In the opening scene of her new sitcom Telenovela (previewing Monday, 10/9c on NBC), Eva Longoria’s Ana Sofia Calderon face-plants not once, but twice, as she rushes to set — late as usual. She might’ve been better off staying flat on the floor — concealing her participation in a series whose nifty premise collapses under the weight of its leaden jokes and dead-horse storylines.
Don’t get me wrong: The Desperate Housewives vet (who also executive-produces her new series) still possesses the ability to score huge laughs. Unfortunately, those rare moments in Telenovela mostly happen when Longoria has no dialogue, and is instead silently staring down her ex-fiancé or hilariously suppressing her gag reflex as a couple of old-friends-turned-sex-partners share the details of their recent tryst. (The latter, a running gag in Episode 2, serves as a cruel reminder of Longoria’s strength at broad comedy — especially since those muscles rarely get a workout from Telenovela‘s achingly banal scripts.)
The setup is a familiar, albeit not unappealing one: Longoria’s Ana Sofia, the titular star of the long-running Las Leyes de Pasion, is thrown a curveball when the network’s new boss (Chuck‘s Zachary Levi, utilized about as well as a filet mignon at a convention of vegans) casts her ex-husband as her male lead — without so much as a word of warning. Despite support from her costume-designer BFF Mimi (Diana Maria Riva) and insecure gay castmate Gael (Jose Moreno Brooks), Ana Sofia starts spiraling, flashing back to a breakup that left her in a bathtub filled with tissues, listening to “All By Myself,” then eventually throwing a trashcan-overturning tantrum in front of a wall of autograph-seeking fans.
Trouble is, there’s not a single surprising twist on any of the threadbare inside-showbiz tropes, and even worse, every single zinger feels like it’s from a hastily assembled first draft. “I thought marriage was between a man and a woman,” Ana Sophia says of her failed union, “not between a man, a woman and Shakira.” Longoria and her castmates gamely try to breathe some life into the material, but you can’t inflate a balloon that’s peppered with holes.
Episode 2 of Telenovela introduces the evil twin of Ana Sophia’s co-star Isabella — a woman who returns after years of self-imposed exile with revenge fantasies on the brain. In my mind, I’m hoping that somewhere out in the world, Telenovela has a heretofore unseen twin, too, and that perhaps it’ll emerge from the shadows this time next year, giving Longoria a showcase worthy of her talents.
The TVLine Bottom Line: Telenovela is a holiday-season preview that’s better left unwrapped.