Of course I was going to watch it.
Even though I had seen some parts of the pilot and cringed, I was definitely going to watch the premiere of the Marc Cherry/Eva Longoria much-discussed much-maligned much-defended “Devious Maids” show. Why wouldn’t I watch it, since one of the criticisms we received from supporters of the show had to do with jumping to conclusions and overreacting without actually seeing the show? One Hollywood writer even wrote that I was behind “a conversation beginning to derail.” I owed it to our readers, to keep an open mind. So what if a few of my friends had already seen the opening episode and passed on it. I was intent on watching the show. And writing my own thoughts. Even though I am a guy and I am not even close to the demographic such a show is trying to target. Take it for what it’s worth.
My general conclusion is a simple one: if the show’s goal was to create an over-the-top satire telenovela vibe, it failed. I can only venture to guess that translating Spanish schlock to English schlock gets lost in translation. It was clear that right now adding the Latina dimension to all this was merely window dressing, since in the end, the real creative voice behind the show appears to be Cherry and not Longoria. The pilot’s opening (someone has died and we don’t know who killed her) was basically the same way “Desperate Housewives” began, and throughout last night’s one-hour episode, my head shook every time I heard a saucy Spanish guitar, bouncy maracas or a loud trumpet. ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!
Strong satire and parody has strong writing. The writing for “Devious Maids” lacked creativity, originality, and spark. Defenders of the show kept saying that it was going to be really obvious satire (someone actually sent me a definition of “satire” in case I didn’t know it, “The use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing or deriding vice, folly…”). I disagree. It was tepid and stale. For satire to really work, you have to take risks and be honest. Last night’s episode lacked that honesty. The characters were one-dimensional and glossy. The situations were stereotypical (within 20 minutes, we had our first immigration angle!), and to be honest, the Latina leads were still playing maids.
The only redeeming scene was when the lead maid characters were all chatting in a park. There I could see some semblance of layers, yet it also begged the question: why do they have to be maids? Why are they all sharing the same experiences? Why couldn’t the characters have different occupations? And why are all these maids so damn sexy? That is where “Devious Maids” truly shows how mediocre it is: Latina women are just hot. Yawn. Been there, done that, we need to go beyond that.
Someone at Lifetime very likely assumed that U.S. Latinos want more telenovela-type programming. We don’t. Yet in a way, “Devious Maids” fits nicely within the Lifetime world. It is light, airy, and innocuous. Those who want a silly escape can go for it, but don’t wave your “Latino community” flag while you watch the show. It is definitely not a show that confirms how we as Latinos have progressed in this country. Quite the contrary. “Devious Maids” could be the “Good Times” our our generation—a show developed by a white man covering “life in the ghetto” and getting “DY-NO-MITE” laughs. Maybe, just maybe, non-Latinos will empathize with maid characters and maybe, just maybe, they will see that they show is trying to tell “untold stories” that don’t get on television and will have you thinking about the social and cultural relationships our country faces. Maybe. However, this is just a show that is trying to be a Mexican soap opera without any real elements that make a Mexican soap opera so campy. That is the problem with the show right now, it doesn’t know what it wants to be: another “Desperate Housewives? an exaggerated soap opera? a comedy? a show that tries to delve into issues of class? Once the show figures it out (and I hear more Latino writers were added to the staff after the pilot was completed), it might gain some traction.
Yet, let’s be real: just because Latinos are involved in the show, do Latino audiences have to support it? I always said that “Devious Maids” wouldn’t be an issue if there were 10-15 Latino-themed shows on television right now. It would just be another offering. Yet what astounds me about all this is that there is this blind expectation that we must support shows like these because it will send the right message to Hollywood and give more Latinos work. If we don’t support a show about five Latina maids, we are not doing our duty for the community. Sorry, supporting mediocrity is a copout. I would rather have real discussions and a healthy dialogue about all this. I would rather challenge the conventional thinking, and keep pushing for more.
Longoria has indeed opened a door, but the show right now lacks authenticity, even within the context of satire. I will say that if Longoria were the sole creative voice behind this show, we would have seen a different show. That is the direction where we should be heading. Will “Devious Maids” get us there? One step forward, two steps back is still one step back.
Finally, after not really enjoying “Devious Maids” at all, I checked out the white man patriarchy finale of “Mad Men.” Yes, the characters are tools and drunks and sexist and fool around. They are immoral and lousy. I get that. Yet the writing is top-notch, and (SPOILER ALERT) when the Don Draper character lost his job on Thanksgiving morning, the emotion was raw and real. I guess I want more raw and real when it comes to Latino portrayals on television, whether it is a satire, a comedy, or a drama. I know that there are some fantastic Latino writers and actors out there, and here’s hoping that the right projects are being developed to showcase their extraordinary talents. We are still settling, still in our “Good Times” phase. That will soon end. I can feel it.
Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.