Thursday, March 20, 2014


DE QUE TE QUIERO, TE QUIERO (weeknights at 7 p.m. ET on Univision), a breezy Televisa adaptation of the 1999 Venezuelan telenovela CARITA PINTADA, managed to annoy me so much with its plot contrivances in the opening episodes that I wonder if it can recover. The whole central misunderstanding between the protagonists exists merely because neither character is able to say the right thing at the right time, to make the obvious revelation. The heroine somehow never manages to reveal the crime she believes the hero committed – attempting to rape her; and the hero somehow never manages to reveal he has a twin brother. That the hero can’t figure out his twin brother must have done something to the girl to make her so frightened of him defies all sense. The telenovela also features several scenes of fairly appalling taste including the meet cute of the protagonists which features the hero in blackface, a scene ridiculing an obese couple in a restaurant, and an ersatz ZZ Top guitar riff accompanying each entrance of the “sexy” cop played by Cecilia Galliano. That said, the cast is appealing and mix well, the protagonists are fresh and capable so far, and Marisol del Olmo’s arrival into the story are enough to keep me watching a bit longer.

QUÉ POBRES TAN RICOS (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Univision) is a why-bother Mexican adaptation by Televisa of the why-bother Colombian comedy telenovela POBRES RICO. It is an amiable, if forgettable hour about a rich family forced to hide out in a property they own and share it with the poor family already living there after the eldest son is framed for embezzlement.

So far, QUÉ POBRES TAN RICOS largely follows POBRES RICO, but at a far slower pace, taking literally twice as many episodes to traverse the same plot points. There is so little story momentum that you forget what the story even is. Most episodes feature a self-contained B story, a little comedic excursion that is usually more interesting than the telenovela’s central plot, and it is these comedic subplots that keep the telenovela afloat.

The likable cast helps as well, though the eccentricity of the characters is tamped down in this version versus the Colombian, giving them less to play with. For example, in the original, the younger son of the rich family was pursuing modern dance and would prance through the house wearing a black unitard; in the Mexican version, he is just a composer manqué, which isn’t nearly as funny and lacks any visual or physical element to exploit comedically.

Manuel ‘Flaco’ Ibáñez is miscast as the ex-wrestler patriarch of the poor Menchaca family; he is far too old for the role and scenes requiring him to be physically threatening are absurd. Jaime Camil is also a slightly uneasy fit as the protagonist as the role is really that of straight man - the lone sane member of a family of nuts – but Camil, a popular comedic actor, can’t resist shoehorning shtick into scenes. His comedic business is often tossed in as a tag at the end of scenes and usually just seems misplaced and a tad desperate. Camil has always struck me as a better movie actor than telenovela actor. He rarely has much romantic chemistry with his leading ladies, coming off more palsy-walsy than passionate. It is still early, but there is even less connection than usual with his leading lady in this novela, Zuria Vega. When watching a telenovela starring Jaime Camil, you always feel the person Jaime Camil is most in love with is Jaime Camil, which can work wonderfully for a comedic persona, but is lethal to a telenovela leading man. The aging galán Arturo Peniche has more palpable chemistry with the females in this novela. Zuria Vega as the female lead can get a bit wide-eyed on occasion (which cropped up in UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR as well), but she’s an easygoing presence, though I can’t remember a female protagonist given less to do through the first three months of a novela than this one. She’s given so little life and color, you wonder why the men would even look twice at her, especially with vivacious and hearty Gabriela Zamora on the prowl.

POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Univision) is one of the most frustrating telenovelas on the air right now. It is often a tedious slog, but features moments of genuine excellence rising up just often enough to prevent it from being a complete bust. The scenes dealing with a tragedy which befalls the heroine resulting from a car accident and her subsequent depression were probably the most moving I’ve seen in a Mexican telenovela this year, superbly acted by Susana González, the best lead actress on a Spanish-language telenovela currently airing in the US, vet leading man Guy Ecker, and Thelma Madrigal as their daughter. You watch the rest of the telenovela hoping for more meaty material for them to sink their teeth into, but instead have to endure their characters looking stupid as they are manipulated, again and again, by the antagonists.

Almost all of the action in this telenovela is telegraphed long before it happens. The villains reveal their plans, six episodes or so later, we see the plans put into motion, and the dumbed down protagonists fall into every trap set for them. Any comeuppance for the two big baddies played by Héctor Suárez Gomís and Dominika Paleta seems frightfully far away, with nobody even conceivably close to finding them out for the murderers they are. Both Gomís and Paleta are good in their roles, properly hissable and rage-inducing (though Gomís is rather less convincing as the Lothario his character is supposed to be) which makes the long wait for their retribution even more infuriating.

POR SIEMPRE MI AMOR continues to be edited down by Univision, we’re getting two episodes a night chopped down into one. This can’t continue for much longer as the US airing has nearly caught up with the Mexican run. Aside from the loss of plot details, subplots, and character moments, one of the most harmful repercussions of Univision’s editing practices is the loss of tonal balance. With the antagonists driving so much of the action, their scenes are rarely cut. We also get the scenes of the protagonists suffering the consequences of the villains’ machinations. So what winds up being cut out are the scenes featuring secondary likable characters who provide relief to the otherwise dire, maddening central plotlines. Thus, we see an overabundance of the villains and those who suffer at the hands of the villains, and not enough of the nice, appealing characters who exist on the edges of the telenovela such as the loving family portrayed by Alejandro Aragón and Gabriela Platas, or Ana Martín’s rich biker fairy godmotherish character building an orphanage. Poor Jade Fraser as the best friend of Madrigal’s character, the most likable and sensible of the young characters, has had almost her whole performance cut from the US run.

LA IMPOSTORA (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Telemundo) differs from most of the recent Telemundo telenovelas in that it attempts to tell a story that almost makes sense and features some good performances, particularly from the supporting cast. This makes it an improvement on DAMA Y OBRERO (abysmal story), MARIDO EN ALQUILER (abysmal acting) and SANTA DIABLA (contemptible trash). Nor is it thematically loathsome like the otherwise competent LA PATRONA and EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS. Yet, it fails to actually be good because there is a black hole at its center with its protagonists: forgettable, wet Lisette Morelos and wooden Sebastián Zurita. I thought it had been settled back in 1999 that Lisette Morelos was not a lead protagonist when she was eclipsed in every scene of ALMA REBELDE by Karla Álvarez. Indeed, her subsequent career seemed to substantiate that as a succession of supporting roles followed, in which she was often effective. But once again cast as a lead, her deficiencies of charisma and talent come to the fore. Sebastián Zurita has the deadest, most vacant eyes to blight a lead role in a telenovela since Ximena Navarrate in LA TEMPESTAD. Difference is Navarrate was a beauty queen in her first acting role whose performance marginally improved over the course of the telenovela; while this is already Zurita’s fourth novela, so one would hope his performance could consist of more than dumb grimaces, as if it pains him to think up his next line.

One thing the recent Telemundo Miami trio of DAMA Y OBRERO, MARIDO EN ALQUILER and SANTA DIABLA share in common is they all had decent, even enjoyable opening weeks which made their descents into rubbish not only unfortunate, but time-wasting as well as one could never be quite sure if they would recover and become watchable again. (None did, they all got progressively worse.)

EN OTRA PIEL thankfully doesn’t waste its or the audience’s time – by the second week it had already degenerated into the stupid, vile trash becoming more and more typical of Telemundo Miami productions with its female protagonist nabbed by sex traffickers and raped. Its male protagonist doesn’t fare much better, already tossed in prison for a murder he didn’t commit where he had to endure all the tired Telemundo prison clichés.

The scenes of the sex traffickers are as laughable as every other Telemundo Miami telenovela to feature this subject from MI CORAZÓN INSISTE to CORAZÓN VALIENTE, with seemingly the same cheap sets and drooling bad guys. How anybody can find scenes this stupid and cartoonish to be of interest is beyond me.

The story is supernatural hokum. The soul of a concert pianist enters the body of a waitress after both women die violent deaths. Laura Flores plays the pianist, coming off one of the best antagonist performances in recent years in UN REFUGIO PARA EL AMOR. EN OTRA PIEL is her first telenovela at Telemundo after a long and prolific run at Televisa and she is frankly the best thing in this novela, but her participation is brief.

EN OTRA PIEL is appallingly inept. The production design is so bland, the novela has to literally announce every location change with title cards to differentiate the Mexican and US settings. The whole production seems a return to Miami-cheap: the dull locations, ugly flat lighting, and badly dressed sets. Driving scenes are rendered with cheesy green screen that student filmmakers on home computers could make look more convincing.

Scene after scene clunks along. The dialogue leads the audience by the nose, making explicit every little theme, perhaps a good thing as this novela can’t depend on the acting of the protagonists to express meaning or emotion. María Elisa Camargo is a likable bad actress, enjoyable in small doses, but completely inadequate as the protagonist of this novela. She is horrifically over the top in many scenes, goggling her eyes so often you expect them to pop out of her head like a Tex Avery wolf; but then in a scene where she is licensed to be big - her character becomes so hysterical a doctor has to sedate her – Camargo suddenly becomes meek, self-conscious and restrained. When a bad actor is cast as a protagonist, there is always the hope the other protagonist will be able to carry their less capable cast mate in their scenes, but no luck here as the male protagonist is the equally bad David Chocarro, overacting as usual, his mouth agape for seventy percent of his performance.

Decent actors like Jorge Luis Pila, Vanessa Villela, and Marisela González look bored out of their minds; the juvenile actors bore the audience out of their minds. Only the dog rises above the muck.

EN OTRA PIEL is so badly directed and acted, a scene that should be bristling with suspense – the lead heroine getting kidnapped – is played so woodenly and directed so placidly, with so little urgency, it might as well be a stroll in the park. That lack of urgency cripples the whole production. Even wretched telenovelas from Telemundo like CORAZÓN VALIENTE and MI CORAZÓN INSISTE at least had a pulse; EN OTRA PIEL is dead on arrival.

The scenes of sex trafficking in EN OTRA PIEL are especially ridiculous and unconvincing compared with those in the Colombian tele-series LA PROMESA (weekdays at 10:30 a.m. ET on Telemundo, no English friendly options). LA PROMESA is appropriately harrowing and brutal, but sex trafficking might be a subject better suited for a movie where the bleakness and horror can be dispensed in a couple hours. Witnessing the brutality in a daily series quickly becomes too oppressive and depressing. LA PROMESA is a good series, but not one I necessarily want to watch all the way through. LA PROMESA continues the high production standards of CMO and features a pair of standout performances from Christian Tappan as an alcoholic cop trying to track down the missing girls which include his daughter and Julieth Restrepo as one of the kidnapped girls.

INFAMES (weeknights at 11 p.m. ET, no English friendly options) made its US premiere last month on MundoFox. Produced in 2012, it was one in a line of ambitious, modern telenovelas produced by Argos Comunicación for Mexican channel Cadenatres. Telenovelas on the whole could do with more ambition and modernity, yet watching INFAMES, I was surprised to find how much I disliked it.

INFAMES reeks of desperation to be edgy - when the very first episode tosses in three “provocative” sex scenes in the first ten minutes, you know somebody is trying too hard. Add in the pseudo-intellectual voice over of the heroine, the antiseptic visuals, the monotone, the bumpers of the four actresses fiercely strutting mixed in with the bumpers of them clad in their underwear – I found myself rolling my eyes at the pretentiousness.

The makers of INFAMES seem to believe they are making profound observations about sex and power, but the throwaway, often tasteless black comedy LA MADAME was far smarter on the theme and managed to be entertaining as well. INFAMES feels like the work of a scold. Entertainment and fun are not allowed. The actors seem strait-jacketed, the acting is zombified.

INFAMES is like a telenovela ashamed to be a telenovela, so it tries to run and hide from anything that could be perceived as melodramatic, which only succeeds in sucking all the life from the show. I could almost be sympathetic to the producer’s serious-mindedness if his story was anything other than just the umpteenth variation of MONTE CRISTO.

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 comment:

  1. Por Siempre Mi Amor - you hit this spot on. This has got to be the most depressing show. I don't know what compelled the writers/producers to think we want to come home and get bombarded by a show where the antagonists get everything their way and the antagonists have to talk about their suspicions for 3 episodes before acting on it. The only good thing is at least Victoria Ruffo is not in this one where we would be subjected to tears after tears.