‘Devious Maids’ is not a lot of things: a drama, a comedy, a traditional prime-time soap opera or good. Its creator, Marc Cherry (‘Desperate Housewives’) seemed to be aiming for campy, but since the show’s extreme stereotypes, over-the-top performances, and ridiculous plotlines aren’t funny, it fails in that respect as well. ‘Devious Maids’ is ‘Desperate Housewives’ meets a Telenovela with just a whiff of Pine Sol. It would seem Cherry is hoping his mystery, sudsy concoction will attract the same viewers who were so charmed by ‘Ugly Betty.’ But, ‘Ugly Betty’ was adapted from an existing hit Colombian television show ‘Yo Soy Betty La Fea’ by a Cuban-American while the Caucasian Cherry is starting from scratch. He’s also apparently making the mistake of relying solely on executive producer Eva Longoria for knowledge about working class Latina women. The rest he seems to be making up as he goes along.
The premiere episode opens at a lavish poolside party in Beverly Hills being thrown by Adrian and Evelyn Powell (Tom Irwin/Rebecca Wisocky). Inside the house, Evelyn is confronting the couple’s maid Flora (Paula Garcé) about her affair with Adrian. Evelyn tells Flora that if she doesn’t stop sleeping with her husband, she’ll have her deported. Something tells me this won’t be the only time this threat is thrown around during the show’s 13 episodes. Adrian stands in the corner with a bemused smirk on his face saying he was the victim of ongoing seduction. Evelyn doesn’t fire Flora; she only tells the maid that she will expect her to clean the windows as penitence. With frantic Latin music playing in the background, Flora quickly scribbles a note, presumably to Adrian, that he can’t just throw her away and accusing him of rape. After she finishes, Flora shoves the note into a book laying open on a desk in the study. A masked stranger with a knife enters the room, and the two tussle.
The next time viewers see Flora, she is working her way listlessly through the partygoers. She literally makes a big splash by falling face first into the pool. Blood from the mortal wound in her stomach spreads quickly throughout the water. No one yells for help, nobody jumps in to the pool and pulls her out to see if she can be revived. The guests just ooh and ahhh as if they are at a Tom Ford show during Fashion Week. A young bartender appears holding the murder weapon – case closed.
At Flora’s funeral her friends, all of whom are maids and Latin beauties, debate going to the police. Apparently, they all know some deep, dark secret about their recently deceased friend. Of course, viewers learn in quick succession that there is more to each of these women and their respective employers than meets the eye.
Rosie Falta (Dania Ramirez) is trying to get her young son Miguel into the country. Carmen Luna (Roselyn Sanchez) has strategically taken a job scrubbing the floors of a popular and handsome musician named Alejandro Rubio (Matt Cedeño) in the hopes he will discover her own musical talents. The newest maid in the neighborhood, Marisol Duarte (Ana Ortiz) has a connection to Flora. Zoila Del Barrio’s (Judy Reyes) biggest problem is her daughter Valentina’s (Edy Ganem) infatuation with her employer’s son Remi Delatour (Drew Van Acker). The character’s names all sound as if they were lifted from stories written by creative writing students taking a class at the local community college.
Wherever there’s a working maid, there is somebody making a mess. If the privileged employers of these women seem familiar, it is because they are lifted right off the pages of books like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘The Nanny Diaries.’ Rosie works for Peri and Spence Westmore (Mariana Klaveno/Grant Show). Peri is a mediocre film actress and Spence is a heartthrob in the realm of daytime drama if not in his own home. While Carmen works for Rubio, she answers to Odessa Burakov (Melinda Page Hamilton), a woman with a heavy German accent and a limp. If there’s any ethnicity that Cherry portrays worse than Latin Americans, it would have to be Germans. Marisol is employed by Taylor and Michael Stappord (Brianna Brown/Brett Cullen). Taylor is an insecure second wife who isn’t a fan of Marisol’s because she doesn’t have an accent and sounds like she went to college.
The worst of the lot are by far are the Powell’s. Adrian is a serial maid (insert word of choice for copulation here). Flora’s blood splatters are still all over his study when he starts developing an interest in Marisol. As Evelyn, Wisocky is stuck uttering dialogue like “Poor people like to be pretty too.” She complains to Taylor that her house is a mess, and when Taylor inquires why Evelyn doesn’t just call the agency for a replacement her response is “I tried. They gave me attitude because Flora was murdered. I’d understand if I’d had a few maids slaughtered, but I’ve only lost the one.”
Even the queen of daytime drama, Susan Lucci, who plays Zoila’s boss Genevieve Delatour, struggles to get the joke. Genevieve is grieving her youth, consumed by loneliness and awash in the knowledge that her best years are behind her. She’s so superficial that before going to the hospital after a suicide attempt, she tells her son she has to apply make-up.
There are moments of genuine earnestness, but they seem out of place in the midst of all the attempts at sardonic humor. One instance is when Rosie is on the phone trying to explain to her young son, who keeps asking when he can see her, her efforts to reunite them. Another occurs when no-nonsense Zoila tells her smitten daughter that rich boys never fall in love with the help. Something in her tone and demeanor suggests that Zoila is speaking from experience.
Despite all attempts to the contrary, ‘Devious Maids’ is not groundbreaking television. If you want to look really hard, you could say the show is a metaphor for the increasing fissure between the working and middle classes and the upper echelon of earners, but it isn’t a good one. The best thing about Lifetime’s latest original scripted program is that it has nowhere to go but up from here.