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Commentary: NBC's 'Telenovela' 'Takes Ownership' Of Latino Stereotypes


NBC debuted three new shows this month with Latinas playing the leads. There is the police drama "Shades Of Blue" with Jennifer Lopez and the comedies "Superstore" with America Ferrera and "Telenovela" with Eva Longoria. Commentator Cynthia Leonor Garza was intrigued by "Telenovela" because she grew up with the genre that it parodies. Here's her review.

CYNTHIA LEONOR GARZA, BYLINE: "Telenovela" is crammed with all the things you'd come to expect from any steamy Mexican soap - lots of gorgeously tanned exposed skin, sculpted mustaches, cat fights, epic stare-downs and, of course, lots of Spanish guitar.


AMAURY NOLASCO: (As Rodrigo, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) More wind.

GARZA: The comedy is set behind the scenes of a Spanish-language telenovela based in Miami. It's a workplace comedy like "30 Rock," only this cast is mostly Latino. In "Telenovela," Eva Longoria plays Ana Sofia, the star of a Spanish-language telenovela who doesn't speak Spanish. She just memorizes her lines.


ZACHARY LEVI: (As James, speaking Spanish).

EVA LONGORIA: (As Ana Sofia, speaking Spanish).

LEVI: (As James, speaking Spanish).

LONGORIA: (As Ana Sofia) You know what? We'll just keep is cash. Stick to English.

GARZA: It's a wink to Latino viewers who also don't speak perfect Spanish. There are lots of tiny nods to Latin culture in the show, but it also tries really hard to not leave non-Latino viewers with FOMO - fear of missing out. In this scene, after a light falls and hits Ana's head, she wakes up disoriented and lying in a hospital room on the set.


JADYN DOUGLAS: (As Roxy) Does she have amnesia? Do you know what year it is?

ALEX MENESES: (As Isabela) Do you know what year it is?

GUILLERMO GARCIA CANTU: (As Gustavo) Amnesia's no joke. My character has it, I think. I don't remember.

DIANA-MARIA RIVA: (As Mimi) She doesn't have amnesia. You guys have been working in telenovelas too long. You're desensitized to crazy things.

GARZA: It's a funny line that actually troubled me to think about how television audiences have also grown desensitized to the crazy characters of Latinos we've seen over and over again. While the whole premise of this show might at first glance seems like one big mockery of Latino culture, she show is actually taking ownership of the stereotypes while trying to give us stories that are universal. It's a tough balance, but "Telenovela" is moving in the right direction. Here, Ana explains who she really is to the head of the network, a Spanish-speaking white guy who happens to be romantically interested in her.


LONGORIA: (As Ana Sofia) James, I can't do this anymore, OK? I'm not Pasion. I don't like salsa dancing. I don't speak Spanish. This isn't the real me. The real me loves eating cheese puffs and relies heavily on boob tape for cleavage. I don't like spicy food.

LEVI: (As James) I saw that.

LONGORIA: (As Ana Sofia) The truth is, I'm pretty normal.

GARZA: Normal - I was stumped by the line being drawn here, the idea that white things would be considered normal, Latino things abnormal. But I get the point she's trying to make. Being Latino is much more complex than going down a list and checking off boxes. Still, I grew up watching novelas. To this day, every time I hear the theme song to the 1987 teen "Quinceanera," I'm filled with an aching nostalgia for those evenings I spent in my grandmother's living room. Our real lives may not be anything like melodramatic telenovelas, but for some of us, they're still an important part of our story. And everyone needs to acknowledge that in this country, that's totally normal.


THALIA: (Singing in Spanish).

SIEGEL: That's commentator Cynthia Leonor Garza with her take on the new NBC comedy "Telenovela." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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