis Gatica, who I don’t believe has spoken a word yet, is present in episodes throughout the first two months hanging in the background of the mobster’s office, you just know he’s bad news. The emotional climaxes have all been outstanding like the revelation scene that Oriana is not Paloma’s long lost granddaughter, or the devastating scene of Maria in the hospital. This is another telenovela with fine performances throughout the cast: David Zepeda, Mayrín Villanueva and Diego Olivera as the leads, and supporting performances from Cecilia Gabriela, Altair Jarabo, Adriana Roel, Leticia Perdigón, Juan Carlos Barreto, Geraldine Galván, Alejandro Speitzer, and Mariana Garza.
OTHER TELENOVELAS I MOSTLY LIKED IN 2013
I can't really recommend any of the following six telenovelas, but I enjoyed them, some probably more than good sense or taste should allow.
MADE IN CARTAGENA (CMO/Caracol, aired on UniMás)
The story falls apart in the second half, but this short Colombian tele-series about dancers and a gang of thieves was the most dazzling visual and aural production of the year. The streamlined action set pieces in MADE IN CARTAGENA, rendered with kinetic camera, colored lighting, elliptical editing, fast forwards and split screens, show how leaden, uninventive and dated the action scenes in even expensive productions from Televisa, like AMORES VERDADEROS, and Telemundo, like EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, are in comparison to what is coming out of Colombia.
CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS (Televisa, aired on Univision)
This is very old-fashioned, downright moldy Mexican melodrama, but played absolutely straight for all it’s worth and damn if its story of a long-suffering mother rejected by her social-climbing son isn’t still effective. Victoria Ruffo is the weeping mother to end all weeping mothers, Ernestro Laguardia is hammy and funny as the cigar-chomping villain, there are strong supporting performances from Maribel Guardia, Arturo Carmona, Lola Merino and Raquel Garza; and a good trio of interesting couples with Alejandro Nones as the bad son and Adriana Louvier as his unstable wife, Josemaría Torre Hütt and África Zavala, who weeps as much as a Ruffo-in-training in the early episodes, and Mané de la Parra and Cassandra Sánchez Navarro as the likable and comic youngest couple.
LA MADAME (RTI/Televisa, aired on UniMás)
An anthology series about the exploits of high-end escorts with a serialized wrap story, the variable quality of the standalone stories is inevitable, but at its best, the series is genuinely transgressive, sexy and funny and features a marvelous clown performance from Julio Sánchez Cóccaro.
LA MUJER DEL VENDAVAL (Televisa, airing on Univision)
It’s probably overlong, the US run on Univision still has over 60 episodes to go, but this is an amiable middle-of-the-road telenovela with a spunky, sweet heroine played by Ariadne Díaz nicely matched with a for once bearable José Ron.
There are some cliché-ridden subplots that need fast-forwarding, but the comic relief is actually funny in this telenovela with Manuel “Flaco” Ibáñez as a provincial politician wheezing his palaver and Sachi Tamashiro as his bimbo secretary; even better are the double act of the crass bumpkin played by Florencia De Saracho and her pampered partner in crime played by Thelma Madrigal.
AMORES VERDADEROS (Televisa, aired on Univision)
The fourth version of AMOR EN CUSTODIA in just ten years and the second out of Mexico, the plot of bodyguards falling for the women they protect is still god-awful, but this version from Televisa, whether intentionally or not, seems the first to wholly embrace the stupidity and actually lift it – AMORES VERDADEROS was the best comedy from Televisa this year. The romantic elements worked as well with the telenovela boasting four very appealing couples: Francisco Gattorno and Susana González, Sebastián Rulli and Eiza González, Eduardo Yañez and Mónika Sánchez, and Yañez and Erika Buenfil.
QUÉ BONITO AMOR (Televisa, aired on Univision)
A Mexican adaptation of the 2006 Colombian telenovela LA HIJA DEL MARIACHI, QUÉ BONITO AMOR gets almost everything wrong, sometimes catastrophically so - why Pablo Montero’s pet cock, why the souped-up mariachi mobile, why does Angélica María clutch her heart every few episodes like Fred Sanford, why the endless fistfights, why the bad comic relief American cops, why the bad comic relief idiot bartenders - but when it sings, which is thankfully often, almost all is forgiven. What does one remember in a musical but the numbers, and make no mistake, QUÉ BONITO AMOR is a musical. Jorge Salinas and Danna García are probably miscast as the leads, but they bring more soul and grace to the material than it probably deserves, and their numerous reconciliations and duets are enriched via an unabashed romanticism. There are also good supporting performances from Arturo Peniche, Miguel Ángel Biaggio and Eugenia Cauduro, some great singing from Pablo Montero, and a hilariously goofy, sappy juvenile couple played by Jesús Daniel and gorgeous Renata Notni – a musical duel for the heart of Notni between Daniel singing a mariachi song and another boy rapping has to be seen to be believed.
BEST TELENOVELAS OF 2013
1 - SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
2 – PASIÓN PROHIBIDA
3 – VIVIR A DESTIEMPO
4 – MENTIR PARA VIVIR
BEST PERFORMANCES - LEAD
Humberto Zurita, VIVIR A DESTIEMPO
Edith González, VIVIR A DESTIEMPO
Mónica Spear, PASIÓN PROHIBIDA
Juan Pablo Espinosa, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
Jorge Salinas, QUÉ BONITO AMOR
BEST PERFORMANCES - SUPPORTING
Patricia Tamayo, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
Rebecca Jones, PASIÓN PROHIBIDA
Alina Lozano, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
Leticia Perdigón, MENTIR PARA VIVIR
Roberto Vander, PASIÓN PROHIBIDA
Susana González, AMORES VERDADEROS
Mercedes Molto, PASIÓN PROHIBIDA
Arturo Peniche, QUÉ BONITO AMOR
Linda Baldrich, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
Julio Sánchez Cóccaro, LA MADAME
BEST PERFORMANCES – YOUNG LEAD
Marcela Guirado, VIVIR A DESTIEMPO
Carlos Torres, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
Eiza González, AMORES VERDADEROS
Alejandro Speitzer, MENTIR PARA VIVIR
Geraldine Galván, MENTIR PARA VIVIR
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
BEST WRITING – ORIGINAL
VIVIR A DESTIEMPO
BEST WRITING – ADAPTATION
SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO
QUÉ BONITO AMOR
MADE IN CARTAGENA
MADE IN CARTAGENA
OTHER PERFORMANCES I LIKED
The following is a list of actors whose performances I liked in telenovelas I didn’t like: César Évora and Elizabeth Valdez in CORAZÓN INDOMABLE; Ana Layevska, Felicia Mercado, Diana Quijano, and Oscar Priego in DAMA Y OBRERO; Paulo Quevedo, Sandra Destenave, and Maite Embil in MARIDO EN ALQUILER; Erika de la Rosa, Geraldine Zinat, Manuel Balbi, and Javier Díaz Dueñas in LA PATRONA; María Elisa Camargo in PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA; Carlos Ponce in SANTA DIABLA; Ximena Herrera and Róbinson Díaz in EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS; and Laura Carmine, Nora Salinas, and Arturo Carmona in LA TEMPESTAD.
My low opinions of these telenovelas has been expressed in previous columns and nothing in their runs alterered those opinions except to nudge further in the negative direction. I don’t know whether it’s worth the time to expound further on works I didn’t like in a “Worst Of” article, though what does give me some pause is the fact that three of the telenovelas I most loathed this year were extremely popular with audiences – the excruciatingly inept CORAZÓN INDOMABLE, the morally repugnant EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, and, though to lesser degrees, the inept and morally repugnant LA PATRONA.
WORST TELENOVELAS OF 2013
1 - CORAZÓN INDOMABLE
2 – EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA
3 – DAMA Y OBRERO
4 – PORQUE EL AMOR MANDA
5 – MARIDO EN ALQUILER
MARIDO EN ALQUILER
WORST WRITING - ADAPTATION
WORST WRITING – ORIGINAL
EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA
MARIDO EN ALQUILER
EL ROSTRO DE LA VENGANZA
CORAZÓN INDOMABLE and DAMA Y OBRERO
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 email@example.com.