If you’re a fan of melodrama, then make your guilty pleasure the telenovela. These Latin American soap operas have all the ingredients of a potboiler and more twists and turns than a strand of DNA. Here are five that will keep you rooted to your sofa.
‘The House of Flowers’
The House of Flowers is pretty short for a standard telenovela, but it ticks all the requisite boxes. Mexican origin? Check. Strange plot? Check. Overacting? Double-check. You know you’re in for a treat when the show opens with the suicide of a strange woman inside La Casa de Las Flores, the home of the de la Mora family. In a voice-over, she explains that she’s Roberta Navarro (Claudette Maille), the mistress of Ernesto De La Mora (Arturo Rios), patriarch of the highly dysfunctional family. What follows is the revelation of an illegitimate daughter and a secret drag cabaret among other twists and turns. The series finale will air on Thursday, April 23 on Netflix. Read our review of season two here.
Director: Manolo Caro
Writers: Monika Revilla, Mara Vargas, Gabriel Nuncio and Manolo Caro
Cast: Veronica Castro, Cecilia Suarez, Aislinn Derbez, Dario Yazbek Bernal
Seasons: 3 (2018, 2019, 2020)
‘La Reina del Sur’
Starring telenovela queen, Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, La Reina del Sur is based on the eponymous novel by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte. It follows the life of Teresa Mendoza, a young, innocent girl from Mexico and her rise to power in the drug cartels of southern Spain. Teresa suffers several losses (the death of her partners), faces many hazards (narcotics trafficking, kidnapping) and finally, rises like a phoenix from the ashes to emerge as Teresa ‘La Mexicana’. So successful was this series that it spawned an English remake called The Queen of South starring Alice Braga and Justina Machado.
Directors: Mauricio Cruz, Walter Doehner
Writers: Juan Marcos Blanco, Valentina Parraga
Cast: Kate del Castillo, Humberto Zurita, Rafael Amaya, Ivan Sanchez
Seasons: 2 (2011, 2019)
‘Tierra de Reyes’
An American telenovela, this one’s a classic tale of revenge and falling for the enemy. Centered around the Gallardo and Del Junco families, it has all the telenovela tropes. Handsome, chiselled men (the Gallardo brothers) working undercover on the Del Junco ranch to take revenge on the Del Junco sisters. The reason? Apparently, their sister, Alma (Isabella Castillo) was killed by her lover, Ignacio (Ricardo Chavez), the Del Junco family patriarch. Predictably, feelings get involved and things get complicated. Add to that a formidable Del Junco matriarch in the form of Cayetana (Sonya Smith) who discovers their treachery, a scheming and opportunistic husband and an unexpected pregnancy.
Directors: Luis Manzo, Ricardo Schwarz
Writers: Basilio Álvarez, Illay Eskinazi, Yutzil Martinez
Cast: Aaron Diaz, Ana Lorena Sanchez, Kimberly Ros Damos, Gonzalo Garcia
Seasons: 1 (2014)
Based on the book Dona Barbara by Venezuelan writer, Romulo Gallegos, this American-Mexican telenovela hinges on the beautiful, successful and ruthless, Altagracia Sandoval (Aracley Arambula) in the titular role of La Dona. Her success masks a bitter past, in which she was raped as a teenager and left with a daughter she chose to not raise, Monica (Danna Paola). However, they are united in the most unexpected of ways as they fall for the same man, Saul Aguirre (David Choccaro).
Directors: Carlos Villegas Rosales, Carlos Santos
Creator: Jose Vicente Spataro
Cast: Aracley Arambula, Danna Paola, David Choccaro, Rebecca Jones
Seasons: 1 (2016)
‘The Mafia Dolls’
Based on the book Las Fantasticas by Andres Lopez and Juan Camilo Ferrand, The Mafia Dolls is the story of five young friends living in the fictional Colombian town of El Carmen. Their lives spiral out of control because they get involved with drug kingpin Braulio Bermudez (Fernando Solorzano). They are put through an emotional wringer and unfortunately (spoiler alert), do not come out smelling roses. Keep your kerchiefs ready because this one’s a real tearjerker.
Director: Luis Alberto Restrepo
Creators: Andres Lopez, Juan Camilo Ferrand
Cast: Amparo Grisales, Fernando Solorzano, Diego Vasquez, Alejandra Sandoval
Seasons: 2 (2009, 2019)
‘Sin Senos Si Hay Paraiso’
Based on Gustavo Bolivar’s book, Sin Tetas Sí Hay Paraíso, this Spanish telenovela revolves around two sisters, Catalina Marin (Carolina Gaitan) and Catalina Santana (Carmen Villalobos), who rise above their financial adversities without resorting to drugs, prostitution or plastic surgery. Spread across three seasons, this one is a mammoth saga, even for a telenovela.
Director: Diego Mejía Montes
Creator: Gustavo Bolivar
Cast: Majida Issa, Carmen Villalobos, Catherine Siachoque
Seasons: 3 (2016, 2017, 2018)
The story is set in motion when two siblings, Roxana (Fernando Castillo) and Alejandro (Raul Mendez) witness the murder of their parents at the hands of a drug cartel in Mexico. Following this, they are separated. Flash forward to 25 years later when, in a twist of fate, they are pitted against each other.
Directors: Felipe Aguillar, Danny Gavidia
Writer: Adrian Zurita
Cast: Fernanda Castillo, Raul Mendez, Matias Novoa
Seasons: 1 (2018)
‘Jane the Virgin’
Loosely based on the Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, this one is a satirical telenovela in the sense that it parodies commonly used Latin American telenovela tropes. Jane the Virgin (pictured above) follows the dramatic life of Jane Villanueva, a Latina virgin who becomes pregnant after being accidentally artificially inseminated by her gynaecologist. And of course, the biological father is a married man and the owner of the hotel where Jane works.
Creator: Jennie Snyder Urman
Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Yael Grobglas, Jaime Camil
Seasons: 5 (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)