December 8, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Telenovela”


TELENOVELA:  Monday 8:30PM on NBC starting January 4 – If Nothing Else Is On…

Simply put, TELENOVELA is what Jane the Virgin would be if Jane’s vain, airheaded but good-hearted actor father Rogelio were the main character–actually, if every character were more or less Rogelio.  The show, which NBC previewed tonight to give it a one-time The Voice lead-in before it starts airing during that show’s hiatus in January, is breezy and has some laughs, but all that Rogelio gets exhausting.

The setting is behind-the-scenes at a Miami telenovela production, and our main Rogelio is Ana (Eva Longoria, a producer as well as the star).  She’s the queen bee of the show-within-the-show, presiding over an empire that includes best friends Mia (Diana-Maria Riva) and Gael (Jose Moreno Brooks), haughty but slightly faded Isabela (Alex Meneses), and co-star Rodrigo (Amaury Nolasco) and Roxie (Jadyn Douglas).  Everyone is as florid as they are insecure, and the plotlines mostly arise from one or another of them obsessing about something silly.

NBC showed the pilot and an additional episode, and there was a marked difference between the two half-hours.  The pilot, written by series creators Chrissy Pietrosh and Jessica Goldstein, from a story credited to them and Robert Harling (who was probably involved at an earlier stage of development), and directed by Steve Pink, was very much a star vehicle for Longoria, and it centered on her horrified discovery that her ex Xavier (Jencarlos Canela) was re-joining the series.  The end of the pilot suggested that her mixed-up feelings about Xavier would be a major continuing storyline, since she thought she’d gotten over him, but she hadn’t, while he’d moved on.  The script also gave Ana a running gag about the fact that despite starring in a Spanish-language TV series, she barely understood the langauge at all.

All of that was absent from the first regular episode, written by Todd Suddith and directed by Reginald Hudlin.  Ana and Xavier were working together as smoothly as anyone else, without any mention of lingering feelings between them (his obsession de jour was learning that his stunts were being performed by a woman), Ana’s incomprehension of Spanish was no longer a factor, and the plotlines were split in more conventional ensemble TV fashion.  The major stories didn’t belong to Ana, although she featured in both:  they were built around the complications of Mia sleeping with Rodrigo, and the arrival of Isabela’s evil twin sister for their shared birthday.

It’s not clear why the show’s focus changed after the pilot (or if that will continue to be the case in future episodes), but the 2d episode lacked some of the zing that Longoria gave the pilot.  The show’s bigger problem is that while the Rogelio character’s broadness on Jane the Virgin provides some spice to the more grounded personalities around him, everyone on Telenovela acts pretty much like everyone else, and the driving pace of similar gags makes the show feel somewhat one-note.

Nevertheless, as NBC sitcoms go, Telenovela at least has some distinctiveness, with a likable cast led by a genuine star who’s willing to look foolish for laughs.  If the series can vary its rhythms and introduce some new tones, it could prove itself a worthwhile midseason change of pace.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."