Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

On Sundays this summer, the cable channel Lifetime has a new show from writer Mark Cherry, the creator of the hit series "Desperate Housewives." Critic Eric Deggans says "Devious Maids" is trying to challenge stereotypes about Latinos and domestic workers, the key word being trying.

ERIC DEGGANS: There really is nothing on TV like "Devious Maids," a soapy drama about five strong Latina women. But should they have to face scenes like this?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEVIOUS MAIDS" )

ANA ORTIZ: (as Marisol Duarte) I could come clean your house. I mean, if you're having trouble finding someone.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) That is so sweet. Thank You, Lupe.

ORTIZ: (as Marisol Duarte) It's Marisol.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) I thought her name was Lupe.

BRIANNA BROWN: (as Taylor Stappord) That was the previous maid.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Oh. You could be her twin.

BROWN: (as Taylor Stappord) She looks nothing like Lupe.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) I thought she had work done.

BROWN: (as Taylor Stappord) You thought our maid had plastic surgery?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) For God sakes. Taylor, poor people like to be pretty too.

DEGGANS: It's a good try; setting up a campy, upstairs/downstairs story about sensible maids and their neurotic bosses.

But what viewers really get is horrible stereotypes; wealthy white snobs bossing around long-suffering, noble Latina maids. It's an almost cartoonish take on the relationship between the servant and the served.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEVIOUS MAIDS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) I finally found a lawyer for immigration. She said that he could help me bring Miguel to America.

BROWN: (as Taylor Stappord) Who is Miguel?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) That's her kid back in Guadalajara.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) I need a day off.

BROWN: (as Taylor Stappord) I've got a back-to-back appointments on Friday. And Saturday, I'm being interviewed by "Showbiz LA."

DEGGANS: Feels a bit like the evil stepmother telling Cinderella she can't go to the ball.

Thankfully, the maids themselves aren't stereotypes. But there are no Latina bosses here. The series barely shows the maid's homes or relatives who aren't servants.

You wind up wondering, why does every Hispanic female character on this show have to be a maid?

Even when these funny, charismatic ladies get together for lunch in a park, what do they talk about? Their bosses.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEVIOUS MAIDS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Lupe told us Mr. Stappord's new wife is a hot mess.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) Oh, She's OK, just a bit insecure. God is it awful to me to gossip about my employer?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as character) Honey, if you're going to sit by us it's a requirement.

DEGGANS: A great TV writer once told me, a series evoking serious racial stereotypes has to earn that privilege by saying something insightful. That writer, the late David Mills, helped create an HBO miniseries about black drug addicts in Baltimore called "The Corner."

We meet an addict named Gary who once had a successful construction business.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CORNER")

T.K. CARTER: (as Gary) All I'm saying, Cardy, is that when I had it I shared it. I shared it with my family. I shared it with my friends. I shared it with those people in the neighborhood who came around with their little hard luck stories. All I'm saying, Cardy, is when I had it I shared it.

DEGGANS: He complained about how his neighbors wanted him to fail.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CORNER")

CARTER: (as Gary) Just felt when I failed that people would like me more for being like them.

DEGGANS: Gary puts a human face on the disintegration of his entire neighborhood. The Corner cracks open the ugliness of a drug-ravaged city to tell a deeper truth.

Other landmark shows just burst stereotypes wide open. In fact, "The Cosby Show" was revolutionary, showing an upper middle-class black family. Now, English-language TV channels are desperately seeking their own "Cosby Show" for Latinos.

But Bill Cosby was a superstar comic who controlled his own sitcom. If American TV outlets want a Hispanic version, maybe they should consider handing a talented Hispanic performer and producer the latitude to create their own vision.

Until then, a campy soap opera about virtuous maids and their abusive bosses won't do much besides give a few really great Latina actresses a little more steady employment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Discussions about race, ethnicity and culture tend to get dicey quickly, so we hold our commenters on Code Switch to an especially high bar. We may delete comments we think might derail the conversation. If you're new to Code Switch, please read over our FAQ and NPR's Community Guidelines before commenting. We try to notify commenters individually when we remove their comments, but given that we receive a high volume of comments, we may not always be able to get in touch. If we've removed a comment you felt was a thoughtful and valuable addition to the conversation, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing codeswitch@npr.org.