Monday, June 24, 2013

Pilot Review: Devious Maids

Devious Maids (Sundays at 10:00 on Lifetime)

I watched this pilot nearly a week ago and had every intention of putting up a review before last night's premiere date. But Devious Maids, the new soap from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry, instilled me with such lethargy that I just kept putting it off and putting it off, and suddenly the thing had premiered without my review ever being written, let alone posted. That should tell you something of how I feel about Lifetime's new summer series.

Devious Maids was originally ordered to pilot by ABC in 2012, but the network passed on it... and with good reason. But then Lifetime swooped in a few months later and saved the show from the discard pile, and we now get the finished product a year later. The story, based on the Mexican format Ellas son la Alegria del Hogar which is itself based on Cherry's own Desperate Housewives (I know, it's already too confusing), follows an endless cast of Latina/Hispanic women working as maids for the snobbish elite of Beverly Hills. There's Marisol (Ana Ortiz, Ugly Betty), an educated woman who takes a job as the replacement maid to a wealthy family whose former employee was murdered; there's Zoila (Judy Reyes, Scrubs), the primary maid to Genevieve (Susan Lucci... yes, the Susan Lucci), a drug-and-plastic-surgery addicted cougar, and her teenage daughter Valentina (Edy Ganem), who is in love with her employer's son; there's Carmen (Roselyn Sanchez, Without a Trace), who recently took a job working for a Latin pop star in order to play her music for him; and there's Rosie (Dania Ramirez, The Sopranos), a single mom looking for a way to bring her child to the US from Mexico.

As you can tell, Devious Maids is more a collection of characters than a series with a driving plot. The murder of a maid in the show's opening minutes connects the main characters, but rarely are any of the cast together in any given scene. The pilot is instead relegated to scene upon scene of the minority maids being subjected to the cruelty of their white employers. I understand; these people and these situations probably do exist. The cloying and obtuse white women of the country's most desired zip code probably do treat their help this way, and it's great to see a show from the perspective of the maids. But their stories are also completely ludicrous, and their presentation is so melodramatic that it's parodic. Director Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) was clearly going for the feel of a telenovela, but the way those series are acted, directed, and written are very different from American primetime soaps. The melodrama and theatrics are jarring, especially since not every performance is at the same level. Susan Lucci is the most over-the-top, though at least she seems to get how inherently ridiculous her character is, but it makes Reyes and Ganem seem like they're in a different show because they're so subdued next to her. Ramirez's character also feels out of place because her struggle is so dark, while everything else is bright, sunny, quick-witted, and silly. Rosie is facing an issue which likely haunts many domestic or low-wage workers in the US, but it's a fault of Cherry and McGuigan that it is unpalatable and awkward.

The rest of the performances are fine, and Cherry's script is sometimes fun, but Devious Maids just isn't bringing anything new to the table. It's a direct rip-off of Desperate Housewives (it's even produced by that show's breakout star, Eva Longoria), and that's not exactly what audiences want right now. Housewives fell precipitously in its last few seasons, both in ratings and in quality, so why would audiences want to immediately revisit the same format and feeling that became so stale? Devious Maids recycles an idea no one was clamoring to watch in the first place, and it doesn't even do it all that well. The direction is subpar, the performances are uneven, and the central plot point (the murder) is a tired retread devoid of any excitement or curiousity. Plus, all the stereotyping of both the Latina housekeepers and the white employers becomes tiresome and even offensive after a while. There are more salacious, entertaining, and exciting shows to occupy you this summer; no need to waste any time on Devious Maids.

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