Devious Maids probably isn’t an especially surprising show, if you know that it comes to you from the creator of Desperate Housewives, but even in comparison to that effort, it’s a certain kind of forward move. Desperate Housewives started off aiming for what we’ve actually achieved with Devious Maids, but it wasn’t quite there, and it didn’t take long for it to turn down a less interesting road.
The guilty pleasure genre is a tricky one, especially if you want people to help spread the word by admitting they watch your show, and there is a razor thin line separating worthwhile efforts from shows that are calling their own audiences stupid. Worse, virtually every aspect of creating the story you’re after is trying desperately to shove you over that line.
With shows like Scandal, or Grey’s Anatomy post-1st season, it’s easy for critics to tear apart the ridiculous plot arcs, vapid characterizations, and ultimately hollow construction that leaves any future, nonsensical turns open, but most of the generalized negatives apply equally to shows like Devious Maids, so how does one manage a high rating while others are labeled among the worst things to ever happen on television?
It isn’t that the characters are outlandish, but that they aren’t solidly developed, and don’t stay true to themselves if the next laughable twist demands they morph into an entirely new personality. It isn’t that the overall arc is completely crazy, it’s that the events have no connection to anything else, and are seemingly random whims. Not to mention, for example, the later-season Grey‘s staple – when you have no ideas (or the writers take a vacation), throw a major catastrophe at things. In short, when guilty pleasures cross the line, their entire air is saying, “You’re so stupid, you’re actually watching this… really, no matter what we do.” When they work right, they’re saying, “Look, this is pretty stupid really, but let’s have some fun.”
Devious Maids is, at its heart, an Upstairs/Downstairs effort that examines a unique circumstance of clash between the haves and the have-nots. It is populated by some fantastically real people, who are nevertheless a bit odd at times, and some utterly unreal people, who are both fun to gawk at, and turn your stomach. That isn’t to say that there aren’t actually people who are nearly indistinguishable from the upper class on display here, they just aren’t real either.
The show kicks off with a maid getting murdered at a party, and a waiter stumbling out of the house holding the knife. If you’ve ever watched television before, you know that whoever stumbles out of the house with the murder weapon in hand is the least likely suspect. While the show doesn’t really play out like a mystery, we quickly meet the suspects, and those around them. Mostly, this happens by way of Marisol (Ana Ortiz), a new maid who takes a job with the Stappords, who has a secret agenda. We quickly learn that she is actually the mother of the accused, and she is not only hoping to press the circle of maids for information, but is also looking to get into the home of Adrian and Evelyn Powell (Tom Irwin and Rebecca Wisocky), who were the deceased maid’s employers.
The rest of our group of maids include: Carmen (Roselyn Sánchez), who is only working for famous Latin singer Alejandro (Matt Cedeño) as a way to further her career, Rosie (Dania Ramírez), who works for Spence and Peri Westmore (Grant Show and Mariana Klaveno) and is torn by her fondness for the master and hatred for the mistress, and Zoila and her daughter Valentina (Judy Reyes and Edy Ganem), who work for Queen of the Ball (and somewhat nutty) Genevieve Delatour (Susan Lucci).
With the murder, and the myriad connections between the players, serving as our excuse to examine the lives of our characters, we delve into the usual realm of entitled delusion and affairs, and the altogether unusual realms of secret perversions, betrayal, and truly bizarre relationships.
The show plays out with a light air that aims more at charm than drama, and the examination of character reactions stands up, despite the fact that there seems no way that should be possible. Credit Mariana Klaveno and Judy Reyes as the best examples of the upper and lower classes, and of well-written characters that do things you don’t want them to, because we stuck them in a situation and wondered what they would do. Peri Westmore, self-absorbed actress and borderline sociopath, might seem to take a turn that goes against character late in the season, but it’s actually a brilliant spin that shows off exactly the mindless shifts, based on nonsense whims, that make her exactly who she is. These are exactly the notes that lead you to want to scream at Rosie for being stupid (and you can’t imagine you could invest to this degree) through the final episodes of the season, but she is only acting in just the way she has actually been developed… which is a little stupid when it comes to certain things.
This may all serve to attempt a distinction that many will deny exists, but Devious Maids, if it does nothing else, manages to get you to try to draw the distinction. To hope for it. It’s so fun, and its characters are so real and inviting, and in the face of their flagrant unreality, that the show sucks you in with its unusual and unapologetic honesty about what it is.
Devious Maids Complete First Season DVD Bonus Features
Unfortunately, the DVD release isn’t exactly loaded. The blooper reel is pretty good, as you might expect from a show that makes it seem that the actors are having a lot of fun anyway. You also get a few deleted scenes and extended scenes, but they don’t actually add a lot of value to the overall purchase. Fans will probably find a scene they wish had made it to the show, but you aren’t getting that much here.
Beyond that, you get one featurette that explores the fact that the show is filmed in Atlanta, and gives you some interview footage with the cast and crew sharing their thoughts on the location. It’s actually a nice effort, but isn’t exactly the sort of thing fans of the show might be hoping for.