And it’s far easier to succumb to the longer it goes on. The pilot, while amusing, is largely vacuous and shrill, presenting Ana as an insufferable diva and the rest of her friends as accessories more than people. Although subsequent episodes kneecap any of the A-plot’s tension (episode two essentially ignores Ana and Xavier’s relationship for an evil twin twist), it gets a better handle on what makes these people funny and becomes weirdly easy to watch. A focus is put on Ana’s fallback of using her “Pasión” character as a mask in the real world, because she fears that her potential love interest/boss (Zachary Levi, somehow at home as the macho male lead) might discover how truly un-sophisticated she is.
It may have the depth and nuance of one of those fake Tracy Jordan movie posters from 30 Rock, but the show runs with that mask idea, chowing down on arcs about work-place relationships and rivalries that are aggressively cliché but attuned and lively nonetheless. Co-creators Chrissy Pietrosh and Jessica Goldstein (they worked on Cougar Town and My Name is Earl previously) show a knack for understanding the dynamics of largely over-the-top personalities and presenting them in such a way that at least approaches normalcy.
I’m not sure if Telenovela has the staying power of those series, but it’s certainly more promising than anything NBC has debuted in the time-slot since Parks & Recreation went off the air earlier in the year. It’s classically, arguably predictably kooky, and there are some questionable dips into sexism (what’s up with the female body double gag?) and ageism (although Longoria, at 40, looks like a season one era Gabby from Desperate Housewives), but it works because Longoria embraces it wholeheartedly, and convinces everyone to follow in the trail of her wispy, flowing gowns. Give it a few episodes, and she may do the same for you.
Silly and eccentric but not quite graceful enough to be considered irreverent, producer/star Eva Longoria's eager commitment to the premise still allows Telenovela to crackle with great jokes and solid physical comedy.