Leaving behind palatial Spain of the early 1900s for modern-day Miami, Executive Producer Brian Tanen’s American adaptation of the internationally popular Spanish series “Gran Hotel” retains key plot elements while transforming the concept into a glamorous Latinx-fronted project.
In essence, this reinterpretation, also executive produced by Eva Longoria (who plays a small part) is still a murder mystery set inside a family-owned hotel where a determined young man searches for clues to unearth what happened to his missing sister; however, in this version, certain historically-tied conflicts were replaced with more currently relevant scenarios in the context of the United States.
A significant source of drama in the original show was the matriarch’s insistence in her daughter Alicia marrying a wealthy gentleman in hopes of saving the financially strapped property. This 2019 Alicia (played by El Salvadoran-American actress Denyse Tontz) isn’t facing arranged marriage, but is nevertheless tasked with helping her self-made father Santiago Mendoza (Oscar-nominated Mexican star Demián Bichir) keep their beloved Riviera Grand afloat.
Their reluctantly chosen way out of debt takes the form of Latin pop star El Rey (Cuban-American actor Jencarlos Canela), a Pitbull surrogate whose concert residency at the hotel acts as both a cash-making blessing and a public relations curse. El Rey’s presence goes hand-in-hand with the on-the-nose soundtrack: a playlist comprised of the biggest Latin hits of the last couple years adorning shots of the sun-drenched beaches of the Florida coast.
This is part and parcel of the glamorous reinvention, with glitzy accommodations and stylish attires across the board replacing the opaque griminess of the turn-of-the-century version where electricity is a still a brand new amenity. Overall, there is a tonal and aesthetic divide between “Gran Hotel” and “Grand Hotel”, with the new incarnation sporting bright artificiality and a lighter approach to the material. Melodrama runs deep throughout both, but the Spanish source played more interestingly with the whodunit premise. Class clashes remain present in the contemporary storyline, but are less pronounced than in the more rigid past when employees were nearly subhuman servants.
Alicia’s brother Javi (Bryan Craig) differs substantially from its Spanish counterpart. Here, though he is still a jobless womanizer, a physical disability caused by undisclosed circumstances lends heftier emotional complexity to his comfortable life. À la Cinderella, the Mendoza siblings must also endure a stepmother (Puerto Rican performer Roselyn Sanchez) and two stepsisters. Of the latter, Yoli (Justina Adorno) rises as the most compelling character in the periphery since she fails to uphold the family’s beauty standards and is willing to explore her sexuality.
Regarding Latinx representation, ABC’s “Grand Hotel” takes few risks with the Latinos it puts on screen. Although seeing Bichir return to television in a lead role is a welcome gift, most of the cast members are model-like, white-passing Latinos with stunning bodies, or white actors playing Latinos. The use of Spanish-language dialogue is far from ringing entirely organic, but one could consider it progress in the sense that there are longer phrases than just hackneyed words such as “señorita” or “papi.”
Viewers versed in Latin American soaps depicting the upper crust will find themselves watching a better-produced telenovela with familiar intrigues from lies around a pregnancy, an unfaithful romance, and haunting secrets from a distant past. It won’t bore you, but you’ll know it’s a network show.
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