“Devious Maids” has had so much buzz surrounding it for so long that the Lifetime show, which premiered Sunday (June 23), had to be terrific.
Granted, there will be critics. But those who loved “Desperate Housewives” will recognize the sensibility of its creator, Marc Cherry, and one of its stars, Eva Longoria (who’s an exec producer). Plus there’s a whole lot of over-the-top telenovela drama.
Set in the rarefied world of Beverly Hills, the show opens at a party in a mansion.
“I think what you people do is heroic,” the imperious Evelyn Powell (Rebecca Wisocky, “True Blood”) says in the series’ opening line. The stately redhead in a satin seafoam gown gives momentary kudos to the great work maids do, then her voice turns steely and she says to Flora (Paula Garces): “I am in awe of your determination to succeed in this great country of ours. That said, if you don’t stop screwing my husband, I am going to have you deported.”
Powell won’t have to bother. Flora is soon dead.
The pretty maid seethes silently as her employer speaks to her. As Mr. and Mrs. Powell rejoin the party to tango, Flora leaves a note: “I was raped.”
A man beats and stabs Flora. She stumbles out to the party, and into the pool, doing a most convincing dead man’s float.
Evelyn’s main concern is not that a young woman in her employ was brutally stabbed in her home, but rather who will clean up this mess?
At Flora’s funeral, we meet other maids and they vow to keep Flora’s secret, which we are not privy to.
A week later, Michael and Taylor Stafford (Brett Cullen, “42” and Brianna Brown, “General Hospital”) are interviewing for a maid. Michael’s first wife kept their maid in the settlement — and yes, housekeepers are discussed as chattel.
Taylor is wary of Marisol (Ana Ortiz, “Ugly Betty”), the woman they’re interviewing. She is too poised, too well-dressed and, most shocking to the new Mrs. Stafford, does not have an accent. Yet Marisol is so open and eager for the job that they decide to give her a try.
Spanish guitar music breaks up the scenes, taking viewers to new characters. Now that we have a feel for the murdered maid, Flora, and the nasty woman and creepy man she worked for, and Marisol and the trophy wife and husband, the show moves onto mother and daughter maids, Zoila and Valentina (Judy Reyes, “Scrubs” and Edy Ganem, “Livin’ Loud’).
Susan Lucci (“All My Children”) makes the best entrance of the pilot, a considerable feat. We meet soap queen, clad in white satin (you expected puce polyester?) is under the bed, having swallowed a number of pills.
Genevieve Delatour is faux-suicidal — she would never take anything that would actually harm her — because the pool boy she was dating said she looked 40. In her perfect deadpan delivery, Reyes’ Zoila says, “Not bad for almost 60.”
Genevieve allows her son, the outrageously buff Remi (Drew Van Acker), to take her to the hospital, once she gets her face on. We know how ripped he is because the wardrobe department did not squander money on shirts for him.
Next we meet the ambitious Carmen (Roselyn Sanchez, “Without a Trace”), who takes a job as a maid for an international pop star, Alejandro Rubio (Matt Cedeno). She is quite upfront that the only reason she signed on to dust was to further her singing career.
Carmen needs to get past the singer’s personal assistant and resident bulldog, Odessa Burakov (Melinda Page Hamilton), who speaks with a Boris Badenov accent and hobbles on a prosthetic.
There’s a very “Desperate Housewives” moment when Odessa takes a tumble down the stairs and winds up in the hospital. It was Carmen’s fault, but Carmen isn’t the sort plagued by guilt.
Finally, we meet the (mostly) sweet maid, Rosie (Dania Ramirez, “Entourage”) who asks her employers for a little time off to meet with her immigration lawyer. This couple, Peri and Spence Westmore (Mariana Klaveno, “True Blood” and Grant Show, “Melrose Place”) are incredibly vain actors, and deliciously vicious to each other. Both suffer delusions of grandeur.
There are a few forced moments and they all involve Ortiz’s character, Marisol. Trophy wife Taylor, who did not trust Marisol because she seems too educated to be a maid, is suddenly confiding in her. Does Taylor not have any friends? Would she really spill her guts to a stranger who vacuums her house?
Marisol asks too many questions about Flora, enough so that the other maids are suspicious. Just who is this Marisol?
Marisol also had said she wanted to be a live-in housekeeper for the Staffords but when Evelyn Powell complains how the agency won’t send another maid just because one was murdered in her home, Marisol volunteers to go over and clean her nine-bathroom house.
Presumably, there are some maids who show up with their own cleaning supplies, as Marisol does, because apparently those in $10 million mansions can’t spring for their own cleansers. But does any maid — does any woman outside of a 1960s advertisement for floor wax — clean in red high heels?
(Incidentally, the show’s costume designer tells Zap2it that fashion misstep will be fixed.)
Meanwhile, Valentina, the daughter of the mom/daughter cleaning duo, puts the moves on the rich boy. Remi does not stand a chance against her. She brings him tea by the pool — after she changes in the kitchen. Excuse me, who strips in the kitchen?
Rosie may be the one with the most tragic backstory, having to leave her young son with her mother, and her husband dead, but she’s no dummy and knows how to manipulate the mean actress.
On a show where none of the employers are particularly upright citizens, Adrian Powell (Tom Irwin) oozes creepiness.
When he’s coming on to Marisol, he says of Flora, the dead maid, “She was smart and funny and very ambitious. Are you ambitious, Marisol?”
Marisol has a couple more moments that stretch credulity — though Ortiz does her level best to make them believable. During a birthday dinner for her boss, his ex-wife storms in and pitches a hissy fit. No one does anything, but the well-dressed maid, standing guard in the dining room, kicks her out and says, “Do not screw with me, b****, or you will live to regret it.”
Just why Marisol is there, working as a maid, is revealed in the final scene. She visits her son in jail. He’s suspected of murdering Flora. Marisol seems too young and too accomplished to have a son who would be at least 20.
But by the end of this pilot, we know the main characters; have murder, sex, betrayals and secrets. And we’re hooked.