Never say Eva Longoria doesn't earn her paycheck.
Longoria, who made her bones on Desperate Housewives, but who has largely stayed behind the scenes of late, puts herself front and center in Telenovela, a parody of the Spanish-language soap operas that gave us a sneak peek in December and that has its official premiere at 8:30 p.m. Monday on NBC.
Telenovela is a behind-the-scenes Soapdish-ian comedy that goes way broad. Longoria is Ana Sofia, star of Las Leyes de Pasión, who speaks no Spanish. On the show, she may portray a glamorous heroine, but in "real life," she veers more toward Lucille Ball. She's generally well-liked by her colorful cast of coworkers - her single-mom best friend; her on-screen lover, who shares her taste in men offscreen; the show's villain with a big heart - save for a costar or nemesis here and there.
As soap operatics take place on screen, they do off, as well, including the arrival of, say, an evil twin. So it's only fitting that Ana Sofia's ex-husband, Xavier (Jencarlos Canela, a telenovela star himself), is added to the cast by the studly new network exec (Chuck's Zachary Levi) to bolster ratings, sending our leading lady into a tizzy.
Telenovela is all pratfalls and big, physical jokes that are apt for the drama. Telenovelas are big and blustery, so why not the parodies of the drama? In its own way, it's OK that the characters are shallow and one-dimensional because the template for those characters is shallow and broad.
That would be fine and all if the CW's lovely Jane the Virgin didn't exist. The hour-long dramedy (which made my list of best TV shows of 2015) takes the tenets of the telenovela and creates deeply rich characters with strong relationships to one another. It uses the format to tell a story about these people rather than to make jokes.
(Pro tip: The first season of Jane is on Netflix. Watch it, and thank me later.)
But like Jane, Telenovela has an inherently likable central character to anchor the proceedings. Longoria, as she showed on Housewives and in guest spots like Brooklyn 99, is a terrific comedian. She may refuse to make her character unlikable in any way - it's rare for a character to be both a diva and beloved by her crew - but she's so game in every other way to make a fool of herself. Ana Sofia is a fantastic showcase for Longoria, who has always been inherently affable, even when she's playing not so nice.
Telenovela may not have depth, but watching Longoria mug for the camera ain't a bad way to spend half an hour.