NBC’s Telenovela is over-the-top and campy, like most Filipino-dubbed telenovelas (Spanish soap operas) I watched growing up. These classic telenovelas feature drama and complicated yet absurd plotlines that include but not limited to children switched at birth, twins separated at birth, husband snatching, and revenge of the poor but beautiful barrio lass who turn into a supermodel or a wife of a filthy rich old man. Telenovela uses these as mere backdrop of the show and focuses its attention on the behind-the-scene drama in the lives of the Latino actors who are involved in making a telenovela.
Telenovela is led by Eva Longoria (Ana Sofia Calderon) as Pasión in VivaVision’s Las Leyes de Pasión (The Laws of Pasión), the telenovela within Telenovela. You guessed it right, she is a lawyer. Ana Sofia’s Pasión speaks Spanish, but she herself does not speak the language. She claims she is “fluent enough” as long as the speakers do not talk very fast. As Pasión, she is as glamorous as a peacock – beautiful face caked in make-up, hair windblown to perfection, dressed to kill in long gowns with thigh-high slits and plunging necklines, and feet encased in towering sexy shoes. She is confident and eloquent. As Ana Sofia, she trips over stationary furniture, cries with mascara running down her cheeks and has Cheetos stuck in her hair and clothes that unravel on their own. In order to give justice to the larger-than-life craziness of Ana Sofia, Longoria proves that she is willing to let go of her inhibitions and do physical comedy. And she looks ah-mazing doing it. As my friends would say in this situation, saan ang hustisya? (Where is justice?)
Ana Sofia’s flaws show that Ana Sofia, despite being on the cover of Cosmo en Español ten times, is mortal like the rest of the audience. This down-to-earth quality of Ana Sofia endears her to the actors and members of the crew of Las Leyes de Pasión. They include Ana Sofia’s wingwoman, Mimi Moncada (Diana-Maria Riva), the costume designer of Las Leyes de Pasión and Gael Garnica (Jose Moreno Brooks), Pasión’s lover but Ana Sofia’s gay bestfriend. As Ana Sofia’s cheerleader, Mimi is supportive and motherly but not delusional when it comes to the star’s love life. Meanwhile, Gael is less Ana Sofia-centric as he has his physique to think about. He is the guy who bares his well-sculpted chest in the name of job security or natural disaster. With the frequency of Gael’s chest-bearing activities, Ana Sofia remarks that Gael is either very strong to rip his shirts without batting an eyelash or the material of the shirts is very weak.
Fortunately, Mimi and Gael are more than Ana Sofia’s sidekicks. They have their own story arcs, too. Mimi as the mother of three boys and the wife of an ex-convict are also portrayed. Of course, Mimi the woman is not forgotten. She has her fair share of action in the sack. For his part, Gael shows a young man with insecurities. Despite the many times he flaunts his washboard abs, he stress eats upon learning that he has “another hot guy to compete with”. Also, he almost backs out of an all-natural beauty photo shoot because of a pimple. Lastly, he reads and almost believes criticism of his acting on social media. These traits make Mimi and Gael more relatable and three-dimensional as characters.
Other members of Las Leyes de Pasión are Rodrigo Suarez (Amaury Nolasco), the villain with fake moustache, Roxy Rios (Jaden Douglas), the not-so-bright but thoughtful supporting actress and Isaac Aguero (Izzy Diaz), the writer of Las Leyes de Pasión who types the script when drunk. He mistakenly writes demon instead of denim and then makes Rodrigo’s character pregnant instead of a female one.
A special mention goes to Isabela Santamaria (Alex Meneses) as the best secondary character. Isabela is the epitome of a telenovela villainess. She has coiffed hair that looks petrified, chic matching shoes and clothes with strands of pearls, huge eyes that can stare down any young and naïve protagonist, and laughter that rivals Yzma’s (The Emperor’s new Groove). Isabela hates Pasión and Ana Sofia. They marginalized the aging Isabela ten years ago, something that the older woman cannot forget.
Any respectable telenovela cannot exist without a sizzling male lead. Telenovela has two. The first one is Xavier Castillo (Jencarlos Canela), Ana Sofia’s ex-husband who is hired by VivaVision’s higher-ups to improve the ratings of Las Leyes de Pasión. Xavier and Ana Sofia used to be the “most famous Latino couple” in the world. Before Ana Sofia, Xavier was a member of a boy band with cheesy songs and cheesier moves to match. I almost cringed when I saw him sing and dance his band’s hit song. The second hot male lead character is VivaVision’s ex-president and ex-boss and ex-boyfriend of Ana Sofia, James McMahon (Zachary Levi). James is the only non-Latino character in Telenovela, but he has a better grasp of Spanish than Ana Sofia. He speaks Spanish so fast that Ana Sofia is forced to tell him to make the conversation “casual”, or in English. Apparently, James is not only fast in learning languages; he is fast in love, in work or in adventure.
Having written that longish paragraph above, I feel a little awkward to admit that in my books, neither Xavier not James qualifies as a hot male lead. When I watched the Filipino-dubbed Mexican telenovelas of my childhood, the male leads had testosterone pumping through their veins, from the windswept hair that unexplainably looked immaculately sexy, to the tanned chest that peeked through unbuttoned white shirts and the devilish grin that they sneakily gave the female leads. I know that Telenovela is a comedy show, but Xavier and James pale in comparison to those men. And I digress.
Telenovela is a spoof of a telenovela and the wonderful clichés that come with it. It has superfluous supply of vanity, tantrums, catfights and intense staring. It is funny but not in a roll-on-the-floor kind of way, but it is bright (Ana Sofia’s gowns are almost always blinding) and lighthearted that makes each 21-minute episode move like The Flash.