Novelas often get a bad rap, and honestly speaking, it’s not completely undeserved. The serials are not short on misogyny or handsome rich types saving the day for the poor. They do little to represent large swathes of the U.S. Latino and Latin American population. As it stands, seeing a lead with a little melanin remains a novelty.
At the same time, they are one of the few formats on U.S. television specifically targeted at a Spanish-speaking audience. And, if you’re like me, they formed part of your nighttime routine with your family – even if the stories weren’t exactly family friendly.
Telenovelas have gained a following worldwide. Professor Carolina Acosta-Alzuru told NPR in 2013 that when it comes to melodrama, it’s not just Latinos who are drawn like moths to a flame. “I teach a class here at the University of Georgia called Telenovelas, Culture, and Society, which the students, for the most part, are not Latino,” she said. “And they get totally hooked with telenovelas, totally hooked with the meanings, the melodrama of it, because melodrama is universal. Latin America did not invent the melodrama. Latin America invented the telenovela, that’s different.”
The serial dramas are exported to about 120 countries, and have become important to people outside of Latin America. Acosta-Alzuru explains that when Marimar – the second of Thalia’s Maria trilogy – aired, the Ivory Coast scheduled their Ramadan prayer time around the show’s finale. And – whether or not they realize it – U.S. audiences have also embraced novela-level melodrama, specifically through many of Shonda Rhimes’ ABC shows. (FYI, Grey’s Anatomy became A corazón abierto – a 160-episode telenovela made in Colombia.)
Telenovelas have also made their way onto English-language primetime TV – both as remakes of popular Spanish-language programs and as the shows some of our favorite fictional characters faithfully watch. And though Jane the Virgin and Ugly Betty have endlessly entertained us, sometimes, it’s what’s in the background (like whatever Rogelio De La Vega is doing when he’s at work) that is most true to the genre.
But these fictional novelas-within-TV shows also leave us with a lot of questions. After years of trying to fill in the gaps, here are seven fake novelas that should be made into real thing.
Las Leyes de Pasión on Telenovela
Las Leyes de Pasión follows Pasión (played by Ana Sofia who is played by Eva Longoria), a lawyer who is thrown into all sorts of improbable situations. It’s difficult to follow the story, because it’s literally in the very background, but Pasión runs around dressed like she’s going to an award show every day of her life.
Also, the show’s writers don’t seem to care too much about what’s going on, which is how Leyes ended up having a pregnant Amaury Nolasco. And best of all, if it actually existed, we could see how Eva’s Spanish progresses after 150+ episodes. (The premise of Telenovela is that Ana Sofia is the star of a Spanish-language show, but can’t actually speak Spanish.)
The Passion of Santos on Jane the Virgin
Jane Villanueva (Gina Rogriguez) and her grandmother, Alba, religiously watched The Passion of Santos, which starred Rogelio (Jaime Camil) as Santos, the lavender suit wearing president of North Ecuaduras – which is presumably a mashup of Ecuadorian and Honduran culture. Santos and his love interest, Blanca, are separated at sea and deal with everything thrown at them before reuniting. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see how all the obstacles played out.
Though Rogelio has already moved onto his next project, The Passion of Santos still lives on. The Jane the Virgin production team authorized a digital fan fiction-style backstory on Wattpad, which makes The Passion of Santos real. (Read it here.) Now, it just needs a full TV adaptation.
Vidas de Fuego on Ugly Betty
Ninel Conde and Sebastián Rulli used their Televisa backgrounds to entertain the Suarez family with Vidas de Fuego. From the small clips shown on Ugly Betty, it’s clear the show revolves around the forbidden love between Esmeralda, a maid, and Pedro, a priest/thief/murderer. A secondary story follows Sofia, a woman intent on seducing her futbolista stepson.
ABC did right by Ugly Betty viewers by making Vidas de Fuego a reality with a six-part mini (mini) webseries. However, this format – where each episode was only three minutes long – didn’t allow the plot to be fully fleshed out. They are pretty WTF – like when Esmeralda’s twin sister impersonates her and creates a baby bump out of a soccer ball – but they are sadly no longer on ABC’s website. However, someone summarized the short series on Wikipedia, and it’s screaming for a real ending.
El Amor Prohibido on Arrested Development
El Amor Prohibido is so good it captivates Buster Bluth, despite his inability to grasp the Spanish language. Mostly, it is because of his crush on Marta (the second Marta played by Patricia Velasquez, not the original Marta played by Leonor Varela), but Buster seems to pick up stuff from the show.
The plot is mostly undecipherable – there’s a nurse (played by Marta) and a redheaded boy with lots of freckles is one of her patients. The title seems to point to a possibly icky relationship (forbidden love) between the medical staff and their child patients. Marta ends up losing the Desi award for her role as the nurse that she was nominated for, but that’s probably because no one got to see the entire show.
Tiago a Través del Tiempo on Jane the Virgin
Sci-fi is not a theme often explored in the telenovela world, but in Tiago a Través del Tiempo, Tiago (a.k.a Rogelio de la Vega) travels to important moments in history via a time portal. He takes part in the suffragette movement, and becomes the world’s first male feminist. He ends up leaving and breaking Susan B. Anthony’s heart after women win the right to vote in the United States.
Tiago a Través del Tiempo is inching in on the world of time-traveling Doctor Who, and similarly, Tiago visits many of the important historical events – but somehow wherever he ends up, everyone speaks Spanish.
Los Amantes Clandestinos on 30 Rock
Los Amantes Clandestinos featured a Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) lookalike playing the evil El Generalissimo. Jack Donaghy tries to get the lookalike actor fired, because his girlfriend’s grandmother hates the character, and in turn Jack because of the resemblance.
On the show, El Generalissimo goes from tricking a woman to fall in love with him by reading her mail and learning about her interests to him romancing an older woman. Baldwin has now been married to Spanish yoga instructor Hilaria Baldwin for four years, so he can probably handle the intense filming in Spanish by now.
Las Drogas del Amor from Orphan Black
Unlike the others, Las Drogas del Amor is not a novela within a show. Instead, the BBC created the parody trailer to promote their show Orphan Black at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Using footage that centers on the relationship between Donnie and Alison, the trailer feaures a Spanish-language narrator and a nod to many of the genre’s tropes. Orphan Black – which has Sarah Manning learn someone is trying to off her and her clones – lends itself well to the novela format. Plus, it’d be interesting to see how Canada fills out 100+ episodes of the show.