Dissecting ‘Devious Maids’: Episode 1 Review

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The past few months Latina bloggers have focused their attention on the Lifetime adaptation of a Mexican novela called Devious Maids. Produced by Eva Longoria and written by Marc Cherry (creator of Desperate Housewives) it stars a host of talented and accomplished Latina actresses: Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Roselyn Sanchez (Without A Trace), Dania Ramirez (Heroes), and Judy Reyes (Scrubs). The blogosphere is up in arms about this new show. So what is the hubbub about?

It is the first time that a primetime English-language television program showcases an all-Latina main cast. Isn’t that a good thing? Well, um… they are all maids. Some fear the show may feed into stereotypes and wish there was a more complex and diverse depiction of Latinos. Others are glad to see a show that features Latinos in a sympathetic way, regardless of their profession. And there is also the argument that criticism of the show is couched is classist undertones. After all there is nothing wrong with being a maid, right? And so goes the ongoing cyber-debate. In the past few days it’s gotten even more heated.

Here’s a recap of the internet chatter:

A month ago Tanisha Ramirez wrote a scathing review of the teaser trailer and called the show, “a wasted opportunity.” She goes on to say, “The minute-long trailer manages to efficiently portray Latinas as hypersexual, nosy, scheming and, at times, totally invisible domestic servants, one set of pushed-up breasts, devilishly squinted eyes and sassy hair flip at a time.”

Within days Eva Longoria shot back on Huffington Post saying, “There’s No Such Thing as a Wasted Opportunity.” She vehemently defended the show, “As an executive producer, I choose to break the cycle of ignorance by bringing to light something we have not seen before, a deeper, more complex side to the women who live beyond the box that some choose to put them in. The only way to break a stereotype is to not ignore it. 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.”

After watching the pilot episode Michelle Herrera Mulligan, editor-in-chief of Cosmo For Latinas, wrote, ”It’s not a complex portrait; it’s an insulting disgrace. I believe it does a tremendous disservice to the 20 million-plus Latina female population living in the United States.” In other words, she hated it.

And then Alisa Valdes, best-selling author of The Dirty Girls Social Club, chimed in. In her piece entitled, “The problem with “Devious Maids” goes far beyond Hollywood” she deconstructs the mainstream media’s representation of Latinas, “It’s not just that Hollywood sees Latinas as one-dimensional, subservient sex objects; it is that this is how our nation has historically viewed all of the native peoples in the Americas, including the vast portions of this country that were once part of Mexico and Spain.” I found her criticism of the show right-on and applaud her astute analysis of the role that politics plays in the media. But, what about the show, is it really as terrible as everyone thinks?

As far as I can tell most of the people who have written about the show haven’t seen it yet. I got a chance to preview the first episode in advance of its June 23 premiere. I’ll be honest, I wanted to hate it. I wanted to tear it to shreds and call it stereotypical garbage but it turns out, it’s not as bad as we all thought. Here are a couple of reasons why I think the critics got it wrong.

In the original Mexican novela everyone is Latino: bosses and maids. In the English version only the maids are Latino.

Actually, that’s not true. Well, sorta not true. The majority of the bosses are rich and white but one of them, Alejandro (Matt Cedeño, Days of Our Lives), is a Latino pop star. Roselyn Sanchez plays an aspiring singer who takes the a job as his maid in hopes of getting close to Alejandro. It’s worth noting that the rest of his domestic staff is not Latino. Odessa, a hard-ass Russian with a limp runs the house and one of the workers is black. That’s sorta diverse, right?

The portrait of the Latina maids is simplistic and stereotypical.

I didn’t find this to be entirely true. Some of the maids have Spanish accents, some of them don’t. They are not invisible or timid. In fact, I found the depiction of the bosses to be simplistic. The rich white folk are mostly demonized and portrayed as vapid, ignorant, and utterly unhappy. Evelyn, an affluent white woman, confronts her maid Flora after finding out about her husband’s infidelities, “I think what you people do is heroic. 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 am going to have you deported, comprende?” Evelyn is condescending and hateful, clearly the show’s villain. The audience is obviously meant to dislike her.

Lest you might get offended of their portrayal of rich white people, the show proves to be an equal-opportunity hater. Alejandro, the one Latino rich guy, is a jerk too. On her first day he tells his new maid Carmen (played by Sanchez), “Hopefully you won’t steal the silver.” He’s a major douchetino (yeah, I made that word up.)

Like expected the storylines hinge on class differences and simplistic stereotypes, they just tip a little bit in favor of the servant class.

Just to be clear, I’m not giving the show a glowing review, it’s kinda like a crappy Desperate Housewives Latina redux. I, along with every other Latina, rolled my eyes when I heard that the show was about maids. But, I think it’s important to give the show a chance and to look at it critically. Let’s dissect what it does right and what it does wrong. Then we can be better prepared to demand the kind of television programming we want to watch.

Devious Maids premieres Sunday, June 23 at 10:00 p.m. on Lifetime.