I don’t know about you, but my life would not make for a good primetime soap. The biggest drama at my house this morning was where my daughter’s shoes were. (Spoiler alert: They were on the front porch).
The sense of pure escapism a well-wrought primetime soap can conjure up is bliss. Forget about work deadlines, your broken dishwasher, your piles of laundry. Forget your unpaid bills. You can put it all aside and sink into a world where there is back-stabbing and plotting and evil step-mothers and star-crossed romances.
Enter the new ABC drama Grand Hotel, from executive producer Eva Longoria, whose formative years on Wisteria Lane surely inform her take on the genre. In the series, Santiago Mendoza (Demián Bichir) is the owner of the luxurious resort the Riviera Grand, the last family-owned hotel in posh Miami Beach. His first wife died tragically (or perhaps mysteriously; the verdict is still out on that) and he’s now remarried to Gigi (Roselyn Sánchez). Santiago’s children—hard-working successful daughter Alicia (Denyse Tontz) and wayward womanizing son Javi (Bryan Craig)—don’t like their father’s new wife or Gigi’s daughters Carolina (Feliz Ramirez) and Yoli (Justina Adorno). Throw in a pregnant hotel maid Ingrid (Anne Winters), a shady hotel manager Mateo (Shalim Ortiz) and a no-nonsense staff manager with Wendy Raquel Robinson’s Mrs. P. (only in the world of soap operas would a character’s credited name be Mrs. P.) and you’ve got yourself a show.
Grand Hotel stands out for featuring a primarily Latino cast, one of the few shows in the current TV landscape to do so, but it follows the four basic rules of a primetime soap:
Rule Number 1: You must have rich, beautiful people at a rich, beautiful locale.
Revenge took place in the Hamptons. Desperate Housewives in the idyllic cul-de-sac of Wisteria Lane. The O.C. in Orange County. Grand Hotel takes place in sunny Miami Beach with lush penthouse suites and glistening beaches. The definition of “frumpy” here is Yoli, who is maybe a size 4 instead of size 0? She’s stunning, but in the world of Grand Hotel she’s the ugly step-sister. It’s like grading on a curve; everyone looks exquisite all the time with their perfectly coiffed hair, gorgeous jewelry and expensive clothes. No one is running out to buy milk in their sweatpants.
Rule Number 2: There must be a mystery. Just as Desperate Housewives kicked off with the neighbors wanting to find out why Mary Alice committed suicide, Grand Hotel begins when one of the hotel employee, Sky (Arielle Kebbel), goes missing during the night of a hurricane. Why was Sky talking to Gigi before she disappeared? What did she know that the family that they didn’t want to get out? Who was she running from?
Rule Number 3: There must be a SECRET. In Revenge, Amanda Clarke takes on the fake name of Emily Thorne when she moves to the Hamptons to get revenge on all the people who betrayed her father. Here, Danny (Lincoln Younes) begins working as a waiter at the hotel with the hidden agenda of finding out what happened to his sister Sky. Danny isn’t great about keeping his true motive for being there under wraps, but he has perfected the blank, vacant stare whenever anyone talks to him.
Rule Number 4: There has to be a family business, preferably one where there’s a struggle for control. Extra bonus points if the business is in financial trouble.
Empire has its entertainment conglomerate. Dynasty has its dynasty. Grand Hotel has its resort. Alicia has been going to business schools so she can one day take over the company while Gigi thinks she is the rightful heir to the business. And, of course, there are financial troubles as Santiago is in debt to some very bad people. Very nice people never lend money.
So far the show is kind of a blast. As everyone walks around looking glamourous and saying things like “How many more years before you see me as more than your trophy wife?”
Grand Hotel is the TV version of a juicy beach read or summer blockbuster. You might not be thinking about it five minutes after the episode airs but you will enjoy your stay.
Grand Hotel premieres June 17 at 10 p.m. on ABC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).