Devious Maids debuts tonight on Lifetime at 10 p.m. Eastern.
There’s a buoyancy and a silliness to Devious Maids that makes it feel at home on Lifetime, rather than ABC where it was originally created for by Desperate Housewives mastermind Marc Cherry. It’s one of the show’s best qualities, refusing to take itself too seriously at any point. It’s a distraction from the fact the show’s most problematic quality—sexualized Latinas seen only in subservience—that’s certainly not helped by the mad-cheeseball, near constant salsa-inflected score. Strip away the racial implications inherent in the show’s premise, and Devious Maids is a fun little sudser fill with talented women.
Devious Maids is like an upstairs-downstairs version of Desperate Housewives, beginning with the murder of comely maid Flora (Paula Garcés), who works for the boozy Powells (a pitch perfect Rebecca Wisocky and Tom Irwin who should look more bloated from all of that scenery they’re chewing). Before Flora’s untimely stabbing, she leaves a note that we are given glimpses of, filled with words like betrayal and rape. Left behind are Flora’s friends: Zoila (Scrubs’ Judy Reyes) and her daughter Valentina (Edy Ganem) who work for flighty romantic Genevieve (Susan Lucci!) and her six-packed frat boy son Remy (Drew Van Acker); Rosie (Dania Ramirez) who is tasked with taking care of the son of a haughty actress (Mariana Klaveno) and sweet soap star (Melrose Place’s Grant Show); aspiring pop star Carmen who starts work at the home of a successful pop star (Matt Cedeño); and Marisol (Ugly Betty’s Ana Ortiz) whose interest in her employers goes beyond mere curiosity. There’s little subtlety when it comes to these women. Marisol’s up to something and it’s apparent from her first moment onscreen. Zoila is concerned that Valentina is falling for Remi because the rich boy never falls for the help. Do I smell plot twist in Zoila and Valentina’s future?
Like Desperate Housewives, the bond between the core character is where the show finds its heart, whether they’re eating lunch together or lounging by the pool while an employer is away. The ladies have an excellent chemistry with each other, playing off of their satirized employers, who are broadly drawn caricatures of the Beverly Hills elite and shallow.
But there’s still the elephant in the room: The race and social status of our eponymous maids. There are few nods to this problem: Marisol’s lack of accent is questioned by a potential employer who derisively says Marisol sounds like she went to college (well-spoken, anyone?). There are also a couple Band-Aids, like Carmen saying she won’t marry rich like other Beverly Hills women because relying on a man’s money and power is unacceptable. And one moment with real emotional resonance: Rosie weeps on the phone with her young son who she desperately wants to bring to the States, while her hellish employer foists off her own child so she won't be late for a facial.
In a column for the Huffington Post, executive producer (and former Housewife) Eva Longoria wrote, “The only way to break a stereotype is to not ignore it. The stereotype we are grappling with here is that as Latinas, all we are is maids. And yet, this is a show that deconstructs the stereotype by showing us that maids are so much more.” She goes on to call the women layered and complex. And they are, if in comparison to the embarrassingly low proportion of Hispanics on television. Devious Maids is still a soap, and layered and complex aren’t generally characteristics that go along with the genre (and I say that with great affection for soaps). At one point in the second episode, daffy Genevieve tells Valentina that being a maid is what she does, not who she is. It’s a wonderful sentiment. Too bad Valentina still spends most of her time in uniform.