One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
It only gets harder and harder to stay loyal to guilty pleasures when the influx of “premium” television is as ridiculously high as it is right now. Every network seems to be trying to up the ante on one another, putting out high-wire act after high-wire act – Fargo on FX in the fall followed American Crime on ABC this winter, necessitating lots of deep breaths – and crowding up space on all of our collective DVRs.
That conspiratorial coterie of networks now includes Lifetime and its as-good-as-anything-else-on-TV UnREAL, bringing us to Devious Maids, which isn’t. And that’s the point. Marc Cherry’s soapy dish of a dramedy slides right into home in its fourth season: it’s as funny as ever, its all-female foursome are synced up like gangbusters, and its new central mystery – which involves a People’s Choice Award implanted unceremoniously into someone’s neck – is OTT in the juiciest way possible. It’s the absolute dictionary definition of guilty pleasure, sweltering summer binge watching – that is, if your previous televised engagements provide you with the time for it.
Things get a little meta, as well. In the premiere’s opening scene, we learn that Marisol’s (Ana Ortiz) novel “Coming Clean,” which essentially covers the events of season 1, has been optioned to become a feature film starring none other than Eva Longoria in Marisol’s role. Unfortunately, dastardly Peri Westmore (Mariana Klaveno) is retrofitting truths to gain more screen time, and potentially ruining Marisol’s vision for a Latina-empowered slice of entertainment, not to mention giving Longoria a hard time on set. “You are the meanest person I have ever met,” Longoria barks at Westmore as she storms off. “And I worked on Desperate Housewives.”
Although that self-referential shtick only lasts for one beat (Marisol’s film storyline is dropped quickly in the premiere), there’s an all-around better sense of place and character that feels like a passing of the torch has finally happened between Cherry’s two shows. Devious Maids has managed to avoid feeling stagnant, even four seasons in, largely thanks to actresses who embody characters that – even though they might not evolve much – feel honest and true and real. Their friendships might hit snags, but they’re largely one another’s biggest cheerleaders, and there’s something subversively refreshing about that in today’s TV atmosphere of gunmetal grey seriousness. For the complete opposite example of female friendship: stick around for UnREAL.
Everything picks up six months after last year’s cliffhanger (“Oh yes, sorry about the state of things,” Adrian apologizes to a guest early on. “The house exploded a few months ago”), but not much seems to have changed for a few of the girls. Marisol is still running her maids-for-hire business, while attempting to get over only-male-maid-in-existence Jesse (Nathan Owens) and working as a producer on her movie. Similarly, Rosie (Dania Ramirez) remains stunned by Spence’s (Grant Show) amnesia and hopes to win him back, while Carmen (Roselyn Sánchez) struggles with the unexpected arrival of a long-lost family member.
More than ever, it’s Zoila’s (Judy Reyes) show, and the writers manage to subtly refer to the status of her pregnancy from last year with a nuance rarely seen on a show that cast Eva Longoria as a scenery chewing telenovela star, after she literally just played a scenery chewing telenovela star a few months ago. Zoila’s in the worst place of the bunch, and there’s some really interesting moves made regarding everything from the way she handles discussing the past six months, to her ultimate decision regarding continued employment with posh-beyond-limits Genevieve Delatour (Susan Lucci).
As a Scrubs ultra-fan, sometimes it’s hard to avoid seeing Carla behind all of the momma bear posturing but, like on that show, Reyes gets a surprising amount to do on Devious Maids and nimbly shifts between the levity of its premise and darkness of her new situation with deftness and ease. Really, everyone is good: Ramirez overcomes writing that more often than not pins Rosie as the dullard of the group, and Sanchez – ever the lowest rung on the stepladder in regards to meaty subplots – brings all of her charm and does what she can with one lame storyline after another.
As the show’s reliably sturdy core, Ortiz can pretty much do no wrong, but an unfortunate pattern rears its head in season 4. With its Desperate Housewives baton firmly in hand, the show casts hot-plumber-next-door Mike, now Peter (James Denton) as Marisol’s new movie business boss slash love interest, whom of course she struggles to connect with initially because of her hangups with Jesse. My question: why does Marisol need a new love interest? If we’re keeping count, the last two guys she fell for encompassed her own (somewhat inappropriately younger) employee and a guy who lied about his participation in the murder of a child.
Season one Marisol, who was as close Devious Maids will ever get to some kind of noir, was so preoccupied in the clearing of her son’s name, she never had a moment to meet someone. There’s potential for Peter and Marisol’s courtship to be entertaining – Denton and Ortiz have chemistry enough – but a yearning for the character’s return to business mode peaks in the show’s fourth season. It’s the one glaring weakness of Devious Maids‘ otherwise endearingly chintzy facade: we’re clearly not out to change the feministic landscape on TV here. That’s okay, but a little change to the boyfriend-of-the-season formula wouldn’t hurt it, either.
Besides this, and an amnesia subplot that has the scientific logic of an episode of Looney Tunes, Devious Maids remains a light and breezy hour of television this summer. It’s not breaking any molds, nor is it trying to, but it rests into its place in the suburban soccer mom entertainment pantheon with alacrity and effortlessness, while still managing to feel different enough from its cheesy genre brethren. Best yet, it’s taking its short sip of summer fun to heart with a season order that’ s been cut to 10 episodes (every season before has ran to 13).
That’s one area Devious Maids is wholeheartedly improving over its spiritual predecessor: while some stories remain inferior to others, they never drag or grow dull. Forced to work under a hot fire of now more-than-half the network season average of 22-ish hours, the writers craft a propulsive, addictive little show that works overtime to get to every important story beat because it has to. The maids are on the clock, and with a humorously gruesome murder enacted at a fancy Hollywood party in the premiere’s final moments, you should think about grabbing a seat at the table.