Saturday, September 28, 2013


Alicia Machado stars in LA MADAME.
Photo Credit: Felipe Cuevas/
LA MADAME (Mondays-Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on UniMás) is surprisingly cheeky and funny given its potentially exploitative subject: the lives of high-end escorts. Danger and violence often crop up, but the tone remains largely fanciful. The episodes are a hybrid of serial and stand-alone storytelling. Each episode begins and ends with scenes lasting a total of about ten minutes from the overarching, serialized frame story: the Madame (Alicia Machado) running Colombia’s most exclusive and expensive escort service is kept prisoner in the house of a gangster (Roberto Mateos) who orders her to tell him about each of the girls who works for her. In between the opening and concluding scenes of the frame story is a long central flashback detailing the exploits of one of the Madame’s girls. There is a new girl featured every night with a new guest cast suggesting an anthology series, except the guest lady of the night invariably gets into some predicament that requires the Madame to come to her assistance, accompanied by her bumbling assistant Pacho (Julio Sánchez Cóccaro).

The shortcomings inherent in this structure are obvious. There is a routine predictability to the form of each episode. If you are most interested in the frame story, it inches at a snail’s pace, only a few minutes doled out a night. The central stand-alone stories vary wildly in quality, dependent on the script and guest actors. The guest cast is sometimes quite starry. A recent episode about a husband and wife hiring a girl for a threesome, then both continuing to pay the girl to see her on their own, behind their spouse’s back, starred Tiberio Cruz as the husband and Carla Giraldo as the call girl, two actors who have played lead protagonists in their careers.

LA MADAME eschews “traffic in souls” tragedies or moralistic cautionary tales; the vast majority of plots are black comedies featuring an eventual power reversal, the escort usually winning in the end, the girls demeaned to slake their johns’ fetishes, but fleecing them in the process. A recent episode made the series’ theme of prostitution as the natural extension of capitalism explicit. Sandra Hernández played a banker, disparaged by her business partners, who needs to earn money fast to join in their newest venture. She decides to work for the Madame, who needs a sophisticated woman to satisfy the demands of an old yokel. The man, a horse enthusiast, has the woman neigh and tap her foot like a horse tapping its hoof to get him excited. The woman is mortified, but after several dates, she has earned enough to not only invest in, but take over her business partners’ new project. The final scene shows her riding the yokel like a hobby horse.

SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO (8 p.m. ET on MundoFox) is the best telenovela currently airing in the US, but it seems few are watching it. The novela is getting the bum’s rush from MundoFox, the final weeks (months?) chopped to pieces, condensed nearly beyond coherence.

SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO is a remake of the 1993 Colombian telenovela LA MALDICIÓN DEL PARAÍSO, but unlike most remakes, SECRETOS never feels dated. Quite the contrary, the characters and themes feel astonishingly modern. Its best moments have a misty, cool visual ambience coupled with an aching, languid rhythm in the editing: the recurring motif of Gloria Gómez singing in a smoky club accompanying montages of the lonely, desperately sad characters – SECRETOS is the first telenovela I’ve seen that manages to evoke at least a sliver of the delicate melancholy of Wong Kar-wai’s romances. The novela’s subtitle could have been “Songs for Only the Lonely.” It is a shame audiences watching in the US will have to wait for the Colombian airing to see the second half of SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO in its entirety via unofficial sources online.

It is disappointing MundoFox is following the practices of Univision and Telemundo in this regard: those two networks have a long history of mangling telenovelas after a few months on the air. It’s a colossal disservice to the audience that is watching the programs to see the first 50 to 80 episodes in their entirety only to be robbed of the climaxes and emotional payoffs because the final third of the telenovela is butchered. Last year saw two of the better telenovelas airing on Telemundo at the time – EL SECRETARIO and AMOR CAUTIVO – get their final weeks chopped to incomprehension, despite the early morning time slots they occupied. I can only think of one afternoon telenovela Univision has aired in recent years from Venevision that was shown in its entirety – SACRIFICIO DE MUJER. Univision is now using the same practices on their prime time telenovelas from Televisa. LA TEMPESTAD saw almost a week’s worth of episodes – where the hero is absent from screen, lost at sea and presumed dead - cut to a single episode to keep star William Levy on screen. And QUÉ BONITO AMOR, which in Mexico lasted 162 episodes, was chopped to such an extent that US audiences only saw 124 episodes.

QUÉ BONITO AMOR (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Univision) slowed to a painful slog in its final weeks. The telenovela, which ends next Friday, October 4, always suffered from appallingly rote, monotonous, uninspired plotting and far too much bad comic relief. Yet, it had these little pockets throughout its run where the melodrama culminated into something genuinely affecting, usually when it sang. The unreality of the musical genre allowed one to brush aside the ludicrousness of many of the situations. A scene where the hero, Santos (Jorge Salinas), in prison, is given a concert in the yard by his visiting mariachi mates is of course silly; but then his bonita (Danna García) appears and serenades him with Marco Antonio Solís’s “Si No Te Hubieras Ido,” and Santos, overwhelmed by emotion, rises to his feet to sing the song’s stirring climax (“There is nothing more difficult than to live without you”), it’s such a beautiful, soul-satisfying burst of unabashed romanticism, it left me grinning and giddy.

I’m hopelessly behind on LA MUJER DEL VENDAVAL (weekdays at 3 p.m. ET on Univision), but I zoomed through the first couple weeks and found it to be a reasonably pleasant, middle-of-the-road Televisa telenovela. Through ten episodes, I enjoyed it more than anything currently playing on Univision in prime time, but not enough to actually think it a good telenovela.

LA MUJER DEL VENDAVAL features a silly, only-in-novelas premise where the heroine, Marcela (Ariadne Díaz), must marry by a certain date in order to receive an inheritance she needs to pay off creditors and keep her beloved ranch. She puts out an ad in a newspaper and interviews potential suitors for what will be a strict business arrangement.

A few months earlier, at a masquerade ball, she met and fell for Alessandro (José Ron), a millionaire hotelier, whom she spends the night with. The next morning, Alessandro wakes to find Marcela gone. Also missing, from his safe, is a priceless necklace. Tracking her down to her ranch, he decides to try and become her husband for hire, hoping to be able to prove her innocence and resume their romance.

There is a daintiness to Ariadne Díaz that belies the hacienda spitfire she is playing – a shotgun-packing dolly – she’s an appealing performer. She is well paired with José Ron, though something in his physiognomy suggests something cooked up by Gerry Anderson. Florencia de Saracho is amusing as Marcela’s no-good bumpkin cousin who puts on big city airs.

CACHITO DE CIELO (weekdays at 2 p.m. ET) is such an odd comedic misfire it is hard to figure what its creators were thinking. A young soccer player, in love with a journalist, is struck by lightning after a game and taken to heaven’s waiting room by some angels, but they made a clerical error and he wasn’t supposed to die. He makes a deal to return to earth, but the angels send him back in the guise of a middle-age priest. He returns to his old neighborhood, still in love with the girl he left behind when he died. There is just something so incongruous in seeing a cassocked man pining after a beautiful girl. The problem is hopelessly exacerbated when that priest is played by Pedro Fernández, an actor who looks to be in his mid-40s, chasing after a girl played by Maite Perroni, an actress who looks to be in her mid-20s.

CORAZÓN INDOMABLE (weeknights at 7 p.m. ET on Univision) remains the worst telenovela I’ve seen this year: shallow, boring, repetitive and featuring characters unconscionably stupid. Episodes feature almost daily incongruities and plot holes - nobody seems to remember what happened a couple episodes before, nothing seems to build, and characters disappear without a trace for weeks. “Character” is too kind a description for the types populating this novela – almost everyone is a cartoon given a single trait they drum mercilessly, including the protagonists. Indeed, the telenovela’s biggest surprise is its leading lady, Ana Brenda Contreras, a winsome beauty so good in last year’s LA QUE NO PODIA AMAR, is so bad here: her voice shrill and annoying in literally daily harangues about her venganza, her performance colorless, not convincing as the savage innocent of the early chapters, and amazingly, despite the glamorously dolled up getups, even less convincing as the elegant, refined woman she supposedly transforms into. The only two performers who rise above the muck are René Strickler as the weak-willed brother of the hero and Elizabeth Valdéz, who manages to be affecting despite the incomprehensible character she is given to play.

As the heroine’s venganza finally arrives, the botches continue. Even this novela’s famous set piece, the retaliatory face in mud scene, was flubbed, endlessly protracted over several episodes and poorly acted and directed resulting in a big “That’s it?” Priorities are so murky in this telenovela, the man who committed the most heinous atrocities against the heroine’s family – burning down her shack with her grandfather inside and raping her mute younger sister – was killed weeks ago in a plotline entirely unconnected to the heroine. (To give an inkling how brain dead this novela is, the heroine never bothered to ask her sister the identity of the man who raped her.) His twin brother has now entered the telenovela seeking his own venganza. This thing still has three more long months to go in the US.

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 protected].


  1. I love reading your columns, RG.

  2. btw, if MundoFox does CC3 consistently/better, more non-Spanish speaking audience like me would watch or dvr some of their shows.

  3. I LOVED Corazon Indomable. As a current resident of Mexico, this novela ended this evening here. Based on this "blog", ur findings may be because of ur inability to speak Spanish? Or perhaps u don't understand the Mexican culture enough to appreciate some of the "Cartoonish traits" of some of the characters in this novela. La India Maria is LEGEND in Mexico and over 64% of the US Hispanic population are of MEXICAN descent. Meaning we watched MUMMY AND DADDY's shows when we were kids. And MANY of our FAVORITE movies featured La India Maria. Most of us were also kids when la telenovela LOS RICOS TAMBIEN LLORAN was airing in our living rooms in the late 70's, where we fondly remember MAMA CHOLE, another character featured in this novela, Corazon Indomable. Unfortunately many times, the term "Hispanics" is used to "loosely" term all of us brown people together. But No,we are not all the same, we don't have the same culture and those who are NOT Mexican, may not "get" a lot of the Mexican Telenovelas produced by the Televisa network. Sure Corazon Indomable loosely tied up its storyline, but it sure is waaaaaay better than the robotic acting of the leading lady in LA TEMPESTAD! The script of La Tempestad is so poor that I stopped watching it all together in Mexico. In essence, as a Mexican-American, I find your findings of "cartoonish-traits" OFFENSIVE!