|Left to Right: Carmen Aub, Carmen Villalobos, Rafael Amaya, Fernanda Castillo and Sergio Mur at a private screening of the El Señor de los Cielos third season premiere. Photo Credit: Telemundo|
One episode in and the latest edition of Telemundo’s repugnant narco-novela EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET) is already circling the drain. The same shameless storytelling device that carried the second series is already back in full force: the incessant victimization of the poor little mass-murdering title drug lord with him getting beaten by prison guards, poisoned, and the delivery of a surprise head in a box. This is all set up to excuse the predictable atrocities he will later commit as justified revenge-taking. Rinse, repeat.
Rafael Amaya’s performance has long become monotonous - he mostly just poses menacingly and glares, grimacing through his lines as if it pains him to speak them. He concludes the first episode with a hilariously awful ugly-face fake cry that would make Blanca Soto proud.
Carmen Villalobos’s cop character is an afterthought at this point with the fans of the show just impatiently waiting for her to get murdered, but for them to be satisfied, it has to be at the hands of Amaya’s character and only after she is tortured.
Fernanda Castillo is saddled with Telemundo’s stereotypical whore/slasher villainess, the Aylín Mújica special, though Castillo isn’t as good an actress as Mújica or the network’s favorite whore/slasher Catherine Siachoque. Castillo was fairly entertaining in the first series, but her character was ruined in the second series and her limitations as an actress began showing. She is now beyond stale.
Mauricio Ochmann is clearly just there for the paycheck at this point, already phoning in his performance. Carmen Aub was better in the first episode of season 3 than she was in all of season 2, but I’m dreading when she actually has to begin emoting. New cast member Sergio Mur looks like he was delivered straight from a taxidermist with his dead eyes and dearth of charisma. Manuel Balbi and Tommy Vásquez are too good for this garbage.
Once again, the production values on this self-declared “Super Series” from Telemundo are a joke with mostly multi-camera shooting on what look to be the same cheapo sets left over from previous four Argos productions. The direction is lethargic and staid with the dullest setups and shots imaginable, and the editing is unvaried from non-action Argos fare like LA IMPOSTORA and LOS MISERABLES. Comparing just a minute of this stodgy bore to the dynamic camerawork and fast elliptical editing of current Colombian telenovelas like FUGITIVOS and LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO reveals what is missing from Telemundo’s so-called “Super Series.” Is it any wonder the earlier season of EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS is bombing in Colombia?
The sad thing is Telemundo proved just last year with CAMELIA LA TEXANA they are capable of better-looking, more aesthetically modern productions than what they have churned out since. EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS 3 is nothing but a cynical cash grab with Telemundo aware they don’t even have to spend money making the production look professional, the audience is built in to accept whatever trash Telemundo shovels.
DUEÑOS DEL PARAÍSO
DUEÑOS DEL PARAÍSO came to an end with a stupefying final few episodes that dropped my opinion of the telenovela from mediocre to abysmal. There was an out of the blue revelation of a secret relationship in the second to last episode that had no payoff, emotional or dramatic, and resulted in a long boring scene where a character spouted endless pointless backstory. There was an onslaught of plot holes in the last episode including a ludicrous twist that only worked if the bad guys did exactly what they did at exactly the time they did it, in other words, the twist was contrived nonsense. DUEÑOS DEL PARAÍSO was never as terrible as Telemundo’s previous narco-novela, SEÑORA ACERO, but DUEÑOS was also less entertaining, lacking the unintended comedy of ACERO’s wretched performances. The acting in DUEÑOS was the telenovela’s strength, but after promising much, DUEÑOS ended up a damp squib. Lead actress Kate del Castillo looked bored through most of the final weeks. The telenovela’s last scenes were disgraceful with lachrymose romantic music signaling the audience was supposed to be thrilled to see the happy ever after of the drug queen and her hitman, free to slaughter more innocent cops.
LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO
There is a decent narco-novela airing right now in the US, though it only gets about a tenth the viewers as Telemundo’s tawdry and cheap alternatives, LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on UniMás), a Colombian production from RTI. It is wrapping up this week with its finale scheduled for this Sunday night.
The best thing about LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO is how it shows the way a community becomes complicit with its hometown drug capo, celebrating him as a folk hero because of his dirty money handouts. The allure of the easy money also corrupts the telenovela’s heroine, an undercover cop who has a sickly brother with expensive treatments needed to save his life.
Like the Telemundo narco-novelas, LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO romanticizes a repugnant killer, the capo’s ruthless right-hand man played by Gregorio Pernía, but it is less dishonest in its approach because it shows him for what his is – a calculating assassin – without extenuating or excusing his crimes with contrived revenge motives. What is dishonest is how it sets up a good narco/bad narco dynamic between Pernía and the reckless, sicko son of the capo played by Andrés Sandoval.
The biggest thing that sets LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO apart from Telemundo’s narco-novelas is it features sympathetic characters. This is because on LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO, the police are depicted as the good guys, while on Telemundo’s narco-novelas the drug traffickers are the good guys and the cops are all depicted as corrupt, if they are given a character at all as most are just nameless cannon fodder.
I find almost all the characters in Telemundo’s EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, SEÑORA ACERO and DUEÑOS DEL PARAÍSO to be loathsome with the lone exception being Géraldine Bazán’s character in DUEÑOS. Since I hate everybody on those shows, I don’t care who lives or dies in the tedious shootouts that each of the narco-novelas features, so for me there is no suspense and no excitement, just noise.
That is not the case with LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO which is brimming with suspense as to when the undercover cop played by Ana Serradilla will be found out. The potential physical peril is accompanied by high emotional stakes due to how her relationship with Pernía is changing him into a better man, making him reach out to his troubled son and set him on a path to escape the cycle of violence. How will the discovery of her betrayal affect his strive for redemption?
On LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO, you care when Serradilla’s brother and mother are in harm’s way with two of the capo’s men grilling them as to whether Serradilla is a cop or not and then debating whether or not to kill the brother. Also sympathetic is the black cop played by Antonio Jiménez, the prostitute turned informant played by Lilo de la Vega and her little sister played by Salomé Quintero.
The plot becomes cluttered with too many subplots in the latter half including a bizarre knockoff of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME with prostitutes being hunted in the woods by rich degenerates. The ostensible male protagonist, a cop played by Miguel de Miguel, is another of this telenovela’s failures because he lacks chemistry with Serradilla and lacks the charisma of Pernía. This upsets the balance because there is no real triangle, you only care about the Serradilla/Pernía relationship. When LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO focuses on that relationship as well as Serradilla’s efforts to better the neighborhood under the thumb of the capo, it’s one of the better narco-novelas in recent years.
Replacing LA ESQUINA DEL DIABLO on Monday is a rerun of the 2008 Colombian narco-novela EL CARTEL DE LOS SAPOS at 10 p.m. ET on UniMás. It has been broadcast a few times before, but is one of the best narco-novelas, probably only bettered by ESCOBAR: EL PATRÓN DEL MAL. Watching EL CARTEL DE LOS SAPOS side by side with EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS reveals how sophomoric and amateurish the latter is by comparison.
QUIERO AMARTE (weekdays at 3 p.m. ET on Univision) is wrapping up its run in a few weeks. It was mostly panned in Mexico and received only three Premios TVyNovelas nominations, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why. It is not as good as producer Carlos Moreno’s previous telenovela, AMOR BRAVÍO, but it shares many of that telenovela’s virtues: proactive protagonists, attractive and likable juveniles, vile but complex villains, a superb ensemble, and a plot that always seems to move forward. Lead actress Karyme Lozano is perhaps too whiny and wishy-washy in the opening weeks which may have turned viewers off, but it seems a conscious choice to contrast with the backbone her character finds after discovering the crimes committed against her family by the telenovela’s villainess. Cristian de la Fuente is as handsome and dependable a leading man as there is at Televisa and the cast is as strong as any appearing in a Mexican telenovela to air in the US this year with Flavio Medina, Diana Bracho, José Elías Moreno, Adriana Louvier, Alejandra Barros, Otto Sirgo, Luz María Jerez, Hernán Canto, Cassandra Sánchez Navarro, Andrés Mercado, Renata Notni, and Salvador Sánchez all doing memorable work.
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.