Since Jane The Virgin broke out (sort of) two years ago at The CW, networks fantasize about having their own latino-fueled soap opera. Ugly Betty is long gone now but creator Silvio Horta tried to rekindle the flame last year at NBC with pilot The Curse of the Fuentes Women, which was a funny and sexually-charged proposal that didn’t go to series (read the preview). ABC is back at it this year with The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez, that you could easily billed as a “latino Revenge with a supernatural twist” or, as the network prefers to call it “McBeth with a Cuban twist”. Classier. But it means the same thing: “we want to sweep the latino american community off their feet and most importantly off their spanish speaking channels like Univision & Telemundo, which draw big ratings every night”. Needless to say, it’s not that easy and the charm of telenovelas lies in their cheap setting, cheap dialogues, cheap actors (as long as they are beautiful), cheap everything… The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez won’t be cheap (even if ABC Studios can be sometimes) but it has its own weird charm and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of us fall in its trap, at least initially.
My main problems with the show are its title (that still can change – who wants to watch something called The death of… honestly?) and its longtime perspective that doesn’t go very far. Listen: it starts with a flashforward –Revenge style- where, you guessed it, our heroin Eva Sofia Valdez dies. There’s blood all over her white gown. She was just shot in the gut by an unknown assailant after she put the Monrose Rum Distillery on fire. Of course, she can survive this and maybe she will if the show works but then, the title doesn’t make any sense, even though sooner or later the woman will die, like every one of us. Then we jump to present day and it’s only “six months earlier”! And Eva Sofia’s daughter Isabel’s voiceover makes it clear: “This is the story of my mother“. So my question is: how can a show last more than one 22-episode season when its heroine -whose full name is on the title- dies in the end of it? I know, I shouldn’t give myself a headache over this, but you have to admit this title needs to change. Badly.
So, what works in there? Many things. On paper. I’m not sure this mix of genres can translate that easily on screen. That’s the real challenge for the production team and the director (and the cast of course). The writer decided to take a dangerous and risky road. Remember NBC supernatural daytime soap Passions (1999-2008)? There’s a bit of that. Kudos for trying. The pilot is unusual and definitely weird, especially when the supernatural elements are introduced at some point. It’s sort of ridiculous, but the kind of ridiculous that makes you want to watch more. Just to see how far they’re ready to go. We’re not in a straight supernatural environment. We’re in Florida nowadays, in the world of the rich and the famous, and everything changes the day three very strange women enter Eva Sofia’s life. Are they witches? That’s what we are led to believe. For sure, they’re bitches. They don’t only bring black magic to the table and a possible curse to our heroin, they also add humor when all those people start to treat themselves a little bit too seriously. A breath of not so fresh air. They are not “Wilhelmina-funny” but they fell from the same tree. That’s pretty much the only supernatural element, if you consider that the cliffhanger is more in the realm of mental illness… And that’s debatable!
In the funny side of things, there’s a gimmick used by the narrator that works -and which will probably go away in the subsequent episodes- where she shows/tells two versions of the same scene: “what he/she wanted to say/do” Vs. “What he/she really said/did instead”. Not incredibly new but a nice little addition to the story. The rest is classic and efficient telenovela/soap opera tricks where everybody’s a bit of bitch, lie to each others, spy on each others, sleep with each others… You got the two very different sons of Eva Sofia, the successful one and the nerdy one, both are very sexy of course. The nerdy one happens to be in love with his brother’s wife, which is a shame since he cheats on her and she knows it. Eva Sofia wants him to be the new mayor because the only other candidate is her enemy (boring Eric Close) since he dumped her 30 years ago, back in Cuba where she comes from. I’m not sure it’s reason enough to be so full of hate, but why not? At least, Emily in Revenge had better reasons to do what she did… But we don’t have the full picture yet. Many secrets have yet to be told. Eva Sofia is an interesting character for multiple reasons. First, did I tell you she is 50? It’s very unusual for an heroine on television to be 50. Kudos to ABC. Then, she’s not nice. At all. She probably was when she was young. But now, she’s crazy. Like mentally crazy, I guess. She’s on fire. And manipulative. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she killed someone. And if she haven’t done it yet, she will. It makes her instantly stand out from the crowd. She’s modern, like Annalise Keating is on How to Get Away With Murder. Gina Torres can have a lot of fun with this and be at the top of her game.
I wouldn’t call The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez a slam dunk for ABC -maybe because it’s weird and weirdness can often be confused with ridiculousness- but it’s very on brand for the network with a guilty-pleasure dimension that may be a better fit with Lifetime. It’s not as funny as it should be, but it’s crazy enough to draw attention and give people reasons to stay a little bit longer. I don’t think it can be “the Empire of the latino community” but it’s safe to assume there’s an audience for it.