First Marc Cherry brought us “Desperate Housewives.” Now, he’s introducing “Devious Maids.” Perhaps he could make “Despicable Dowagers” next? Cherry, who wrote for two years on “The Golden Girls,” could hire Maggie Smith for his chipper insult fest, in which the dowagers keep secrets and lust after the landscapers of their sons’ castle grounds. Come on, Cherry, do it “Downton” style.
With “Devious Maids,” Cherry makes it clear he has a very specific formula as a show creator. “Devious Maids” is very much in the vein of “Desperate Housewives,” with a cheerful atmosphere, a bright look, pretty women, men with soap opera faces, a fanciful soundtrack, and a mystery plot involving murder. This whimsical-melodrama approach is becoming Cherry’s brand, which he is extending in the same way Bravo has brought the “Real Housewives” look and feel to a number of subsequent “Real Housewives” series.
But the similarity of Cherry’s two shows doesn’t work as an advantage for “Devious Maids,” which premieres Sunday night at 10 on Lifetime. The new show feels predictable and weary from the start, since the tone so closely resembles the old show, which was played out when it left the air in 2012 after eight seasons. With its “Desperate” camp stylings and scandalous doings, “Devious Maids” carries with it too strong a sense of déjà vu.
At the center of the show, which is based on a telenovela, are a group of Latinas working as maids in spectacular Beverly Hills mansions. Early critics of the show have pointed out all the Latinas in the cast are in subservient roles, although none of these women seem particularly subservient. Carmen (Roselyn Sánchez) is a maid for a pop star, but she is also a singer, and she is aggressively trying to get him to listen to her demo tape. The moral Rosie (Dania Ramirez) works for married actors struggling with fidelity. Zoila (Judy Reyes, from “Scrubs”) cleans alongside her daughter, Valentina (Edy Ganem), who has a crush on their boss’s son, Remi (Drew Van Acker). And Marisol (Ana Ortiz) is taking on a second cleaning job as she tries to solve the murder of a maid, which takes place in the first minutes of the premiere. Like “Desperate Housewives,” the series opens with a death.
The owners of the homes that are being cleaned blur together a bit. They are all shallow Hollywood types, particularly the horrible Evelyn (Rebecca Wisocky), whose husband may or may not be involved in the murder plot. She’s the one who asks, near hysteria, “Who is going to clean all this up?” when the dead maid’s body has left blood stains in her living room. The best of the bosses is Genevieve, who is played with a big wink by Susan Lucci. She is a socialite mother who is shameless about her attraction to cosmetic surgery and to young men, but who also has a big heart. She gets one of the show’s best lines, in episode 2, when she says about the landscaper, “I’ve got dibs. I’ve been priming that pump since the day he trimmed my hibiscus.”
“Devious Maids” is not awful, and it’s certainly better than the ABC escapist summer soap “Mistresses.” The production is slick, the maids have chemistry, and the actresses appear to be enjoying themselves. And there is a fresh twist: While most nighttime soap operas make room for one small subplot involving the help, this series is all about them and the way they view the wealth and excess that surrounds them.
But none of the story lines, from the young maid’s love of her boss’s son to the murder plot, promises to defy expectations. All the show’s potential gets crushed under the weight of over-familiarity and Cherry’s cookie-cutter technique.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.