This Modern Mexican Telenovela Is Your Must-Watch for the Holidays
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Watching this messed-up family in constant crisis will make you feel better about your own.
Virginia de la Mora is a typical telenovela matriarch: She’s rich, wears coordinating separates, spews some racist and homophobic views and is obsessed with maintaining the illusion of running a perfect family. And of course, her husband is having an affair and her children are hiding secrets.
We learn all of this in just the first episode of Spanish soap opera, La Casa de Las Flores (The House of Flowers, 2018). The tragicomedy takes a general storyline arc — love, loss, betrayal, redemption (perfect for holiday viewing!) — and the fast pace of the iconic ’90s telenovela and seeds them in the fertile ground of an affluent, flower-shop-owning modern Mexican family. The result: a show ripe for a Mexican and global audience.
The genre “gave so much success to Latin America globally in the ’90s,” explains Mexican director-writer-producer Manolo Caro over email. “I [thought] it was necessary to do it justice and reinvent it with current themes, but leaving the spinal cord that a melodrama should have.”
It’s not just that the characters use WhatsApp to sext. This telenovela is modern and mold-breaking in a genre that is often lambasted for being stuck in the past and full of stereotypes like women characters who pine after cheating partners.
It earnestly embraces the genre, flair for the dramatic and all, but elevates it with decidedly modern, female-focused plotlines and beautiful shots.
La Casa de Las Flores, with 23 episodes spread out over two seasons, has “broken taboos,” Caro explains, and presented a “side of Mexico that is rarely spoken about internationally.” The story focuses on an upper-class family whose lives start to unravel when Virginia’s (played by beloved and Emmy-winning Mexican actress Verónica Castro) husband’s lover reveals destructive family secrets in her suicide note. The cast of characters left to deal with the aftermath include a bisexual son, a transgender ex-wife, drag queen employees and a sister in an interracial relationship.
Of course, there’s the standard soap fare — like a who’s-the-daddy paternity reveal — but the show elevates them with compelling dialogue and top-notch sets, camera shots and soundtrack choices.
“People love this show,” says TV critic Ariana Romero. She credits its positive reception in Mexico and abroad (especially in the rest of the Americas and Europe) to its homage to the “fantastic, weird, exciting” telenovela that most people in the Latinx community grew up with and making it current.
Which is likely why Netflix picked up the second season in October (and have announced a third season for 2020). “Spanish language content is really connecting with people around the world,” Romero explains, citing the success of La Casa de las Flores alongside La Casa de Papel, a dramatic heist show that became Netflix’s most-watched non-English-language show, and Elite, a thriller focused on rich Spanish teens whose first season garnered a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
While the show has been touted as progressive, it has missed the mark a few times. For example, it faced backlash for hiring a cisgender male actor to play transgender María José and for letting the storyline about interracial relationships die out.
But the show has none of the rough edges sometimes found in telenovelas, which can suffer from packed shooting schedules. It earnestly embraces the genre, flair for the dramatic and all, but elevates it with decidedly modern, female-focused plot lines and beautiful shots.
Actress Cecilia Suárez shines in her role as Paulina, the family’s fixer; she speaks in a slowed-down, super-enunciated rhythm that makes her one-liners — “We are not going to be part of the misogynistic culture that humiliates women for having an active sex life” — feel like TED talks.
It’s the characters like these that make La Casa de Las Flores a series you want to sit down and watch, episode after episode, with people you care about (and celebrate how normal you all are in comparison!). Its deftly executed emotional whiplash and laugh-out-loud comedy make the show a truly enjoyable binge.
Seasons one and two of La Casa de Las Flores are now showing on Netflix. A reminder: If you’re a non-Spanish speaker, you’ll need the subtitles for all of these shows, which do capture the nuanced dialogue. English dubbing is also available.