'Telenovela': TV Review
NBC's bland new sitcom starring Eva Longoria tries, and fails, to do what "Jane the Virgin" does so brilliantly.
There are exactly two reasons for NBC's Telenovela to be on the air: the return of Eva Longoria, who doesn't get enough credit for being effortlessly good in whatever she does; and more diversity on network television, continuing a recent and long-overdue trend.
But while Telenovela employs a lot of Latin actors, it doesn't give them enough good lines to make the latest entry in the Too Much Television universe worth your time. It's one thing to play on the notion of the telenovela as an art form; it's quite another to do so in a world where The CW's Jane the Virgin is already giving a weekly master class in how that's done. And while it's perfectly fine to have more than one series kinda-sorta attempt the same thing, this isn't even the type of battle that qualifies as a rivalry. Whereas Jane the Virgin is flawlessly firing on all cylinders in its second season (a wonderful continuation of the impressive work it did last season), Telenovela offers up stale variations on the same subject, only in a half-hour form (that sometimes feels painfully longer).
It's not that Telenovela is some embarrassing new entry in an already crowded TV market — there have been plenty of those recently, particularly on the broadcast network side of things. It's just not very good. These days, time is the most precious commodity for beleaguered viewers, and so the kiss of death is to give them 30 minutes of people trying too hard to make a concept work and failing to find any liftoff in the process. Delving into a couple of extra episodes revealed the same problem — Telenovela never fails to break a sweat in its attempt to create something interesting or funny, but all that effort falls wincingly short of its goal.
Longoria stars as Ana Sofia, the over-the-top glamorous center of a long-running telenovela that gets a little frothier when her real-life ex Xavier (Jencarlos Canela) is added to the cast. Unfortunately, there's no real chemistry between them as actors or characters, a problem seen throughout Telenovela. Diana Maria Riva as the wardrobe queen and best friend to Ana Sofia probably works best, with Gael (Jose Moreno Brooks) as the hunky gay side character rounding out the trio of on-set friends who manage the drama that envelops Ana Sofia's life.
But that drama isn't very interesting. It seems ... manufactured. And not in a wink-wink way, like on Jane the Virgin. Oh, sure, Telenovela has Isabela (Alex Meneses), the aging soap star pushed to the side years ago by Ana Sofia; central-casting villain Rodrigo (Amaury Nolasco); ditzy supporting actress Roxie (Jadyn Douglas); and offbeat show writer Isaac (Izzy Diaz). Viewers get peeks at all of their heavy-handed characters, but nothing here lands as either interesting, funny or something you'll want to revisit.
Telenovela is not bad, per se, just bland, despite the game effort and welcome presence of Longoria. And in this current TV environment, you can't be bland. Especially if there's a show that already does what you do exceptionally well — and could use some new viewers.
Airdate: Monday, Dec. 7, 10 p.m. ET/PT (NBC)
Created and written by: Chrissy Pietrosh, Jessica Goldstein
Cast: Eva Longoria, Diana Maria Riva, Jencarlos Canela, Jose Moreno Brooks, Amaury Nolasco