Heiress Beats Sinfully Bad Saints

It’s a good news/bad news scenario for fans of MyNetwork’s telenovelas. On the plus side, the latest offerings will be offered only once a week – in two hour chunks – meaning you’ll have a lot more free time than when each ran five nights a week. Unfortunately, last night’s premiere of AMERICAN HEIRESS was neither as campy as the slaptastic FASHION HOUSE and WICKED, WICKED GAMES, nor as dramatically captivating as DESIRE or WATCH OVER ME. Worst of all: Despite its many flaws, HEIRESS is a royal offering when compared to tonight’s debut of the dreadfully dull SAINTS & SINNERS.

HEIRESS is not without its pleasures, including Alicia Leigh Willis as Elizabeth Wakefield, around whom the drama – and the title – is centered. Willis is best known for her stint as GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Courtney, whose many traumas (including, but not limited to, several kidnappings, a who’s-the-daddy pregnancy and biting the dust thanks to a virus spread by an infected monkey) no doubt prepared the beautiful blonde actress to walk a mile in the Manolo’s of her latest alter ego. Not far into the premiere episode, a private jet carrying Elizabeth crashes in the jungle, trapping the pampered princess with the plane’s practical pilot, JD (the charming Carter MacIntyre). Quicker than you can say “I love to hate you”, these two crazy, mismatched kids are fighting in a way that soap watchers will immediately recognize as foreplay. And although the writers seem – at least in this first episode – unable to decide whether Elizabeth is a loveable lass or brainless bitch, Willis easily charms us into overlooking her character’s flaws. Folks, this girl is a star on the rise.

Another bright spot comes in the form of AnnaLynne McCord, whose Loren Wakefield might remind you of another certain spoiled rich young woman, what with her tendency to forgo underwear and have her sexual exploits caught on film. Damian Wakefield, brother to Elizabeth and Loren, is our ostensible villain, but as played by Race Owen he comes off as more of a whiney, spoiled child than a true threat. In fact, one can’t help but be reminded of DYNASTY’s Adam Carrington, who was more mama’s boy than dangerous presence.

Rounding out the clan are yet another sibling in the form of Robert Buckley (whom MyNetwork followers – both of you – will remember as sexy shutterbug Michael from FASHION HOUSE), ailing patriarch John Aprea (formerly ANOTHER WORLD’s Lucas) and Theresa Russell as mad matriarch Jordan Wakefield.

By the time the two-hour premiere wrapped up, fans of the genre were left asking the question that has kept us tuning in to soaps for years: What happens next? The same can not be said for SINNERS, as it’s unlikely most who tune in will still be around by the premiere’s conclusion.

Where as HEIRESS focuses on one dysfunctional clan, SINNERS gives us two. And as any soap fan could probably guess, these families are, of course, rivals. Which means (come on, you know what’s coming next!) the daughter of one will fall in love with the son of the other. Within the first few moments, Roman Martin (nicely played by former GUIDLING LIGHT star Scott Bailey) is standing trial for the murder of his would-be-girlfriend’s dad. We then pick up the action a year later, with the Capshaw family — headed by Mel Harris (THIRTYSOMETHING) as Sylvia — still reeling from the loss of their patriarch. Of course, Sylvia’s daughter, Julia (as portrayed by the luminescent Tyler Kain) can’t stop thinking about former beau Roman. That’s right, folks, we’re talking Romeo & Juliet set in the flashy world of Miami Beach.

Of course, with a whole lot of time to kill before Julia and Roman get their happy ending, each have several siblings. And filling the requisite crazy lady role — best personified in the telenovela world by Tatum O’Neal’s Blythe Hunter in WICKED, WICKED GAMES — is Maria Conchita Alonso as Diana Martin. And entirely wasted in the role of her henpecked husband, August, is Charles Shaughnessy, who is reduced to uttering “Diana, please!” endlessly. You can almost see him longing for the days when he played second-fiddle to Fran Drescher’s nasally nanny.

One of SAINTS biggest sins is the fact that it’s lacking in focus. From the beginning, we knew what WICKED, WICKED GAMES and WATCH OVER ME were about: an obsessed woman’s quest for revenge drove the first, while a bodyguard’s illicit attraction to his soon-to-be-married charge. Every subplot on those shows — and there were many — developed as a result of the main storyline. With SAINTS, the first hour introduces drug kingpins, a mysterious faux priest and a slew of secondary players who seem connection to the main action by the thinnest of strings.

In the final analysis, HEIRESS is, without doubt, the one to watch. Willis and her co-stars make the cartoonish outing better than it has any right to be, and it seems likely that viewers will find themselves wanting to spend more time with the Wakefield clan. As with the best telenovelas, HEIRESS doesn’t make the fatal mistake of taking itself too seriously, instead giving the viewers a weekly dose of good, clean, raunchy fun. SINNERS, on the other hand, may find itself praying for viewers.

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