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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DEVIOUS MAIDS Not Desperate

Article first published as DEVIOUS MAIDS Not Desperate on TheTVKing.

Reading the description and seeing the artwork for Lifetime's new series (originally intended to air on ABC), Devious Maids, one may assume that it is basically a remake of creator Mark Cherry's previous venture, Desperate Housewives. After watching this week's "Pilot," there are some obvious similarities to point out, such as sudsy, over-the-top, humorous, dark drama, and the banding together of women who can relate to one another, but also face their own problems alone. The opening of the first episode concerns a women dying in an unpleasant way. Plus, it boasts a large contingent of characters in multiple households, with many plot lines, weaving together and occasionally connecting.

Yet, Devious Maids also feels different. The cast and setting and environment are different. There's an examination of class interaction, with both maids and the rich employers they work for featured. There are different personalities, and a more sinister tone. It is more than just Desperate Housewives: Latina Style.

The "Pilot" begins with the murder of a maid named Flora (Paula Garces, The Shield), who works for the Powells. Mrs. Powell (Rebecca Wisocky, The Mentalist) is a cold woman, and has discovered that Mr. Powell (Tom Irwin, Saving Grace) is sleeping with Flora. The viewers know right away the Powells are innocent, though, at least of personally committing the crime, having been dancing amid a crowd when the deed goes down. Mrs. Powell is content to let an innocent bartender, Eddie (Eddie Hassell, The Kids Are All Right), go down for the deed, rather than have her family's dirty laundry aired in public.

Mrs. Powell isn't the only member of the upper crust who is fine with stepping on the people she hires, unconcerned about their lives or feelings. Peri Westmore (Mariana Klaveno, True Blood) has no compassion for her maid, Rosie (Dania Ramirez, Heroes), whose child is still back in her homeland. In fact, Peri insults Rosie on television for "abandoning" her kid, than claims that she herself is a fantastic mother, taking credit for Rosie's work. And Taylor (Brianna Brown, General Hospital) thinks new hire Marisol (Ana Ortiz, Ugly Betty) just can't relate to her lifestyle enough to give her meaningful advice, though Marisol is obviously more than your typical house cleaner.

It's this type of class warfare that is both appealing to an audience, giving them a villain to root against and feel better about their own lives, and also starts to paint a simplistic picture. Rosie is a much more authentic, layered character than Peri or Mrs. Powell. However, what Devious Maids trades for complexity in certain characters is a funny style that proves quite entertaining.

Besides, not all of the bosses are terrible. Alejandro (Matt Cedeno, Days of Our Lives) might actually be able to help Carmen's (Roselyn Sanchez, Without a Trace) singing career if his assistant, Odessa (Melinda Page Hamilton, Mad Men), would get out of the way. Valentina (Edy Ganem, Livin' Loud) flirts with her boss's son, Remi (Drew Van Acker), who seems amenable.

But there's still a definite divide between the haves and the have-nots, and it doesn't just come from the upper crust. Valentina's mother, Zoila (Judy Reyes, Scrubs), does everything she can to stop Valentina from messing with Remi, basically saying that the two groups don't mix, and it won't end well. Is this bitterness learned from Zoila's mistakes, or is it because these people are just not compatible with one another, being from such vastly differently backgrounds?

Still, Carmen's motivation to become a rich and famous singer proves that not everyone is content to stay where they are, and with her boss being Latino himself, the divide is based more on income and careers than race. Thus, varying viewpoints and ideas are represented, and Devious Maids does a good job covering all of the bases.

I like that, as much as what separates the characters figures into their situations, that isn't all there is to the series. It's much more about the secrets and lies and intrigue. Marisol, in particular, is very interesting, raising all kinds of flags before her major secret is revealed at the end of the first hour.

The cast is pretty good, although the soap opera resumes of many (but not all) of the cast, including daytime legend Susan Lucci (All My Children), shows a little. Considering the network that the series airs on and those soapy elements, it will have to work hard to straddle the line between the higher primetime bar and the delicious, gossipy twists that make up its DNA, and can so easily become cheesy. The first episode does a pretty solid job of doing so, certainly the best thing I've seen on Lifetime, so I am cautiously optimistic about its future, assuming it maintains the quality it intended to put on network TV, even though it is now on a cable channel not known for acclaimed programming.

Devious Maids airs Sundays 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

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