Saturday, May 3, 2014

TELENOVELA WATCH: Surprise Hit 'La Viuda Negra', Final Episodes of 'Siempre Mi Amore', New MundoFox Series

The success of La Viuda Negra (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on UniMás) is the surprise of the year so far in the world of telenovelas. This heavily fictionalized telling of the life of the “Queen of Cocaine” Griselda Blanco, a Colombian production from RTI, Caracol and Televisa, has tripled the ratings of the previous novela on the network, La Selección, and topped Telemundo’s time-slot competitor, the narco-novela Camelia La Texana, nine weeks in a row with the gap widening in recent weeks. A few weeks, La Viuda Negra has outdrawn the entire Telemundo lineup of telenovelas, a feat no UniMás series has accomplished since Rosario Tijeras in 2010 back when the network was named Telefutura.

Is La Viuda Negra any good? The direction and editing is the standard customary to Colombian produced narco-novelas, which is to say a better than we’ve seen thus far from Argos/Telemundo. The scripts are a hodgepodge of the now standard narco-clichés with smidgens of fact from Griselda Blanco’s actual life popping up now and again. But make no mistake, this is a drug fantasy, as ludicrous at times as Telemundo’s El Señor de los Cielos or Fox’s El Capo series.

The story moves swiftly and the action is never difficult to follow. Ana Serradilla as the title character seems quite scrawny to be the physical threat they portray her as, but she works her dark eyes in her frequent glares menacingly. Her two chief henchmen contrast each other well – stoic Julián Román as Richi and jocular Ramiro Meneses as Sugar – allowing them to play off each other in amusing ways.

Unfortunately, La Viuda Negra resorts to the lie pervasive within the narco-novela of the protagonist being the “good” drug trafficker the audience wants see prevail over her “bad” drug trafficker rivals. Griselda’s murderous acts are almost exclusively framed in a way to justify them as either retribution of a betrayal or a defensive act. The Griselda character (or her mother or son) are continuously victimized by degenerate crime bosses, rapist prison guards, and corrupt cops in such a way as to permit the audience to enjoy the eventual sanguinary fates awaiting Griselda’s tormentors. It is deeply dishonest and immoral storytelling, but crudely effective. In this way, La Viuda Negra, despite its narco trappings, is thematically linked to the recent string of "The Count of Monte Cristo" knockoffs like La Patrona, Corazón Indomable, and Avenida Brasil, all hits, all featuring a similar objectionable victim/revenge paradigm.

Por Siempre Mi Amor
The enjoyment of telenovelas often involves indulging upon a curate’s egg – you put up with a great deal of rubbish to get to the good. Por Siempre Mi Amor (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Univision) now in its last episodes with the finale scheduled for Friday, May 9, is not a good telenovela. Its protagonist, Isabel, is perhaps the dumbest since Maricruz on Corazón Indomable. Yet, Isabel’s portrayer, Susana González, is giving the best lead performance in a Mexican telenovela so far this year.

It is the continuance of a hot streak for Susana González that started with her appearance in Para Volver a Amar, followed by her frazzled desperate villain in La que no podía amar and supporting role as an abused wife in Amores Verdaderos. It would not be a stretch to say González, in her last three telenovelas, has been the best antagonist, supporting actress, and lead actress at Televisa in the respective years those telenovelas were made. While it is too early to know if her performance in Por Siempre Mi Amor will hold up as the best of year, and with Silvia Navarro starring in a telenovela later this summer there will no doubt be some competition, what can be said is it is a performance that rises above the telenovela that features it. The scenes where Isabel recovers her memory and the flurry of emotions it entails, from the fear of recognizing who Javier/Fernando is, to the realization she is not dying of cancer and she is carrying Arturo’s baby, was breathtaking to behold, an fine actress at the top of her game.

New arrivals to MundoFox
Dos Lunas premieres Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on MundoFox. A new thirteen episode Mexican series produced by LUA, Argos and CadenaTres, Dos Lunas is the return of Bárbara Mori to the small screen for the first time since Rubí in 2004. The plot of Dos Lunas has to do with a woman with two personalities: a brilliant psychologist by day and a mysterious, sensual DJ at night who frequents the Mexico City nightlife.

Along with Dos Lunas, MundoFox is doing some odd things with their Saturday lineup, scheduling three telenovelas for that day. Showing telenovelas one day a week seems perverse, and does anyone in the audience really believe the network is going to run these shows the over 120 weeks in a row that would be necessary to get their conclusion, barring some of MundoFox’s editing that has already afflicted Secretos del Paraíso, El octavo mandamiento and Infames.

Chica Vampiro (1 p.m. ET) and La Playita (2 p.m. ET) premiered last Saturday. Chica Vampiro is a painful kid’s telenovela from last year about a teenage vampire and her vampire family. An enormous flop in Colombia, it was pulled off the air and concluded online. La Playita is a Colombian coastal comedy, a genre that seems currently in fashion in Colombia. It began airing earlier this year in Colombia where it is a middling, moderate performer in the ratings.

El fantasma del Gran Hotel premieres this Saturday, May 3 at 10 p.m. ET. A horror telenovela from 2009 about a haunted hotel, El fantasma del Gran Hotel aired recently in the US on the cable channel TV Colombia. It stars a trio of actors familiar to US audiences from their work for Telemundo: Michel Brown (Madre Luna; Pasión de Gavilanes) and Ana Lucía Domínguez (Perro Amor) as the protagonists and Andrea López (Zorro, la Espada y la Rosa; Victoria) as the antagonist.

Also newly arriving to MundoFox on Monday at 11 p.m. ET is Así es la vida. This guilty pleasurish Colombian anthology series aired on-and-off a few years ago on Telefutura. Each week features a different story consisting of five episodes, then a new story with new cast begins the following week. The plotlines are mostly rubbish, but you do see some now familiar faces early in their careers popping up from time to time including Daniel Arenas, Andrés Sandoval, Julieth Restrepo, Fabián Ríos, Sara Corrales and Carolina Gaitán.

En Otra Piel
En Otra Piel (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on Telemundo) remains the worst telenovela I’ve seen so far this year. Aside from its bad acting and dull story, it still looks terrible. The lighting is so harsh and white, it often looks like an atomic bomb was detonated outside the windows of the sets.

A recent scene where the villainess almost mistakenly shot a man she thought to be her unfaithful lover provides a prime example of everything wrong with this novela. The staging of the scene was a mess of bad direction and editing with completely mismatched shots. The man the villainess thought to be her lover was to her far left, but the medium shot of her lifting her gun clearly shows her aiming to her right. Then inexplicably, when the heroine arrives to prevent the shooting, she enters from the villainess’s left and we can see with them all in the same shot that the villainess isn’t aiming the gun anywhere near the man. And worse still, they return to the medium shot and we see the villainess actually turn her head to the left to talk to the heroine. We are then treated to some of María Elisa Camargo’s wretched acting as she ludicrously pleads for the villainess not to shoot.

In thinking about this very bad telenovela, I can’t help but consider how much more interesting its story would have been if instead of the older woman’s soul entering the body of the young woman, they had reversed that and had the soul of the young woman enter the body of the older woman. The young uncultured woman suddenly having to pass herself as a refined concert pianist, suddenly becoming the mother of two teenage daughters with an unfaithful lover and a murderous niece, and at the same time be unrecognizable to the young stud mechanic that was her soul mate. That’s a story worth exploring. And most crucially of all, that telenovela would actually have a competent lead actress in Laura Flores.

Skipping the Protagonists
I currently find De Que Te Quiero, Te Quiero (7 p.m. ET on Univision) and Qué Pobres Tan Ricos (10 p.m. ET on Univision) to be more enjoyable viewing experiences if I skip the scenes focusing on the central protagonists and just watch the supporting characters and villains.

De Que Te Quiero, Te Quiero has the less objectionable, more watchable pair. Juan Diego Covarrubias and Livia Brito are amiable and attractive enough, and Esmeralda Pimentel is a ravishing villain to hinder them, but the back and forth between the characters is already pretty tiresome. Far more interesting are Cynthia Klitbo as the heroine’s mother and Marcelo Córdoba as the cop in love with her for years, but disgusted by her consistently awful choices in men – her four children all have different fathers. The dance and kiss between Klitbo and Córdoba generated more heat than just about any other pair on a telenovela currently airing, but the introduction into the story of one of children’s fathers this week creates an obstacle to the romance; and we can probably expect the other men to be making similar entrances over the course of the telenovela.

On Qué Pobres Tan Ricos, Zuria Vega is a likable, decent actress, but her character is given nothing to do. She contributes what she can to the central romance but the relationship is marred by co-star Jaime Camil and his usual condescension. It is sad when Mark Tacher as the scumbag villain, playing false sincerity in trying to warm up to Vega’s character, the mother of his child, is a more naturally sympathetic screen presence than Camil’s hero. Where the enjoyment of this telenovela lies is in the villains and supporting characters: Tacher, Tiaré Scanda as his lusting gal Friday, Ingrid Martz as the scheming bimbo villainess, Raquel Pankowsky as her obnoxious mother, Silvia Pasquel as the hero’s alcoholic mother, and Gabriela Zamora as an ebullient neighborhood stylist. The juvenile couple played by Jonathan Becerra and Natasha Dupeyrón are also not without their charm. As cartoonish as some of the supporting characters are, their silliness is rooted in character, which is why they are funny. This is not the case with Camil’s character, whose assortment of comic business - pratfalls, squawking at a stuffed bird, puerile dances – come off as rather desperate. We don’t see a character, but an actor doing shtick, mugging for attention.

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].

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