The over-the-top soap "Devious Maids," premiering on Lifetime Sunday night at 10, reveals messy lives inside spotless homes.
"Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry and actress Eva Longoria are executive producers, and both shows share a sensibility, and both begin with a violent death.
In this, a maid is raped and murdered. The first two episodes do a great job of establishing the main characters -- five housekeepers and their employers.
The maids are friends and share an easy rapport. A new housekeeper, Marisol (Ana Ortiz, "Ugly Betty"), enters their Beverly Hills world and tries to befriend them, but it's clear she has an agenda. She's different -- more educated, removed -- and asks too many questions. She also wears red high-heeled wedges to clean.
Inspired by a telenovela, "Devious Maids" has broadly drawn characters, particularly the employers. Evelyn Powell (Rebecca Wisocky, "American Horror Story"), whose maid was slain, could teach royalty about entitlement.
Susan Lucci plays Genevieve, who is introduced while freaking out under a bed. The soap veteran describes her character as "very romantic, quite vulnerable and is given to very big mood swings and sometimes self-medicates -- as you can see, not very well. She is someone who, over the course of her life, has attracted one rich and powerful man after the other, and now is without a husband and thinking maybe she is losing her mojo, and is maybe a little bit crazy."
In addition to the many ex-husbands, she has two maids, Zoila (Judy Reyes, "Scrubs") and Zoila's daughter, Valentina (Edy Ganem, "Livin' Loud"). Valentina has her eye on Genevieve's son, Remi (Drew Van Acker), and Zoila, a wise woman, is trying to reel her in.
"All I thought of was my mom," Reyes says. "My mom was a housekeeper. I don't remember the last time anyone was a maid. My mom has been a housekeeper and a nanny, and her [Zoila's] relationship with her daughters reminded me of me and my mom. And she did this for so many years. I am a first-generation American."
Reyes, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, and Ortiz, whose father is Puerto Rican, address criticism swirling about the show.
"I know there are a lot of people who are upset that the show is about maids," Ortiz says. "I think it is because, stereotypically, and I know from experience -- I have played umpteen maids and 72 hookers and drug dealers' girlfriends, and I get why we don't want to be viewed as maids anymore. That said, most women in my family were housekeepers or nannies. And these are wonderful, amazing, intelligent, funny, sexy, crazy women."
No one could deny that Carmen (Roselyn Sanchez, "Basic") is anything but those attributes. She is an aspiring singer who takes a job as maid in a pop star's house, hoping he will help her career. It's not going to be that simple.
The final woman of the group, Rosie (Dania Ramirez, "Premium Rush"), is a widow who left her young son in Mexico. She works for haughty D-list actress Peri (Mariana Klaveno, "True Blood") and her cuckolded husband, Spence (Grant Show, "Melrose Place"). Their lives are fodder for digs at the insanity of Hollywood.
Some situations stretch credulity, and some characters, such as Evelyn and her husband, Adrian (Tom Irwin), are purposely campy, which is why telenovelas are fun.
"If you were a 'Desperate Housewives' fan, this is going to be right up your alley," Ortiz says. "I would love to expand even further to the audience we had for 'Ugly Betty.' I think this has a lot of potential."
MORE MAIDS ON TV
Now that the creator of "Desperate Housewives" has his "Devious Maids" all in a row, let's look back at some of TV's classic housekeepers. Sure, there have also been famous TV butlers -- Alfred on "Batman," Benson on "Benson" -- but we'll save that list for when Marc Cherry creates "Mischievous Menservants."
Beulah Brown ("Beulah," ABC 1950-52). While not the first maid in a TV series cast -- that would be Birdie (Ann Sullivan) on the 1948-49 sitcom "The Growing Paynes" -- Beulah was the first such starring character, and played by the first African-American TV star, Ethel Waters. Later, Louise Beavers and, briefly, Hattie McDaniel took over the role.
Hazel Burke ("Hazel," NBC/CBS 1961-66). Tony and Oscar winner Shirley Booth starred as Ted Key's Saturday Evening Post cartoon character in this live-action sitcom.
Rosie ("The Jetsons," ABC 1962-63, first-run syndication 1985-87). The robot maid in Hanna-Barbera's futuristic animated series was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl.
Grindl ("Grindl," NBC 1963-64). Referred to only by the one name, Grindl (Imogene Coca) wasn't just a maid but did any kind of domestic job Foster's Temporary Employment Services needed.
Alice Nelson ("The Brady Bunch," ABC 1969-74). Far more than a maid, Ann B. Davis' matronly major-domo ran a household of eight family members. Plus Tiger the dog.
Mrs. Livingston ("The Courtship of Eddie's Father," ABC 1969-72). Also much more than a maid, the housekeeper played by Miyoshi Umeki, the first Asian to win an Academy Award (for 1957's "Sayonara"), was a surrogate mom to motherless Eddie (Brandon Cruz).
Florida Evans, Mrs. Nell Naugatuck ("Maude," CBS 1972-78). After Esther Rolle, who played the title character's first maid, Florida, left for the spinoff "Good Times," Hermione Baddeley succeeded her as crusty Brit Mrs. Naugatuck.
Florence Johnston ("The Jeffersons," CBS 1975-85). Marla Gibbs' lazy and back-talking foil for blustery George Jefferson went on to the four-episode spinoff "Checking In" before returning to that dee-luxe apartment in the sky.
Rosario Salazar ("Will & Grace," NBC 1998-2006). Why Karen Walker's female maid wasn't Rosaria, who knows? All we know is that Shelley Morrison parlayed her from a one-episode guest role to full-cast membership.
Berta ("Two and a Half Men," CBS 2003- ). The character's catchphrase may be, "I'm not cleaning that up!" but after a decade in the role, Conchata Ferrell's surely cleaning up just fine.
-- Frank Lovece