[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: The Novela

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Novela

I've been planning on posting on this topic for a while now, but never quite got around to it. Earlier this week, this article by the Herald's Glenn Garvin on the attempt to introduce the venerable novela (Spanish version of the soap opera) to English-language TV reminded me that I had to write something.

Growing up in a bilingual Cuban-American household, I've been exposed to novelas for as long as I can remember. I even remember when they were still on the radio (OK, I'm not THAT old). The reason I'm writing this isn't to profess any love for the genre, although I'm sure some of you are surprised than a manly stud like me would be writing about something usually associated with women.

Seriously, this post is about the intensity and fervor with which novela audiences follow their favorite shows.

You know how guys get ragged on by their better halves for watching too much sports? You know, how we plop our butts on the couch to watch 22 men collide, grunt and grab each other every fall Saturday, Sunday, Monday and sometimes Thursday?

Forget it. There's nothing as intense and focused as an abuela watching her favorite novela. The normally doting grandmother who spends the entire day looking after her grandchildren and taking care of household chores suddenly forgets about everything once its 7 PM and the novela is starting on Telemundo. Phone calls are short and only during commercials. Dinner must be served and eaten before the novela starts. I have seen an unnamed family member step away from dinner at 6:59 PM to turn on the TV in time for the start of the show at 7 PM. In my house, the no TV during dinner rule is waived to avoid such a situation from happening. Forget about VCRs and Tivo, folks.

Visits to family and friends must be planned so that they either a) return home in time for the start of the novela or b) watch it at the other house.

On the major Spanish networks, evening novelas are mostly shown back-to-back-to-back at 7, 8 and 9 PM. When a new series of novelas start, I hope and pray that my relatives only like one or two of them, otherwise they are pretty much out of commission for three hours. That's the same length as your average NFL game, except at least football games have a 15-minute halftime.

I figure, if news breaks of fidel's death during a popular novela, you'll get as many calls to the station of 60 and 70-something abuelas complaining that their show was interrupted as you would people celebrating in the streets. The partying would begin as soon as the novela is over, but not a moment sooner.

Catching the start is crucial. Unlike a sporting event, a lot of important stuff apparently happens at the beginning. Usually, it's a recap of the last episode, so they really aren't seeing anything new. But what do I know? The end of an episode is very important as well. A bomb is dropped, something shocking happens, and the cycle repeats itself the next night. I peek over enough to get the gist of what's going on, not that it's hard to figure out. Lies, deception, love, lust, backstabbing, fraud....it's all there and all novelas have all of these crucial elements. In that sense, they're no different than their American counterparts. In other words, they are painfully predictable. The evil blonde will eventually get killed off and the sweet innocent dame gets to live happily-ever-after with the handsome prince.

The only novela that I can honestly say I got mildly interested in was Betty La Fea a few years back, which is now a big hit on English TV (Ugly Betty). Betty La Fea was different in two key ways. One, it wasn't Mexican (it was Colombian). Secondly and most importantly for me, it was original in theme and quite lighthearted and funny, as opposed to the typical stern melodrama of the traditional novela.

It will interesting to see if the novela catches fire on the English-language networks in prime time. For my sanity's sake, I hope it doesn't.

Then again, can it be any worse than reality TV?



Blogger vbspurs said...

It will interesting to see if the novela catches fire on the English-language networks in prime time. For my sanity's sake, I hope it doesn't.

Oh My God. You and my mother, Robert.

She told me she chanced on a rerun of Betty la Fea on a channel some weeks ago, and since she hadn't seen the original showing, she plunked herself down to watch at night.

Now, she won't miss it for the world.

I shudder to think of our disruptive domestic arrangements, if Xica is ever rerun.

Then again, can it be any worse than reality TV?

I like reality TV. Mind you, I don't watch it. Alas, though, reality TV has killed the Comedy Star.

On the positive side, though, it seems to have made TV cop shows ubiquitous again, since I love L&O, and though I don't watch, 24 is said to be excellent.

My boyfriend watches Battlestar Galactica, which I've heard say is the best show on TV.

As for me, and novelas, soaps. I appreciate that they are there, because so many people love them.

But I've never watched one soap in any language, at any timeslot, in my life.

Coronation Street, Days of our Lives, Los Ricos Tambien Lloran.



2:23 PM, February 16, 2007  
Blogger Marta said...

Great post, Robert.
My mom is a long-time resident of Telemundo and would not miss her favorite novelas for ANYTHING.
Having said that, I have many friends who were rabidly awaiting the next installment of "24" and "LOST."
I shudder to think what would happen to our already estranged culture if those were a nightly event. =D

12:59 PM, February 19, 2007  

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