It was hard for me to watch the first episode of USA's Queen of the South and not think of what Donald Trump might say about Teresa Mendoza.

Queen is adapted from Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel La Reina Del Sur, whose 2011 telenovela version broke ratings records for Telemundo. Premiering Thursday, it's the story of Teresa (Alice Braga, I Am Legend), and her rise from humble Mexican roots to riches on the U.S. side of the very border on which Trump has proposed to build a wall.

Fortunately for Teresa, she has a helicopter.

"I've been poor, and I've been rich. Rich is better. Believe me," she says in voice-over as her character alights from her whirlybird in a brilliant white suit and, flanked by bodyguards, strides toward a home Trump himself might not despise.

"Now," she continues, "I run the biggest drug empire in the Western Hemisphere. You could say that I'm living proof that the American dream is alive and well." Moments later, Teresa herself appears to be, well, neither.


USA's move away from blue-sky dramas such as Royal Pains, which ends its eight-season run July 6, may have paved the way for shows like the enigmatic Mr. Robot, which replaces it the following week. But it also made television an even darker place.

Queen of the South isn't going to lighten things up, but it's also unlikely to satisfy the kind of drama junkies who value character, not just action.

I saw enough of Telemundo's 63-episode version - which aired over about three months - to know the plot-packed soap had some character development, if only because the sheer number of episodes gave viewers time to get to know some of the players before they were blown away.

It's no slam at Braga to say the one episode USA made available to critics doesn't promise even that. She's simply moving too fast.

It's told in flashback by white-suited Present Teresa, who, perplexingly, occasionally appears to her younger self. The queenpin's past as a minor drug-trade figure's girlfriend is compressed in the pilot to the point that it's nearly impossible to avoid stereotypes.

Since that's the opposite of what occurred in telenovela adaptations such as the CW's Jane the Virgin and ABC's earlier Ugly Betty, Queen of the South starts off looking like a step backward, a show that instead of building a bridge between cultures - we have our Breaking Bad, why shouldn't they? - chooses instead a wall.



Drug queenpin's rise in a dark telenovela remake on USA


Queen of the South

10 p.m. Thursdays on USA.EndText