Tuesday, September 22, 2015

TELENOVELA WATCH: 'Antes Muerta Que Lichita' and 'Señora Acero' Premiere Tonight, Plus a Summer Roundup

Antes Muerta Que Lichita premieres September 22 on Univision.
Photo Credit: Televisa
Is the telenovela in decline? There has not been a single hit telenovela in the US this year. Only two years ago, AMORES VERDADEROS averaged 4.5 million viewers a night; this year, only two telenovelas, MI CORAZÓN ES TUYO and HASTA EL FIN DEL MUNDO, have averaged even 3 million viewers and they concluded way back in May. A pair of telenovelas that concluded Monday, AMORES CON TRAMPA and EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, failed to garner the usual final weeks ratings bump, limping to the finish line. The telenovelas replacing them: an apparent BETTY LA FEA rehash and the second season of maybe the worst narco-novela ever made are hardly propitious.

ANTES MUERTA QUE LICHITA (weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Univision)
Telenovelas based on original scripts are all but extinct at Televisa. The largest producer of Spanish language telenovelas in the world averages a paltry one original telenovela a year, or about a one to seven ratio of original to remake/adaptation. This depressing reality is aggravated when their newest original telenovela, ANTES MUERTA QUE LICHITA, on the surface, looks so derivative of YO SOY BETTY, LA FEA, the most adapted, remade, and ripped-off telenovela of the past decade: an ugly duckling heroine in a bustling office setting. Even the vibrant colors of the sets shown in the promos for LICHITA recall the Tashlinesque interiors of the ABC version UGLY BETTY.

What ANTES MUERTA QUE LICHITA has in its favor is it is from a clever producer, Rosy Ocampo, all but ensuring LICHITA will be more palatable than the last two comedies Univision has aired in this time slot: the occasionally bearable MI CORAZÓN ES TUYO and the wretched AMORES CON TRAMPA. The worlds Ocampo creates in her comedies are stylized and cartoonish, but the acting is kept reasonably grounded. The vulgarity and mugging that plague Televisa comedies is usually kept in check in Ocampo productions, and she relies far less on dumb sound and visual effects.

The plot from the press materials: “Lichita is a hardworking young woman who has been struggling to advance professionally in an advertising agency. After working there for eight years, she feels underappreciated and invisible. When the handsome Roberto arrives at the agency, he steals her heart and her ideas, using them for his own advancement at an important business presentation. This finally prompts Lichita to make changes and she decides to no longer be a victim at work. Instead, she will transform herself into the powerful Alicia. But the climb to the top is never easy and along the way she is faced with difficult decisions that put her character to test. Meanwhile, her mother, who raised her on her own is faced with similar struggles on the road to entrepreneurship. Ultimately, Lichita finds herself at a crossroads between her values and the road to success.”

ANTES MUERTA QUE LICHITA stars Maite Perroni (LA GATA) and Arath de la Torre (UNA FAMILIA CON SUERTE) as the protagonists, and features Ingrid Martz (QUÉ POBRES TAN RICOS), Eduardo Santamarina (NI CONTIGO NI SIN TI), Chantal Andere (LA MUJER DEL VENDAVAL), Manuel “Flaco” Ibáñez (LA SOMBRA DEL PASADO), Sylvia Pasquel (QUÉ POBRES TAN RICOS), Sherlyn (AMORES VERDADEROS), Diego de Erice (LA SOMBRA DEL PASADO) and Wendy González (COMO DICE EL DICHO).

Señora Acero stars Blanca Soto as Sara Aguilar Bermudez. Photo
Credit: Juan Manuel Garcia/Telemundo
SEÑORA ACERO 2 (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Telemundo)
The nadir of Telemundo’s narco-novelas returns for a second run of episodes. Ironically, the sheer awfulness of SEÑORA ACERO’s acting, writing and production values help make it the only wholly enjoyable narco-novela Telemundo has produced since LA REINA DEL SUR. (CAMELIA LA TEXANA is the only narco-novela the network has produced since LA REINA DEL SUR that I would actually almost describe as “good,” but even that was often a chore to watch.) It was already impossible to take Blanca Soto seriously in the title role, but now we’ll also have a full season of the monstrously stupid acting of José Luis Reséndez to deal with as well. You would almost suspect director Miguel Varoni is in on the joke in permitting these clowns to overact as ludicrously as they do, except his own technical inadequacies as a director are too often apparent as well proven in the promos with a hilariously obvious stuntman in bad Blanca Soto wig getting slammed against a prison wall and a rip-off of THE SHINING with Reséndez axing a hilariously obvious prop door, its breakaway marks and cheap material filmed in close up.


YO NO CREO EN LOS HOMBRES (weeknights at 10 p.m. ET on Univision)
The best Mexican telenovela of 2014 is surprisingly by the numbers in its plotting and themes. Where ASÍ EN EL BARRIO COMO EN EL CIELO, so far the best Mexican telenovela of 2015, subverts the tropes of Mexican telenovelas, YO NO CREO EN LOS HOMBRES embraces them fully. It is a classic Mexican melodrama with the heroine facing a series of heartrending, escalating obstacles and falling in love with a rich man, but their relationship is opposed by his family. The misery facing the heroine and her family all gets to be a bit much, yet YO NO CREO EN LOS HOMBRES never veers into camp like, say, CORONA DE LÁGRIMAS.

What lifts YO NO CREO EN LOS HOMBRES above the norm is its characterization. The writing is superior to most Televisa telenovelas so the relationships are complex and constantly shifting, the motivations twisted, sometimes a tad facile, but mostly believable. Like producer Giselle González’s PARA VOLVER A AMAR in 2010, YO NO CREO EN LOS HOMBRES creates a world that feels fully lived in, its characters are richly and believably drawn, a credit to the writers and cast. There isn’t a character on YO NO CREO EN LOS HOMBRES I don’t find fascinating.

EL LABERINTO DE ALICIA (weeknights at 11 p.m. ET on MundoMax)
This Colombian telenovela, adapted from a 2011 Chilean telenovela of the same name, is one of the best telenovelas to air in the US this year. It’s the second excellent production in a row from RCN and Vista Productions after SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO, my favorite telenovela of last year. EL LABERINTO DE ALICIA is a paranoid thriller about a community whose children are targeted by a pedophile. There are heavy borrowings from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but despite the subject matter, the telenovela manages to be gripping and suspenseful without relying on sensationalistic gimmicks. The production values and performances of this Colombian version are superior to the Chilean original, though I prefer the writing of the Chilean version, finding the Colombian version to go a bit off the rails in its final weeks.

PRECIOSA PERLA (JOIA RARA) (weekdays at noon E.T. on Telemundo)
The production values of this Brazilian telenovela from Globo are the most extraordinary of any telenovela to air in the US this year. The beauty of the cinematography, sets, and costumes put all rival productions currently airing to shame; so it is a pity the story isn’t better, relying yet again on lame rich boy/poor girl, good brother/bad brother clichés coupled with truly atrocious LOST HORIZON mysticism malarkey.

Carlos Ferro plays Matías Morales in Bajo El Mismo Cielo.
Photo Credit: Telemundo
BAJO EL MISMO CIELO (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on Telemundo)
Well-meaning liberal propaganda attempts to highlight the difficulties facing illegal immigrants in the US, but the telenovela is so clichéd, it ironically ends up confirming the most negative prejudices against immigrants. BAJO EL MISMO CIELO attempts to appeal to the hearts rather than minds of its audience, so it constructs a series of sob stories that paints its immigrants as hapless victims. The most patronizing buzzwords are repeated ad nauseam to describe the telenovela’s illegal immigrant hero: he is “honest” and “hard-working.” Maybe, but a less charitable viewer would also note he’s been in the US for 18 years and still doesn’t speak English, is working menial labor jobs, and has raised a pair of bonehead sons, one of whom is an outright murderous thug who after he is released from prison, is deported, only to immediately re-enter the country thanks to the supposedly “honest” protagonist, who also created a fake ID so he could visit that son in prison. Telemundo, seemingly incapable of producing a telenovela that doesn’t include some avenue for rape, torture and murder, decides to include the least convincing street gang since the Jets and the Sharks, further lending credence to the talking points of the most demagogic politicians.

The sets seem recycled from MARIDO EN ALQUILER, so BAJO EL MISMO CIELO looks better than Telemundo’s worst Miami-produced rubbish of recent years like REINA DE CORAZONES, but is far behind the production values of the telenovelas the network was making just five years ago. The protagonist is played by Gabriel Porras, who was a decent actor ten years ago. What happened? He is unbearably hokey here, full of indicating ticks and exaggerated mannerisms, all his phony affectations come to the fore when he is in scenes with a natural performer like Liz Gallardo. María Elisa Camargo as the female protagonist is better here than in EN OTRA PIEL, but her amateurishness still grates.

LO IMPERDONABLE (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on Univision)
A relatively sane telenovela compared to the typically preposterous bunk we’ve come to expect from producer Salvador Mejía, but I find I much prefer the campy excesses of his bad telenovelas to this snooze fest. Indeed, my favorite thing in LO IMPERDONABLE is the hilariously retrograde conceit of the ignorant, mystical “native” woman, Nanciyaga, played by Mar Contreras, who speaks in a slow broken Spanish, constantly referring to herself in the third person (think Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan: “Now Tarzan make war”), is in love with her white master, and alternates her time bathing in the river, brandishing her machete, and making fortune cookie prognoses.

It wouldn’t be a Mejía production without some horrible casting and Sergio Sendel, far too old for his role, effectively sinks a character that is meant to be the third lead. This is a telenovela designed to be recorded so you can fast-forward through the considerable chaff: watch the scenes with Ana Brenda, Claudia Ramírez, and Grettell Valdez, sample the bits with Osvaldo de León and Tania Lizardo, and skip most everything else. I’m not sure what to make of Iván Sánchez as the protagonist. His role in LA REINA DEL SUR was largely sold on his amazing chemistry with Kate del Castillo, and he was an effective psycho in LA TEMPESTAD, so he seems to have talent; but I just don’t care very much about his character in LO IMPERDONABLE. Perhaps the role is restrictive – the character is such a grim, humorless stick-in-the-mud, but it’s hard to say whether Sánchez or the writing are primarily to blame.

LA GUERRERA (SALVE JORGE) (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on MundoMax)
I confess I’ve skipped this telenovela. After four telenovelas in a row on this network in this time slot: LA VIDA SIGUE, LADO A LADO, SECRETOS DEL PARAÍSO, and RASTROS DE MENTIRAS were all chopped down, some beyond coherence, I was wary to even begin LA GUERRERA. After noticing the first episode of LA GUERRERA was re-edited to remove an intricate flashback structure, all the action put into chronological order which robbed a crucial scene of its emotional impact, I decided it was not worth the frustration to watch further. To this network’s credit, all the previously edited telenovelas were given a rerun in the afternoon shortly after their prime time run concluded, and the rerun was the complete version (or the slightly edited “international version” in the cases of the Globo telenovelas). Hopefully LA GUERRERA will be treated with similar respect in the near future.

MUCHACHA ITALIANA VIENE A CASARSE (weeknights at 7 p.m. ET on Univision)
Some of the location filming gives this Televisa production an alluring sheen, but it is ultimately another remake of a moldy original dating to the 1960s played depressingly straight. It is a watchable B-novela that overstays its welcome at 170 plus episodes, but never gets as bad as some of the recent A-novelas from Televisa like HASTA EL FIN DEL MUNDO or AMORES CON TRAMPA. For me, the best thing in the novela is a cameo role by Jessica Coch and I would much rather watch a telenovela about her character than the tired rich/poor romance and family of vipers the telenovela is actually about.

LA VECINA (weekdays at 3 p.m. ET on Univision)
Leading man Juan Diego Covarrubias is the real deal, one of the few leading actors on Mexican telenovelas who actually seems contemporary. He is so urbane and charming in LA VECINA that you wish he were in a better telenovela. LA VECINA is a Televisa adaptation of a 2003 Colombian telenovela called LA COSTEÑA Y EL CACHACO, but without the city versus Caribbean coast town culture clash of the original, the already thin premise vanishes into complete pointlessness. Esmeralda Pimentel has given decent performances in the past, but she is insufferably cutesy as this telenovela’s protagonist -- all kittenish, wide-eyed bemusement and simpers.


Like most Televisa comedies, this telenovela from producer Emilio Larrosa, an adaptation of the Chilean telenovela SOMOS LOS CARMONA, substitutes loudness for humor. AMORES CON TRAMPA is a remarkably unfunny comedy. The first half largely hinges on whether the nouveau riche rancher protagonist will cheat on his wife and sleep with his shallow blonde neighbor or not. The domestic disputes between the rancher and his wife and the blonde neighbor and her businessman husband that follow are too hurtful and ugly to be humorous. The whole atmosphere is fairly unpleasant. The writers never seem capable of deciding what to make of Itatí Cantoral’s character: how responsible she is for her despicable actions, how much are other conspirators to blame, how much of her behavior is due to tainted pills, how much is she just nuts. On the plus side, Cantoral does some excellent physical comedy – she really seems game for whatever is tossed at her. I also found the kid actors – Ceci Flores, Jocelin Zuckerman, and Rubén López – to be a welcome corrective after the oppressively manufactured cutesiness of the kids on MI CORAZÓN ES TUYO.

The supposed appeal of Telemundo’s narco-novelas was their shorter length versus traditional telenovelas, but that attribute sadly doesn’t apply to EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS, now at a ludicrous 262 episodes and with a fourth year currently filming. Always second-rate compared to Colombia’s EL CAPO, where that narco-novela’s three seasons told largely self-contained plots, EL SEÑOR DE LOS CIELOS is a single intolerable slog. What was mediocre but not without intrigue in its first year became repugnant in year two, but this third year was just boring. Everybody just seems to be going through the motions at this point, the actors struggling to stay awake playing variations of the exact same scenes they’ve been playing for three years now. The budget seems to have been slashed this year, so the action, always pitifully staged to begin with, was almost completely absent, replaced with endless telephone conversations and innumerable sex scenes. In need of a sensationalistic hook, this season veers into threesomes and lesbianism which Telemundo handles with the grace of snickering 12 year olds. The misogyny runs rampant this season. The lesbian scenes have nothing to do with the emotional or sexual fulfillment of the women, all of whom are basically mindless sexbots in the world of this telenovela, but to serve as titillation for the knuckle dragger drug lord. The drug lord’s two daughters continue to exist solely to be raped, kidnapped, and shot by the “bad guys” allowing the drug lord chance to play hero and avenger. Most disgusting is the character destruction of the cop played by Carmen Villalobos whose tireless pursuit of the sociopathic murderous title drug lord we learn this season isn’t about seeking justice or even revenge, but because she wants to sleep with him. He practically rapes her, which she is shown to enjoy and her ultimate fate on the show is such a poorly staged afterthought that nobody on the show even seemed to care.

“This is ridiculous, / What am I doing here? / I’m in the wrong story.” So sings the everywoman Baker’s Wife in the Stephen Sondheim / James Lapine musical INTO THE WOODS upon finding herself romanced by Cinderella’s Prince Charming. That amusing befuddlement coupled with modern anxiety of existing in a seemingly unreal universe applies to many of the characters in ASÍ EN EL BARRIO COMO EN EL CIELO, an extraordinarily clever and modern Mexican telenovela from Azteca. Half-cognizant they exist in the unreal universe of a telenovela, the characters in ASÍ EN EL BARRIO make do the best they can with the roles they are assigned, usually with humorously disastrous results.

This is a telenovela that consistently checks off telenovela clichés only to upend them in some surprising manner. It has the audacity to literalize the CINDERELLA story that serves as the basis for the vast majority of traditional telenovelas, and then tosses in a literalized version of SLEEPING BEAUTY for good measure. The arc of the heroine’s dippy sister parodies the common rags to riches telenovela cliché as she goes from poor wannabe fashion model to overnight millionaire thanks to an unlikely inheritance, only to lose her fortune overnight on her honeymoon in Las Vegas ironically ending where so many telenovela heroines’ story arcs begin, as a maid, all in the course of a few episodes. There are constant excursions into the surreal. At one point, a villainess wants to hire doubles so she can take photos supposedly showing the heroine sleeping with a lawyer acquaintance to send to the jealous hero. The doubles she hires turn out to be exact doubles of the heroine and lawyer, played by the same actors, only punk rock versions that have to be cleaned up. A major character is the ghost ex-wife of the heroine’s grandfather that only he can see, who nags him for his foolishness, the remnants of a tracheotomy procedure on her neck releasing puffs of cigarette smoke.

Like producer MaPat López de Zatarain’s previous telenovela, LA MUJER DEL VENDAVAL, LA SOMBRA DEL PASADO was a respectable effort, reasonably entertaining, occasionally even superb, but too inconsistent to be wholly satisfying. There’s an audacious performance by Susana González that tightropes going too far, but I ultimately found deeply moving. The protagonists were a pair of first-timers, Pablo Lyle and Michelle Renaud, who had their ups and downs, but on a whole, probably more ups. In the first weeks, Renaud exhibits a brazen assurance and good-natured saucy impudence that seems remarkably modern for a Televisa heroine, but that side of the character lamentably dissipates as the telenovela goes on and she turns into a more traditional self-sacrificing mouse in the final months.

This telenovela was so overstuffed with villains everything else became an afterthought, including the protagonists. Like a Telemundo narco-novela, QUE TE PERDONE DIOS was far too content lolling in the iniquities of its villains. Not helping matters is the telenovela’s chosen couple of Mark Tacher and Zuria Vega had far less chemistry than the also-ran pairing of Vega and Ferdinando Valencia. Subplots were often sloppy and half-realized like a bad intrusion of LA USURPADORA featuring Laisha Wilkins and a pair of pointless oversexed hypocritical sisters. Rebecca Jones, normally a good actress, was hilariously unconvincing as a blind woman. Carlos Athié looks to have a host of talent and one hopes to see him in bigger roles in the future. Alejandra Robles Gil, who was the best thing in LA GATA, was effective here as well despite limited screen time. Perhaps this telenovela’s worst crime was to completely waste Fabián Robles.

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. I watched and loved Rastros de Mentiras during the prime time showing, but it was chopped down way too much I had to stop watching it. Now the afternoon showing is complete and it's such a good telenovela !