Hit or Sh**: NBC’s TELENOVELA
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
The CW’s JANE THE VIRGIN can be considered somewhat groundbreaking as the first shot at an “American telenovela.” A loose adaptation of Venezuelan telenovela JUANA LA VIRGEN, the show’s attempts at parody are playful and loving; although enthusiastically leaning into several tropes, the show exists as a functional example of its parent genre, a fundamental aspect of clever satire. NBC’s TELENOVELA is, as the title might suggest, nowhere near as creative. Existing as a “behind-the-scenes” look at the filming of a telenovela, the show is all too eager to gleefully show how “ridiculous” everything related to the making of such media is. However, this comes across as mean-spirited and derogatory; by not playing by the rules of what it intends to ape, TELENOVELA writes itself off as problematic, coasting primarily off of cheap and obvious stereotypes.
We might as well continue to examine the show’s problematic elements, which constitute many of its cons. I suppose network television deserves a pat on the head for making a large portion of its cast female and a supposedly rich and powerful female character a lead, but it’s like the writers’ room has some minority whip that wants to ensure that women won’t walk away entirely triumphant at the end of the day. Despite the illustrious trappings of her cultural position, Eva Longoria’s Ana Sofia still finds time to cry in a bathtub full of roses during a breakup flashback and stop a boat heist to compliment her female cohort on her outfit and take a selfie. And never mind the fact that she’s the bottom notch on the totem pole every time she shares a scene with Jencarlos Canela’s Xavier Castillo, whether it be him wilfully ignoring the rules of her set or choosing when to re-ignite their past relationship. In addition, Jose Moreno Brooks’ Gael Garnica mainly serves as the impetus to squeeze in some jabs at gay best friends that will make overweight residents of Ohio laugh, as he stress eats when he’s not the hottest guy on set and waxes poetic over the superior mane of a horse.
This guy gets it
Now then, let’s put the soapbox aside. In terms of the narrative, I’ll be honest: it could be worse. Things crash and careen from one dramatic set piece to the next (most readily identifiable in the boat heist scene), which I’m going to give NBC the benefit of the doubt and proclaim a somewhat clever satirization of the parent genre. In addition, the fact that Xavi and Ana’s relationship is ambiguous in terms of whether it’s legitimate or purely for the cameras by the end of the pilot tossed at least one tenterhook into my interest in the series. Apart from that, it’s more or less forgettable. The most interesting thing the show could have done would be change Ana’s role from sexy young thang to boring old mom (which they did) and then have her commiserate and “team up” with arch rival Isabella (whom the aforementioned scenario happened to when Ana wrested the reins from her own reign as hot young thang). Instead, NBC ameliorates the situation before 10 minutes have passed, making the dramatic beat of Ana’s demotion feel like a cheap-shot.
There is one scene that can officially be proclaimed as “funny” (a new, white network executive is placed in charge of the channel that Ana’s telenovela premieres on, only to demonstrate his superior grasp on the Spanish language when compared to its star), but other than that, it’s all “OK for network, I guess” as far as the eye can see. You’ve seen most of its comedy before (Ana and Xavi making rival speeches to the cast that regularly mount in intensity), and there aren’t many jokes that don’t feel insulting and denigrating towards minorities. TELENOVELA is a decent attempt at a horrible idea, but the fact that it’s a horrible idea just can’t be shaken.
TELENOVELA airs on Mondays on NBC