Sunday, June 23, 2013

'Devious Maids' Premiere Review - 1.01 Pilot

        On the series premiere of Lifetime's Devious Maids, a maid, Flora, is murdered at the home of her employers during a large society event; Marisol is hired to clean the home of newlyweds Taylor and Michael Stappord; but when someone close to Marisol becomes wrapped up in Flora's murder, she goes undercover to learn the truth.

        Devious Maids - which Lifetime plucked from ABC's development after failing to make the cut there last year - focuses on five Latina actresses (Ana Ortiz, Dania Ramirez, Roselyn Sánchez, Edy Ganem, Judy Reyes) and is both riveting and incredibly frustrating television. I applaud the series for its diversity in a television landscape that while expansive isn't completely eclectic ethnically. Criticisms have already been floating around on how this show simply is perpetrating stereotypes. I will not dispute that. There are several moments that unfortunately are cliché and stereotypical. However, the bigger picture is trying to do something that challenges the conceit of these depictions. The show may never get to the point of being able to acutely depict the Latina culture but I see ambition which gives me hope that if I keep watching, my efforts will be rewarded in the long term.
        The series comes from creator Marc Cherry and executive producer Eva Longoria - whose biggest hit Desperate Housewives will serve as the biggest comparison piece to Devious Maids. Some actors have even appeared on both series - regulars Sánchez & Rebecca Wisocky and recurring players Melinda Page Hamilton, Valerie Mahaffrey and later this season Andrea Parker and Richard Burgi will appear. Even though the former show kind of went off the deep end towards the end, it still had a fantastic first season. The premise for Devious Maids is eerily similar to that setup - a maid is murdered in the opening sequence instead of a suburban housewife committing suicide. The driving narrative for this plot is the connective thread for all five main characters. It gives some early focus to the series while teasing out details that could easily fill out this thirteen episode first season. Additionally, the five leading ladies have great chemistry together and their scenes together or the scenes focusing on the main mystery are inherently better then some of the smaller plots.
        Seeing as how the show simply cannot keep these five characters together all the time as they learn and investigate more about Flora's murder, it has to give each maid their own subplot to add to the show's overall soapiness. You immediately are inclined to call Ana Ortiz's Marisol Duarte the leading character in this piece because she is placed directly in the main murder plot which is the best structured plot in the piece. More than that, her interactions with her employees (Brianna Brown & Brett Cullen) seem the freshest in terms or original material. Plus she gets to interact the most with the main antagonists (Wisocky & Tom Irwin), who are having so much fun delivering this campy material. There's also a likeabilty and a sense of mystery mixed in with her character which welcomes me in and wants me to learn more about her.
        The rest of the leading ladies have a much more difficult time trying to get me invested with their individual stories. The most successful of which is Dania Ramirez's Rosie Falta - and her plot is still a little too problematic for my taste. My excitement for it comes down to a handful of scenes. Her boss, Peri (Mariana Klaveno), is such a superficial stereotype and yet in that scene where Rosie was crying talking to her son and then having to try to get the pain across to her employer was a very powerful small scene. Peri will never truly understand what her maid's life is like and will only care about her when the situation betters herself in some way. Rosie is smart enough to see this and can manipulate and embarrass her during the interview which did elicit a laugh from me. The show could use some more lightness but I'm interested to see where this plot is heading. 
        Devious Maids also happens to be daytime soap star Susan Lucci's return to television. Except, it completely baffles me as to why she chose this project since her character, Genevieve Delatour (a fantastic name), is such a thankless and small role here. It just feels too similar to a character we have seen many times before. The same can be said about this whole story. Judy Reyes' Zoila Del Barrio and Edy Ganem's Valentina Del Barrio are a mother-daughter cleaning crew. Their relationship could inherently offer some fertile storytelling. But, at least in the pilot, Valentina is interacting more with Genevieve's son, Remi (Drew Van Acker). Together, they are the annoying, love-struck "teen" characters. That's a dynamic we definitely don't need to see again especially with Reyes doing her best to save this entire storyline. She's great here but is matched by problematic parts.
        While that story is completely cliché and unbearable, it at least follows some common sense and good plot pacing. The same cannot be said for the story that Sánchez's Carmen Luna is stuck in. Her one trait to play here is that she is ambitious. She will do whatever she wants to if she thinks it will get her ahead in life. It's a one-note character paired with bland and smaller personalities. The fact that she wasn't fired from her job working for Alejandro is completely unbelievable. She is only still there because the plot needs her to be despite some lack of common sense from the events that occurred in the pilot. It weighs down on suspicion of disbelief so much and doesn't present anyway for me to like or care for this character which is why I just don't.
        And although the cultural depiction will most likely garner the most conversation from this piece, it should also be noted how gender roles are played. With the exception of Irwin, the male cast barely makes an impact. Devious Maids is the biggest feminist-driven series I have seen in awhile - again the last great one probably being Desperate Housewives. I'm sure that in future episodes Grant Show and Brett Cullen will be given more to do because why else would they be cast here. However, it's kind of riveting to have a piece so strongly driven by its female characters - even though it is written by a white man (that side of the industry still has work to do). While the interactions between maid and female employer are saddled with familiar dialog, it's also very telling of what this show wants to be. It's not completely there yet but hope and potential are here in abundance. 

So what did everyone think of the premiere? Will you tune back in for episode two? Do you think the series reinforces or challenges the stereotypes? Share your thoughts in the comments.