'Devious Maids': Ugly Stereotype, Modern Heroes, or Viral Marketing?

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Since 2011, the mere mention of Marc Cherry's work on "Devious Maids," a soapy drama helmed by a group of Latina maids, created controversy. "Devious Maids" executive producer and former "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria heralds the multifaceted maids as heroes while critics claim it stereotypes Latinas as maids. The debate spurred a much-needed open dialogue about the state of Hollywood, but it also reeks of a clever marketing ploy. The current controversy is similar to the hullabaloo that surround "GCB," a tongue-in-cheek satire that survived only a few short months.

Tarnished titles

Although the title makes the maids appear malicious, "Devious Maids" earned its bad rep with a hat trick of questionable choices. Early buzz about the show focused on the source material, a Mexican telenovela, and Latina maids without mentioning their individual qualities and aspirations. A promo photo and clip show the stars vamping it up in sexy uniforms. Negative feedback isn't simply a case of judging a book by its cover, as Longoria suggests in an op-ed on The Huffington Post, it is a direct result of multiple marketing decisions.

In 2012, "GCB" went through multiple name changes because its reference to Christianity riled detractors, including Newt Gingrich, long before the show's premiere aired. The tawdry title, based on the book "Good Christian B------," belied the show's central focus: The evolving relationships of several strong-willed women who, at first glance, exemplify a variety of unsavory archetypes. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, "GCB" star Kristin Chenoweth chided, "You just can't judge a book by its cover."

Sweeping changes

Classic westerns often kept it simple by outfitting the good guys with white hats and the bad guys with black hats, but today's hottest shows push the definition of a hero. Open-minded audiences repeatedly demonstrate their willingness to not only empathize with well-written, complex characters, but to commend them. Fans can't help but root for deviants like serial-killer exterminator "Dexter" and meth man Walter on "Breaking Bad" (at least for a few seasons). Shonda Rhimes brilliantly drives fans to celebrate an adulterer on "Scandal."

The pilot episode of "Devious Maids" lays the foundation for admirable characters. Rosie's a widow working as a nanny to support her young son who lives abroad because of immigration hurdles; Carmen's an aspiring singer working as a maid to garner the attention of her musician boss; Zoila's a hardworking, dedicated mother who uses her maternal flair to wrangle her unstable employer; Valentina, Zoila's teenage daughter, is saving up for fashion school while trying to assert her budding independence; and Marisol's posing as a maid to uncover info to exonerate her son who's jailed for the murder of yet another maid, Flora.

Instead of letting the fictional work stand on its merit, the show's stars responded to critics by sharing their own family ties to immigration and the service industry. "I was inspired to play this role because my mother was a housekeeper," Judy Reyes (Zoila) told Variety. Similarly, Chenoweth tried to placate "GCB" detractors by reminding them of her own Christianity, saying, "I certainly wouldn't do anything that would make fun of my own faith."

Dirty little secrets

This class-conscious incarnation of Cherry's signature blend of soap, comedy, and drama uses campy characters to illuminate the juxtaposition between a fictional community's glamorous veneer and ugly underbelly. Although viewers may choose to recognize heroic qualities in the core characters, these women are as ridiculously over the top as the headliners on "Desperate Housewives."

Considering how the residents of Wisteria Lane oscillated between every trait, ranging from pitiful to triumphant, it seems self-indulgent of Longoria to label the stars of "Devious Maids" as heroes. That same chameleon-like quality also makes it impossible to arbitrarily dismiss the show as a hurtful stereotype. Interested viewers must tune in for themselves and decide if the show perpetuates prejudice, celebrates everyday heroes, or simply delivers sudsy entertainment.

More from this contributor:

5 Reasons to Celebrate 'Desperate Housewives' Cancellation

'GCB' Needs New Title, STAT!

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