'Grand Hotel': TV Review

All froth, no fun.
6/17/2019

ABC's bland summer soap offers viewers an inside view of a family-run Miami hotel.

There are few conceits richer than setting your television show within the hospitality industry. The goings-on of a dysfunctional hotel (or inn or love cruise) are rife with elements that make for dynamic longform entertainment: a beautiful building full of secrets; roller coaster business ventures; dichotomous upstairs/downstairs intrigue; and the perennial revolving door of guest stars — in the form of new patrons — ranging from wacky to sexy to enigmatic. Yet few hotel series stay on air, and even fewer remain in the cultural consciousness beyond a Fawlty Towers here or there. Glamour may only be wall-deep.

ABC's Grand Hotel is as slick and straight-faced as you can possibly get for a sensual soap based on a high-key Spanish period drama. International phenomenon Gran Hotel, the Downton Abbey of Spain, originally ran from 2011-2013 before being remade in Italy, Mexico, Egypt and now the U.S. from executive producer Eva Longoria (Telenovela, Devious Maids). The series is set at a luxury seaside hotel in the early 1900s, but here producers have decided all that historical stuff is too cobwebby for American audiences, electing to update the story to modern-day Miami and rendering it as about unique as a tanned hard body perched on South Beach.

Oscar nominee and telenovela veteran Demián Bichir (A Better Life, The Bridge) stars as Santiago Mendoza, the resolute paterfamilias of a long-standing family-run Miami Beach resort facing financial ruin long after its 1950s glory days. When his golden-child daughter Alicia (Denyse Tontz) returns home with a fresh Cornell MBA in hand and the green assumption that she will eventually run the Riviera Grand one day, Santiago must balance his daughter's hopes, his second wife's ambitions and his shady creditors' expectations in order to keep his business afloat.

But Santiago's troubles are only just one tendril of this sprawling summertime telenovela, which mainly fuels itself on the mysterious disappearance of a chef named Sky (Arielle Kebbel), who was snatched from the hotel during a hurricane after a confrontation with Santiago's glitzy wife Gigi (Roselyn Sanchez). Other key players: new employee Danny (Lincoln Younes), a sweet-faced audience proxy with secrets of his own; Santiago's right-hand man Mateo (Shalim Ortiz), a smooth-talker about as trustworthy as Aladdin's Jafar; and Gigi's dimwit twin daughters Carolina and Yolanda (Feliz Ramirez and Justina Adorno), who must contend with being dimwits. Elsewhere, Santiago's dilettante son Javi (Bryan Craig), a playboy who frequently uses his prosthetic leg and ersatz stories of heroism to seduce beautiful guests, faces dreaded responsibility when a desperate staff maid claims he impregnated her.

There's no one objectionable here, which may actually be the problem. Even the standout Sanchez in the traditional wicked stepmother/femme fatale role is sympathetic, a woman who seems to truly love her husband and wants to work hard to elevate their business together. ("How many more years, Santiago, before you see me as more than your trophy wife?" she slices right into him during an argument.) And Alicia may be positioned as a naïf who idealizes her dead mother and strives to do the right thing for her family, but she's no goodie-two-shoes, as evidenced by a deliciously devious choice she makes at the end of the pilot. Where are the inexorable villains to fear or the venal HBICs to admire?

ABC is traditionally the network of camp, which is why it's so disappointing that Grand Hotel proffers even its goofiest storylines with earnest, priggish timidity. (The biggest problem facing the Mendoza family in the first four episodes? A demanding, egotistical rapper who becomes the hotel's artist-in-residence to boost profits.) Thus, it's no coincidence that TV's most successful international soap remakes — such as ABC's Ugly Betty or The CW's Jane the Virgin — deliberately play with kitsch and comedy alongside traditional melodrama. (That being said, Grand Hotel thankfully does not take itself nearly as seriously as USA's thriller Queen of the South.) 

I found myself wanting a more heightened sensorial experience: more epic plotline silliness, more production design grandeur and more invigorating musical cues beyond routine Top 40. Just something to hook my brain. Aside from its strong majority-Latinx cast, one of the few on television, there's just nothing innovative here. Grand Hotel is all froth, no fun.     

Cast: Demián Bichir, Denyse Tontz, Roselyn Sanchez, Bryan Craig, Lincoln Younes, Feliz Ramirez, Justina Adorno, Anne Winters, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Chris Warren, Shalim Ortiz, Jencarlos Canela, Arielle Kebbel, Eva Longoria
Executive producers: Brian Tanen, Eva Longoria, Ben Spector, Bob Daily, Bill D’Elia, Ramón Campos, Teresa Fernández-Valdés
Premieres: Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (ABC)