Sunday, June 23, 2013

Devious Maids: Pilot (1.1)

When you've made a name for yourself in television with a hit show, one that captured the attention of critics and audiences alike (how long that acclaim actually lasted being irrelevant), you're pretty much allowed free reign when it comes to your follow-up. In the case of Marc Cherry, hot off the eight-year run of Desperate Housewives, the familiarity of his new nighttime soap is perplexing but understandable. With Devious Maids, Cherry cribs the murder, the opulence and the female friendship from his ABC predecessor, only forgetting most of the parts that made Housewives such a runaway success back in 2004. But I guess if it ain't broke...

Devious Maids opens with the murder of a pretty Los Angeles maid named Flora, stabbed in the gut by a mystery assailant before tumbling into the swimming pool of her employers. The reaction of her haughty boss to the bloody crime scene, a wailing cry of "who's going to clean all this up?", is the comedic highlight of the hour. We're introduced to the dead girl's friends soon after, a group of maids working in the same affluent neighborhood, who sure believe that something in the milk isn't clean. So far, so good. In a derivative sense of the phrase, naturally.

But it's here that the pilot begins to break down. In an example of the show trying to almost distance itself from Desperate Housewives while simultaneously lifting a lot of its key ingredients, Flora's murder becomes slightly irrelevant to the show it's being used to launch. Instead we get an array of bland character drama, Devious Maids' protagonists all defined less by their actual personalities and more by the one-note storylines they've been saddled with. Roselyn Sanchez wants to launch a pop career, so leaves her demo CD lying around for her record producer employer to stumble upon. Judy Reyes tries to halt her wayward teen daughter from pursuing the hunky son of her own employer, and Dania Ramirez's walking tear-factory comes complete with a dead husband and an absent kid stuck south of the border.

Even the arrival of Ana Ortiz's mysterious Flora-replacement struggles to raise any real intrigue. Sure, she expresses a keen interest in the murder and is constantly confused with a missing maid from several years prior, but she's not the ambiguity machine that should hook audience eyeballs, in spite of Ortiz's natural charisma. Instead the show seems to forget about the murder as rapidly as it's introduced, the pilot's final scene revealing that the most predictable theory is ultimately the one they're running with. This wouldn't be a huge problem if everything else were more engaging, but it's all generally flat.

Devious Maids arrives on a wave of criticism inspired by the apparent racial stereotyping of a bunch of Latina women being depicted as maids and housekeepers, and while the complaint is certainly valid, the show isn't interesting enough to warrant any actual controversy. The leads are nothing but a drag in all their flaw-free, saintly glory, while the supporting cast (particularly Ramirez's movie-star employers) are drawn so broadly that they resemble cartoons. Both extremes are enough to give audience-wide whiplash. Considering how deft Cherry once was at straddling such disparate tones, you have to wonder how things got so off-track. D

Marc Cherry Director Paul McGuigan


  1. I completely agree with this review. I was thinking the same thing, but most reviews of Cherry's Devious Maids are actually positive, and as someone who just finished watching all 180 episodes of Desperate Housewives on Netflix (yeah, I had THAT much time on my hands), I feel that Cherry and company have pretty much lost their razor tipped dialogue and their ability to wrangle multiple genres at once, switching from moments of soapy anguish to black comedy so fast we all got whiplash (the first three seasons of Desperate Housewives did that accurately. Things sorta fell apart after Dana Delaney entered Wisteria Lane and I lost it when Edie Britt was killed off).

    But anyway, I enjoyed your review and I couldn't have left a better one for the pilot. Especially after all the hype. The show just falls so flat it's a little sad.

  2. Desperate Housewives ran for 180 episodes??!! Yikes, can't believe I watched every single one of them, too.

    Thanks for the comment, and nice to hear somebody else felt it was underwhelming. Also genuinely surprised it's gotten such good press from other outlets, like you said. I guess maybe summer had something to do with it? Like it's not as terrible in comparison to other shows premiering right now?

    Thanks for reading, Charlie.