When the Eva Longoria-produced television show Devious Maids was first announced, we wrote skeptically about whether it had a chance at being anywhere in the realm of "good." Surprisingly, Sunday night's premiere was okay, especially given that it looked like it was going to be a racist pile of garbage.
To recap: the show centers on the lives of four housekeepers of several rich, white families in Southern California. Carmen is trying to be a singer, so she's buttering up her pop star boss. Zoila is trying to deal with Susan Lucci (who is just SO Susan Lucci i.e. fantastic) while coping with her daughter Valentina, who is infatuated with Lucci's son. Rosie wants to bring her son to America from Mexico, but spends her life taking care of another woman's child. And Marisol has infiltrated their community to figure out who killed her sister Flora, the former maid of perhaps the worst of the white people they all work for.
While other shows might tiptoe around race and class, Devious Maids has at least one thing going for it: it stomps all over these issues. Over at Salon, Willa Paskin zeroes in on how the success of the Occupy movement seems to have paved the way for a show like Devious Maids to benefit because of its "skewering" of the wealthy:
"Wherever we are, culturally speaking, it appears to be a place where a TV show aspiring to be frothy, escapist and fun can get its dramatic climaxes and moments of triumph from a bunch of rich bitches — whose husbands are, by and large, much, much nicer than them – getting theirs. Gleefully skewering the one percent of obnoxious white ladies — and obnoxious, in the pilot anyway, is the only way they come — must have market-tested just fine."
That being said, there are those critics that think this is taken too far. While the original complaint about Devious Maids centered on making a show with Latina leads and choosing to cast them all as maids, Slate's June Thomas says that the real issue now is that the show features:
"...a parade of utterly predictable stereotypes—of Latina maids who are both devious and pure of heart, and of their Caucasian employers, who are all selfish, utterly detestable, entitled snobs."
Others found the show worrisome because it made Latinas look too "dramatic" and there were also plenty of complaints about the unrealistic clothes the maids wear to clean (even sweeping while wearing four-inch wedges is not something I'd recommend).
But interestingly, most reviewers skimmed over the circumstances behind Flora's death. While we don't know how she died exactly, we see a traumatic scene where Flora is confronted by her employers, Evelyn and Adrian Powell. Evelyn accuses Flora of having an affair with Adrian, who says he was in love with her (I believe the word "fiery" may have been used to describe her personality, which seems more like it's making fun of Latina stereotypes than perpetuating them). But Flora writes a note denying the affair and claiming Adrian raped her, making Adrian's eventual come-on to her sister Marisol even more disgusting. If the show sticks with this plot line, doesn't just focus on murder and doesn't get totally distracted, it could make for some interesting commentary about power, fear and sexual pressure combined with race and class.
For her part, Longoria has spoken out about the complaints, saying that, "It doesn't define our culture, if we're playing these types of roles." In that same LA Times interview, Longoria mentions a conversation she had with show creator and Desperate Housewives honcho Marc Cherry, in which they discussed what she didn't want the show to become:
"He said, 'If I make them all Latina, will I get a backlash for it?' I was like, 'Well, what is this story about?' ... He was telling me the story, and it really had nothing to do with race or ethnicity stereotypes. These women are the moral compass of the show — I thought it was a beautiful story to tell."
Though it sounds like Longoria's concern was about the "stereotypes" part of "race and ethnicity", it also sounds like she wanted to make sure the show wasn't too much about those issues at all; at the Huffington Post she wrote that "this is a show that deconstructs the stereotype by showing us that maids are so much more." At least in her opinion the ability of Hispanic women to be seen as "moral compasses" is a positive thing, despite the criticism from television writers that they've been categorized this way. It's a little hard to figure out exactly what critics would like these characters to look like instead; perhaps they just wouldn't want the show to exist at all, or that their bosses be portrayed in a less caricatured manner for contrast.
In any case, despite the arguments over whether these women should be good or evil or flawed – and this is a Marc Cherry show, so pretty soon, all parties involved will be a bit of both – should Devious Maids continue, it'll likely be better than our other summer distraction, ABC's Mistresses, a show that I tried to string a few sentences together about and was literally so bored while doing it that I couldn't think of anything to say except "sexy sex that actually wasn't all that sexy."
Image via Lifetime