My husband and I have an ongoing argument about whether some of the shows I watch should be categorized as telenovelas or (as I contend) series. I’m pretty sure I’m right for reasons, but I was also very sure I would stop throwing him under a bus here. Either way, I know I’m a sucker for a lot of the shows created by Gema Neira and Ramón Campos that stream on Netflix. First, they are usually period pieces with costuming so rich you can almost feel the texture and weight of the fabrics. Second, they are in Spanish—a language I have loved since the eighth grade when I learned to pronounce aeropuerto with some semblance of accuracy. Third, they almost always involve some sweeping (more often than not forbidden or at least very frowned upon) love that you just know is going to prevail in the end, but it’s going to take many episodes, much intrigue, several misunderstandings, some evil doings, and a lot of longing looks to get there. Fourth, there is often some kind of mystery that will take an entire season (or many seasons) to solve. Fifth, they delve deep into the platonic love, joy, loyalty, and rewards of friendship. (My husband says all these things support his claim of them being telenovelas. He’s likely right, but I also may have to stop letting him read what I’m writing. And for the record, telenovelas are great, but if I tell my husband that I’ll lose this pointless argument we’ve been having for years.) Sixth—and maybe this should have been first—they employ some deeply beautiful men.
I will now present some supporting evidence for the sixth claim—with a note that these are not all the examples available. Also, please note that some or all of these may not be to your particular liking, and I take no responsibility for your questionable taste.
Now that we have the most important part out of the way, let’s look at the substance of some of these series.
Gran Hotel (Grand Hotel)
Quite probably still my favorite of all these series, Gran Hotel takes place in the early 19th century in a beautiful hotel in Spain where over the course of three tension-filled seasons, Julio Olmedo (Yon González aka Exhibit F), a waiter in the hotel, gives the equally beautiful (but not an exhibit here because that would be a different blog), Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca), the aristocratic hotel heiress, very excellent longing looks as they attempt to unravel the various sorted doings happening in the hotel (many of which are spearheaded by Alicia’s sinister husband, Diego (Pedro Alonso aka Exhibit H), and to find their way into each other’s pants. (Julio also smokes so much that it made my lungs ache, but that is really neither here nor there.) The villains are delicious to hate and the heroes every bit worth rooting for. It’s a little like Downton Abbey, but with more murder, mystery, hidden rooms, secret identities, malevolent villains, a very snarky and sly detective who is hands down my favorite character (and he doesn’t even remove his shirt!), and far fewer discussions about pig farming. So really probably not at all like Downton Abbey except the time period, the detailed costumes and pastoral scenery, and the above and below stairs drama. I sometimes re-watch parts of it.
Galerías Velvet (Velvet)
Set in the late-1950s Velvet follows the stories of people who work in a prestigious fashion house in Madrid. There are a satisfactory number of amazing period dresses and quite a few high end cars (if that’s your thing). The main storyline centers around the love between the heir to the fashion fortune, Alberto (Miguel Angél Silvestre aka Exhibit A) and his childhood best friend and first love who is—gasp—a lowly seamstress, Ana (Paula Echeverría). As you can imagine, there are a lot of societal and nefarious forces at work to keep them apart and, while you can be pretty certain righteousness will prevail, it’s a very fun ride along the way. There are depictions of deep friendships, quite a bit of comedy, a clothing designer whom I love (and the seamstress’s uncle whom I also adore), and some extra fantastical plot-lines (in part because Silvestre had some scheduling issues due to his work on another show). But perhaps the most fantastical thing about the whole show (and the most troubling) is that there is zero mention of Francisco Franco’s brutal dictatorship. (My husband, who did not watch the show, was appalled when I told him, and, honestly, he’s right that it probably veers from just dramatic license into revisionist history territory.) Perhaps I was too willing to overlook it for the fun of watching or maybe he’s being overly analytical. Or both. I don’t know. Damn, this went from frothy dresses to fascism in under 100 words. Did I mention Exhibits B and E also appear in this show?
Wealthy Spanish women with no medical experience volunteer as nurses in the Rif War and are sent to a military hospital on the frontlines. In between battles, explosions, bloodshed, and gangrene there is time for love to bloom, cultural understandings to develop, and personal growth to happen. No fake blood or gauze were spared in the making of this limited series that has some very enjoyable characters, lots of good romance, and a satisfying end.
In 1920s Madrid, four women from vastly different backgrounds begin work as switchboard operators at the first national telephone company. With their newfound independence they begin to fight for more equality, explore their sexuality, and forge strong friendships while wearing some great 1920s fashions. There are also dark secrets, hidden identities, bombings, murders, cover ups, gangsters, and more! I appreciate the work the show does to talk about women’s rights—including pregnancy, domestic violence, voting rights, and sexuality/gender—but by Season 3 it started to feel too…dramatic? It’s ok if you rolled your eyes at that given all the shows I’ve just described liking, but I there are shows that convey over-the-top scenarios with a degree of moderation, and then there are shows like this one where there isn’t any breathing room between very intense plot-lines. Sometime in Season 3 I swore I was done watching when character’s twin (played by the same actor à la The Parent Trap) showed up and there were lots of mistaken identity hijinks, but then I watched the rest of the season. (And I am not without regrets about that.) One other point, the music is all contemporary and mostly in English, including when people are singing live in clubs. Before I watched the show I saw a review where someone complained about this and I was all, “Whatever. Have some imagination, dumbass.” But three seasons in and I do see what they meant. My sincere apologies to the dumbass reviewer who may not be such a dumbass on that point. Will I watch Season 4? Possibly.
A young girl disappears in small Spanish town. Yon González (Exhibit F) and Blanca Romero play detectives who are polar opposites (he is a rebel, she is by the books), but must work undercover as a married couple to try and discover what happened. Their boss is played by Lluís Homar, who played a very different, but memorable character in Gran Hotel and it is difficult to separate them, which makes watching sometimes confusing for me. This is not a period piece. Also, literally everyone is falls under suspicion at some point. So much so that I started to wonder if maybe I did it. (I didn’t.) I feel like the plot gets stretched a little thin in the pursuit of Yon González being able to give smoldering and yearning looks, which, admittedly, he does really, really well. I don’t remember the end in detail, but I think it was unsatisfying.There was a second season that I haven’t watched, but my time in sick in bed is plentiful and I still just might.
Fancy people get onto a very fancy boat on its way to…Brazil. I think. I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember this series very well and I didn’t like it well enough to rewatch it or research it for a more accurate and detailed summary. I know there are two sisters on the boat and they uncover some dark family secret surrounding their father’s death. There might be Nazis involved? (There are a not insignificant number of Nazis in the Spanish dramas I’ve watched.) There are definitely secret identities. I do remember that at the end of the final episode I cringed, snorted, and then groaned because it left it open for a second season, which I will likely end up watching. (Look, I’m not proud, just honest.) Really, I mostly watched for the costumes and sets, some perfectly applied lipsticks, the appearance of the actor who played one of my favorite characters in Velvet, and this man’s cheekbones (Exhibit I, which, yes, I obviously held back for dramatic effect):