Sunday, June 23, 2013

On DEVIOUS MAIDS

When I first read about the upcoming Lifetime TV series, Devious Maids, I wasn't very excited.  I thought "Why do the Latinas have to be maids?  Why can't they be the powerful Hollywood wives like in the Jackie Collins novels or the top Hollywood agents on a show like Entourage?"  Then I saw the premiere episode of Devious Maids that airs tonight at 10:00 (check your listings).  It's a glossy delight, very entertaining, funny and deliciously subversive thanks to executive producer Eva Longoria and Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry.  It's good Sunday night fun.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Longoria takes a Latina stereotype you may be expecting, shakes it vigorously, turns it upside down and  gives you something fresh with a little vintage flavor.  You can feel the nod to telenovelas on Spanish TV and long-running shows like the Mexican favorite about a housekeeper's life called La Criada Bien Criada (The Well-Bred Maid).  There's also a touch of classic Hollywood directors like Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Frank Capra in the staging.  One young maid, Marisol, feels momentarily trapped by her lusty new male boss in Beverly Hills.  He's middle-aged and married.  In a voice laced with sexual intent, he asks "Are you ambitious, Marisol?"  The camera cuts to her.  Behind her on his walls are butterflies, pinned down and framed in boxes hung up as decoration.  That reminded me of the opening scene in All About Eve.  Devious Eve Harrington is being awarded a big Broadway honor.  But that conniving bitch is about to be shot down as we learn her real story.  Notice the prop guns on the wall behind her. A clever, telling Mankiewicz detail.

Devious Maids is nighttime soap that, like Desperate Housewives, is also satirical while lightly touching on social issues.  Susan Lucci broke me up laughing with her brief role as the woman whose aging issues in L.A. have her hiding underneath the furniture.

It was the kind of performance that could lead to Lucci being considered for sitcom work.

I got interested in watching the show when I read that Judy Reyes was in it.  I love me some Judy Reyes.  I loved her as Nurse Carla on Scrubs.  I loved her in this episode.
I'll use her as an example of how Devious Maids flips the stereotype.  Judy Reyes is like a modern-day Thelma Ritter.  She could steal a scene from a couple of big stars with just a deadpan look and a wisccrack.  Think of Thelma Ritter as the maid/longtime friend to Bette Davis as 40-year old Broadway legend Margo Channing in All About Eve.
Think of her serving up common sense and helping to solve a crime as the visiting nurse to James Stewart's injured photographer in Hitchcock's Rear Window.
Judy Reyes has that quality and that's the kind of maid she is in this show.  She's not a passive scrub-bot with a vague identity.  These women know what they're doing.  The scene where the maids get together outside on a lunchbreak?  LOVED it.
Being essentially a nighttime soap opera means there must be sex and desire.  That's because daytime soap operas are driven by sex and desire.  Such is the format here, whether that desire is for show business recognition or simply for sex.

Oh.  And the story opens with a murder and the body falling into a swimming pool.  Just like in Billy Wilder's Hollywood-on-Hollywood classic, Sunset Blvd.  Marc Cherry's Desperate Housewives also opened with a death.

Don't think these maids are devious in the sense that they're seeking sex with the men of the house and plotting to do away with their wives.  They're devious in ways to be treated equally and to get equal opportunities.  They're devious in ways to battle the class barriers and distinguish themselves.  In that sense, they reminded me of my mother.  Not that she's a Latina but, after my parents divorced, she was a working and single black woman in South Central L.A. with three kids to raise.  She was not getting alimony.  Mom is college-educated and worked as a registered nurse.  In order to makes ends meet when we were kids, she did domestic work briefly for a Hollywood wife.  My mother obscured her educational background so she could get the job.  She wanted to fit the image the upscale folks may have had of a domestic employee.  She was, in her way, auditioning to play the part.  Also, I have seen women like these maids when I was growing up and working part-time jobs in Los Angeles.  We all stood at the same RTD bus stops, waiting for mass transit to take us back home.  I felt a connection to the characters.
One of my favorite scenes in tonight's episode is the celebrity TV interview.  An actress is being interviewed at her enormous Hollywood Hills home by an entertainment reporter.  The Devious Maids writers nailed this kind of E! Television celeb profile business.  It also reminded me of daytime talk show segments I've seen where upscale white women are being interviewed.  We see them at home.  They have two cars, one well-employed husband and a home with a kitchen big enough for a Bob Fosse dance number.  In that kitchen is a refrigerator the size of the monolith in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The home is clean and tastefully decorated.  The kids are being tended to by a brown woman who is the nanny/assistant/maid.

And what is the privileged white woman talking about?  The stress of being a Mommy.  She either blogs and/or has written a book about the importance of taking Mommy "Me" Time.  That means meeting your girlfriends for Cobb Salads while the kids are at home -- with the brown nanny/assistant/maid.  The episode plays on that kind of thing. The interview scene was a devious highlight.

To repeat, this is a deliciously subversive show.  It has ethnic actors in lead roles and -- are you sitting down? --  good roles for actresses over 50.  ¡Viva, Diversity!  If you liked the early episodes of Desperate Housewives, I think you'll dig Devious Maids.

Thank you, Eva Longoria.

I wish her, Marc Cherry and the cast the best of luck.  I hope these Devious Maids sweep us some good numbers in the ratings.



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