Predictable turns mar series from Marc Cherry, Eva Longoria
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticemail@example.com June 19, 2013 5:18PM
‘DEVIOUS MAIDS’ ★1/2
9 to 10 p.m. Sundays on Lifetime
Updated: June 19, 2013 6:39PM
Lifetime’s new series “Devious Maids” debuts Sunday, but this show about five Latina housekeepers in Beverly Hills has already caused some drama.
Accusations that it perpetuates the Latina maid stereotype started flying soon after the pilot was ordered last year by ABC. The network ended up taking a pass on the project — a move that came as a bit of a shocker since it hails from Marc Cherry and Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives” fame.
Female-friendly Lifetime swooped in to pick up the series and rolled out a “Devious Maids” teaser trailer a few weeks ago. The minute-long spot features the show’s stars in skimpy uniforms serving champagne and spilling cleavage, sparking more outrage online. A Huffington Post blogger called the show a “wasted opportunity” to diversify the roles played by Latinas.
An indignant Longoria shot back: “The stereotype we are grappling with here is that as Latinas, all we are is maids. And yet, this is a show that deconstructs the stereotype by showing us that maids are so much more.”
If only the show itself were as interesting as the backstory.
The maids are more tedious than devious in this hourlong dramedy loosely based on a Mexican telenovela. The housekeepers’ schemes and plots, which range from harmless to noble, tend to have all the sophistication of a middle-schooler. Twists and turns are telegraphed well in advance, leaving little room for surprise.
The series’ hook is a rather uninspiring whodunit: A maid is murdered at a fancy pool party, prompting the Cruella de Vil-esque hostess to break down because a dead housekeeper means no one’s there to clean up the blood.
The ensemble cast stars Ana Ortiz (“Ugly Betty”), Dania Ramirez (“Entourage”), Roselyn Sanchez (“Without a Trace”), Edy Ganem (“Livin’ Loud”) and Judy Reyes (“Scrubs”) as five domestics working for rich, famous and largely despicable homeowners living in the tony 90210 zip code.
Susan Lucci (“All My Children”) plays a flighty, self-absorbed pill-popper who looks like Mother Teresa compared to some of the other employers. Peri (Mariana Klaveno, “True Blood”) is a conniving actress whose facials take precedence over everything, including her baby. The reigning queen of mean is Evelyn (Rebecca Wisocky, “The Mentalist”), whose husband Adrian (Steppenwolf Theatre stalwart Tom Irwin) has been bedding the help, prompting this gentle warning:
“I think what you people do is heroic,” Evelyn says to Flora, the maid (Paula Garces, “The Shield”). “You wash clothes you can’t afford. You polish silver you will never dine with. You mop floors for people who don’t bother to learn your last name and still you dare to dream of a better life. I am in awe of your determination to succeed in this great country of ours. That said, if you don’t stop screwing my husband I’m going to have you deported. Comprende?”
Cherry, who created “Desperate Housewives,” could pull off this kind of melodramatic campiness in that show — when it was firing on all cylinders. In “Devious Maids,” it’s overdone, gratuitous and often unfunny.
On a telenovela, everything is turned up a notch or 10. But that doesn’t mean the characters have to be as black and white as a French maid’s uniform, with the housekeepers coming off largely as saints — sexy saints dressed like they should be walking the runway, not sweeping it.
Arming Latinas with feather dusters and dirty laundry isn’t the only stereotype at work in “Devious Maids.” The first two episodes are littered with cliches, set to the strumming of Spanish guitars. Rich, older white men lust after the help. The poor girl has a Cinderella crush on the princely college kid. Lucci’s character is a cougar; her prey, the pool boy.
The maid trope initially irked Ortiz.
“I was like, really? ‘Devious Maids?’ ” Ortiz said during a recent visit to Chicago, where she and Longoria attended a screening of the pilot. “I understand the reaction we’re getting from some people.”
Ortiz said she changed her mind after reading the script and falling for her character, Marisol, an educated woman who goes undercover as a maid to get to the bottom of Flora’s murder.
“These are women who deserve to have their story told,” Ortiz said about Latina maids. “My grandmother cleaned houses her whole life. Judy’s mother was a housecleaner her whole life. My grandmother had one of the most exciting lives I know.”
Marisol’s fellow maids are played by actresses Ortiz is used to going up against in auditions. The fact that they’re all starring in one series is progress, she said.
“This is five Latin women in the lead of a show,” Ortiz said. “We’re making history.”
The actresses do a good job, too. It’s just a shame they have to do it in a largely dull, predictable show where it’s impossible for them to shine, no matter how hard they clean and scrub.