Monday, May 26, 2014

TELENOVELA WATCH: 'El Señor de los Cielos' Season 2 Premieres; Plus, 'La Viuda Negra,' 'El Capo 3,' 'Camelia La Texana,' Favorites for the Week and More

A scene from LA VIUDA NEGRA (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on UniMás) illustrates the root of my antipathy for the so-called narco-novelas. The title anti-heroine is at a cemetery to visit the grave of her mother. Police arrive at the cemetery to arrest her for the murder of a teenager her gang kidnapped and shot dead. The supposed suspense of the scene is whether the anti-heroine will escape. In a ludicrous showdown with the police, her right-hand man manages to shoot dead six to eight officers. The show expects me to be relieved the anti-heroine has escaped, thrilled at the ingenuity and skill with which the henchman killed the officers, but my only feelings are of repulsion, my sympathies lying solely with the murdered police officers.

Good writers and producers can find entry points into this material to make it more palatable. One of the first full-hog narco-novelas and one of the best, SIN TETAS NO HAY PARAÍSO, adopted a “cautionary tale” approach to the material. It glamorizes the narco lifestyle, but that glamorization is presented through the eyes of a stupid teenage girl, a framing device that allows authorial detachment for comment and criticism. The story itself contrasts the girl’s fantasies of a narco life with the grim and destructive realities when she actually becomes a part of that world.

Authorial comment and criticism is absent from most of the recent narco-novelas. The ignorant teenage protagonist of SIN TETAS NO HAY PARAÍSO could have written LA VIUDA NEGRA, EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, CAMELIA LA TEXANA, and the EL CAPO series – they all evince a similar puerile glamorization of their narco protagonists that borders on hagiography, adulating their wealth, guns and sexual prowess. Any sense of the real-world suffering caused by these degenerates is confined to the far edges of the story if depicted at all. Instead, the stories are framed as the “good” narco protagonist against the “evil” narco antagonists. Plot lines tend to be limited to a dull succession of alliances and betrayals, kidnappings and murders. The wife/child of the narco protagonist is incessantly imperiled by the “bad” narco antagonist, allowing the viewer to identify with the murders the protagonist commits in an effort to save/protect his/her loved ones.

The most loathsome of the recent narco-novelas, EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, returns to Telemundo for a second series Monday, May 26 at 10 p.m. ET. As if to illustrate how little of consequence occurred in the first series, almost the entire cast is back: Rafael Amaya, Ximena Herrera, Robinson Díaz, Carmen Villalobos, Fernanda Castillo, and Sara Corrales. New additions to the cast include Mauricio Ochmann, Marlene Favela, Erika de la Rosa and Carmen Aub.

The first series was a hit for Telemundo, but even putting moral objections aside (a shameful suggestion and ultimately an impossibility), I found the show to be crushingly mediocre. The characters were a dull collection of narco clichés, the performances ranging from mediocre (Amaya, Villalobos) to poor (Corrales, Gabriel Porras), the action badly staged, and the payoffs non-existent to allow for this second series. With a third series already announced at Telemundo’s upfront, there is no reason to believe the second season will be any less anti-climactic.

EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS often comes off as a poor imitation of Colombia’s EL CAPO series with worse acting, writing, production values, and action set pieces. The first EL CAPO featured a uniformly excellent cast creating memorable characters, a genuine sense of paranoia and claustrophobia in the early episodes, and mini cliffhangers that were actually creative and suspenseful. EL CAPO, while glamorizing its drug lord protagonist, was also clever enough to depict him, right from the start, as his a narco pleasure dome is collapsing. It is basically a chase, the rats on the run, confined to a hole in the ground, which is far more satisfying than seeing the scumbags comfortably plotting their next murders in their mansions. Its narco protagonist played by Marlon Moreno is also more self-aware, though that too often is expressed through pseudo-profound monologues.

The problem is the second and third series of EL CAPO also come off as poor imitations of the first EL CAPO series from 2009. I could only stomach a few episodes of this third series of EL CAPO, currently airing weeknights on MundoFox at 9 p.m. ET., finding the premise too stupid to fathom as the world’s most notorious drug lord is released from prison and sent on a secret mission by US law enforcement.

Telemundo’s CAMELIA LA TEXANA deserves a modicum of credit for at least attempting something different in the narco-novela genre, but it also highlights a problem. In attempting to actually tell a story with plot and character development rather than just emphasizing the mindless murder and mayhem that plagues the recent narco-novelas, CAMELIA LA TEXANA flopped, the audience preferring the constant shoot-em-ups of LA VIUDA NEGRA. Frankly, I too preferred the first ten episodes of LA VIUDA NEGRA (the best of that series before its quality sinks) to CAMELIA, which was a strangely lethargic novela. Its cinematic visuals and muddy color scheme were of some interest, but its imagery was largely conventional, shots that would be at home in a beer commercial or anti-littering campaign. The performances were ho-hum, Erik Hayser in particular came off mannered and unconvincing, like an actor playing dress up.

A new Colombian comedy called MANUAL PARA SER FELIZ premieres Monday, May 26 at 3 p.m. ET on MundoFox (no English friendly options available). Unfortunately, as is often the case when a Colombian telenovela premieres in the US before airing in Colombia, there is almost no information available about the novela. The MundoFox website describes it as the story of Juan, a loser abused at the office and at home, who decides to apply the techniques from a self-help book he finds in the library to his life. Even with few details available, the telenovela is worth at least a look thanks to the quality of its cast with Ricardo Leguizamo (CORREO DE INOCENTES) and Marcela Mar (PURA SANGRE) as the protagonists and Katherine Porto, who somehow wound up the chief villain of LA VIUDA NEGRA, as the antagonist.

This week, Univision started to edit it’s airings of DE QUE TE QUIERO, TE QUIERO (weeknights at 7 p.m. ET), airing three episodes in its two-hour slot. Looking at its ratings, it is hard not to see the network’s reasoning – DE QUE TE QUIERO, TE QUIERO is doing terribly, barely averaging over 2 million viewers a night at 8 p.m. ET, a slot that should get over 3 million. It still baffles me why Univision doesn’t at least make the full episodes available on their UVideos website or Hulu so that those viewers who want to see the entire novela don’t have to resort to pirate sites.

It is not a terrible novela, an okay blend of comedy, drama, and romance, but it clearly belongs in daytime, a perfect 3 p.m. novela like this producer’s previous AMORCITO CORAZÓN. Its protagonists, both decent actors, are stuck in the worst story in the novela. Their relationship, based on a love at first sight premise, features no development or deepening. Instead, there are tiresome back and forth break ups and reconciliations with an evil twin brother plot that is beyond preposterous at this point.

Marisol del Olmo is giving a fine performance as the hero’s alcoholic aunt. The problem with all alcoholic storylines in soap operas and telenovelas is they quickly become limited to waiting to see when the alcoholic will inevitably fall off the wagon. There is also an odd disconnect between the character’s traumatic backstory, which is extremely old-fashioned, with the modern issues the story is addressing, alcoholism, and the modern intelligent woman Olmo is portraying.


Favorite telenovela: LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ

Favorite performer: Sebastián Rulli

Favorite scene: from LO QUE LA VIDA ME ROBÓ, it seems like a little throwaway, but a scene this week between the reforming scoundrel Dimitrio (Osvaldo Benavides) and his aunt Carlota (Gabriela Rivero) are the moments I tend to treasure in soap operas and telenovelas. Nothing to do with plot, the scene was just two characters existing - a nephew teasing his aunt - the relationship depicted, honest and human.

- TELENOVELA WATCH: 'Por Siempre Mi Amor' Finale Tonight; 'Dr. Mata' Premiere; 'Lo Que La Vida Me Robó' Product Placement; Favorites of the Week
- TELENOVELA WATCH: 'Avenida Brasil' Ends US Run; New Programs Announced at the Upfronts; Favorites for the Week

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].

No comments:

Post a Comment