A funny thing happened in the twenty-first century. Telenovelas, which had long been the most successful Latin American cultural exports, began bleeding into American prime time. There was Ugly Betty, of course, which was a literal remake of Colombia’s global sensation Yo soy Betty la fea. There was Desperate Housewives, which borrowed heavily from daytime soaps. More recently, shows like Jane the Virgin (which ends this year after five seasons) and the short-lived Telenovela (starring Eva Longoria) have put telenovelas front and center. The genre was both their inspiration and their structuring template. If those latter two shows come to mind while watching ABC’s Grand Hotel it’s because, like the former, it is set in a lavish Miami hotel, and like the latter, it features Longoria both in front of and behind the camera. And while this is a remake of a Spanish period drama, there’s no denying that a show like Gran Hotel (or Velvet, or even Downton Abbey, for that matter) was but a telenovela in fancy old-timey clothing.
Which brings us to the all too sunny and all too contemporary Grand Hotel. We don’t open with the sea-blue skies or the swaying palm trees — which come in a while later to remind us we’re in South Beach — but with a hurricane. And, much like in the original, we open with a mysterious disappearance. One which may hold the key to the many secrets hidden at the Riviera Grand. A young woman who threatens to reveal what hotel owner Santiago Mendoza (Demián Bichir) did, is quickly taken out by an unseen character. A month later, her story is but hallway gossip, the mighty Mendoza family having buried the story so as to keep business flowing. Besides, they’re all focused on the upcoming wedding between Mendoza’s stepdaughter Carolina (Feliz Ramirez) and a potential buyer of the family-owned hotel. As is often the case in these scenarios, Mendoza’s daughter Alicia (Denyse Tontz), newly-MBA-minted from Cornell, is appalled by such a decision: the hotel was her mother’s, after all. To lose it would be to lose her memory (Longoria plays the Mendoza matriarch in flashbacks). Alicia will do everything she can to keep the hotel in the family, even if it means dealing with the shady people her father owes money to.
Further peppering the roster of impossibly beautiful people that make up Grand Hotel‘s ensemble are: Roselyn Sanchez as the bitchy Mendoza stepmother, Justina Adorno, as her other daughter Yoli, Bryan Craig as Alicia’s playboy brother Javi, Wendy Raquel Robinson as hotel manager Mrs. P., Chris Warren as her son, also a worker in the hotel, and Lincoln Younes as Danny, whose perfectly chiseled abs immediately catch Alicia’s eyes, even if they belong to a newly hired waiter. Committed as it is to depicting a Miami that’s dazzling, the brightly-lit and aquamarine-tinted world of the Riviera Grand is a perfect backdrop for what’s a fun and light summer show. One that has its share of backstabbing, cheating, and lying to fill a season’s worth of drama. In the pilot episode alone you get: a meet-cute by the pool, a fistfight at a wedding, a daytime steamy hook up, a very public cheating scandal, an unplanned pregnancy scare, and a Miami rapper going ballistic over some spilled drinks on his very expensive shirt while J Balvin’s “Mi Gente” plays in the background. This has summer binge-watch written all over it.
Where shows like Jane the Virgin and Telenovela depended on a distancing framework to import the trappings of telenovela-like storylines into prime-time English-language TV, Grand Hotel hopes instead that you will be invested in the Mendoza family and their many salacious secrets without too much irony. That explains why it’s has recruited a cast that can evoke the over-the-top theatrics such a show requires. Lest we forget, before Bichir was an Oscar-nominated actor, he was starring in telenovelas like El rincón de los prodigios and Lazos de Amor. It’s why his Santiago feels so grounded even as the characters around him (a picture-perfect wife who’s all too conniving, a pair of stepdaughters who look down on his dear Alicia, a son who lost his leg in a mysterious, yet-to-be-explained accident) play into rather broad stereotypes. Similarly, Tontz and Younes have both taken part in daytime soaps (she in All My Children, he in Australia’s Home and Away). That kind of training comes in handy when needing to play people who instantly fall for one another yet have to keep their attraction a secret since it is, as we’re reminded over and over again, forbidden.
The final moments of the pilot — which reveal to us why it is that Younes’ Danny is at the Riviera Grand in the first place — make it clear that Grand Hotel will lean heavily on its whodunit plot. Its final long shot all but works as a who’s who of suspects, with the camera panning all over the hotel lobby giving us one good look at the sprawling ensemble we’ve just met. How you feel about the reveal and whether you’ll be compelled to keep watching will come down to how much you enjoy watching gorgeous people glaring at each other while wearing fabulous clothing. A breezy watch that offers just enough new thrills to make it onto your summer watch list, Grand Hotel may not reinvent the telenovela wheel but it sure knows how to make it roll.
Grand Hotel premieres June 17 at 10 p.m. on ABC.