The Good, The Bad & The Telenovelas

If there’s one thing fans of MyNetwork TV needn’t worry about, it’s having their favorite shows yanked out from under them mid-stream (ala FOX’s late, lamented REUNION or ABC’s THE NINE). For better or worse, MyNetwork’s small but loyal audience know not only that they’ll get answers to every burning question raised on their favorite programs… but exactly when.

Last week, the fledgling network’s first primetime offerings – FASHION HOUSE and DESIRE – aired their finales, wrapping up those pesky loose threads and giving viewers the kind of satisfying ending one fears ABC’s LOST may never provide. And the day after those dramas wrapped, two new soaps – WICKED, WICKED GAMES and WATCH OVER ME – began to unfold their allotted 65 episodes… after which two more telenovelas will take their place.

But are MyNetwork’s offerings worth tuning in for?

That depends entirely on your tolerance for – or love of – the genre. It seems that the network has come up with what would appear to be a winning format: Every 13 weeks, two new and distinct telenovelas premiere, each aimed at a slightly different audience. Kicking off the night at 8 p.m./ET is WICKED, WICKED GAMES. Like its predecessor, FASHION HOUSE, this is a camp-lover’s delight, with star Tatum O’Neil (an Oscar winner, as the ads will incessantly remind you) chewing scenery with a vigor unmatched since Faye Dunaway’s infamous turn as Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. Following at 9 p.m./ET is the slightly more grounded WATCH OVER ME, in which a body guard falls for his beautiful ward while her powerful beau oversees a virus-filled lab you just know is going to be trouble somewhere down the line.

In other words, between the two dramas, there’s something for everyone.

Each series airs five nights a week, and both offer recap shows on Saturday evening which are designed to help both new viewers and those who may have missed an episode keep up with the action. After all, five nights a week isn’t exactly casual viewing.

MyNetwork seems to have learned from the early missteps of FASHION HOUSE, which relied far too heavily during its first few weeks on flashbacks which proved tedious to those tuning in every day but essential to the more casual viewer. This time around, both WICKED and WATCH offer several minutes of recap before each episode and enough deftly handled exposition to cover what’s come before.

Each show has its strengths… and its weaknesses. On WICKED, David Smith’s charming performances and mile-deep dimples are reminiscent of a young Tom Everett Scott while his on-air brother Jack Krizmanich gives a devilish performance which is too often overlooked because of his alter ego’s incredibly annoying hairstyle. Storyline wise, this is classic soap, with O’Neil’s crackpot Blythe scheming to bring about the total destruction of a man she loved and lost 25 years earlier. Who, exactly, she’s always talking to via her web cam seems a tad unclear.

WATCH, meanwhile, has a slightly more complicated plot with a larger cast (made up of enough former daytime soap stars to keep any fan of that medium playing the “Hey, didn’t he play” for quite some time) who handle the material with varying degrees of success. Most charming is Jamie Alexander, who lights up the screen and immediately wins us over… this despite the fact that her character, Caitlin, is cheating on her good-guy boyfriend with her very-married boss. Unfortunately, she and some of the other secondary characters often outshine the sometimes painfully wooden actors populating the triangle which is the main focus of the series.

In fact, if MyNetwork’s primetime sizzlers have had one problem in common, it is in casting the female romantic leads. During HOUSE’s run, Natalie Martinez’ Michelle showed all the emotional depth of a dishtowel, while DESIRE’s Michelle Belegrin (Andrea) displayed only slightly more range (although, truth be told, she did grow more appealing over time). This time around, WATCH presents us with the stilted performance of former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres as Julia Rivera, while WICKED so far seems to be fairing much better thanks to Jessie Ward and Kate French as sisters Emma and Brooke Crawford.

Where MyNetwork’s shows excel is in the plotting. Unlike their daytime drama counterparts, these are soaps which focus on romance and character development as opposed to the often insipid antics which pass for entertainment on the afternoon sudsers. In fact, the execs in charge of daytime’s troubled shows would be wise to seek out and hire the scribes cranking out MyNetwork’s superiorly plotted presentations.

In the end, MyNetwork’s efforts are to be applauded. Nowhere else will viewers find a steady stream of original programming, five nights a week, 52 weeks a year. The fact that the programs offered also happen to be both wildly addictive and, at least in the case of WICKED, aware of the fact that it falls into the “so bad it’s good” category, only helps. And if nothing else, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that in 13 weeks, everyone will walk away satisfied.

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  • Sam

    Very good article tvaddict. I actually watched Fashion House for quite a few weeks but stopped because of all the 20+ minute flashbacks in an hour long show. I didn’t know they stopped doing them as much towards the end (by then I’d stopped watching)

    I agree about some of the acting, the Michelle Miller character was terrible. I haven’t seen either of the new ones yet but I just might tune in tonight.