Spanish-language telenovelas (which translated to televised novels in English) have often been a mystery to the English-speaking audience, as well as the subject of parody. Those of us who are lucky enough to have grown up with them understand that they are in fact superior, no offense to any soap-fans. Here’s why.
1. Comparing telenovelas to American soap opera is inherently inaccurate. They are closer to American primetime dramas.
Let’s start off being clear: the only reason we’re making the comparison between telenovelas and soaps is because that’s what the English-speaking world does. Telenovelas are often referred to as “Mexican soap operas” (which is inaccurate for more than one reason) but they have the same mass appeal of primetime dramas (and similar budgets) even if their content might seem closer to a soap opera. Family members watch them together, people talk about the latest chapters, and become invested in the characters. You know, the way people used to be about American soap operas.
2. Soap operas in the states are falling into obscurity. Telenovelas are not.
The era of soap operas in the US have been in serious decline. Lots of big name soaps have finally ended - four in the last four years. Those that have stayed around are performing poorly in the Nielson ratings, in relation to how they were performing a decade ago. It could be a changing pop culture, a dwindling of their key demographic, or simply there are better-liked shows on TV at the time they air.
3. Telenovelas come in many different genres.
Of the last major soap operas on TV, only General Hospital is different in its setting and genre. Telenovelas on the other hand, come in many different varieties: comedy, historical, romantic, hospital, musical, work place, ranchero, mystery, etc. The above is Bodas de Odio a historical Mexican telenovela which will be remade in 2013.
4. They are also made for different ages.
Telenovelas are also made for specific age groups, such as children, teens, and adults. Soap operas tend to be made for an adult female audience, and people who are staying home sick. Patito Feo is an example of a telenovela for teens (and it has its own music!).
5. Not to mention they are multi-national.
Telenovelas are not just “Mexican soap operas.” They come from Mexico, yes, but also from Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and, yes, even the United States. In fact, Yo Soy Betty la Fea (shown above) was so popular in its native Colombia, lots of countries took the idea either remade the show or took the idea and altered it. You might have seen the show when it was brought to the US as Ugly Betty.
6. The theme songs for telenovelas are always really catchy.
This was my personal favorite telenovela when I was little, called Carita de Angel and the theme song was the bomb. I would sing it all the time, just because. If you grew up with these, you have at least one favorite theme song too. Do American soaps have theme songs with words? I guess you could hum them.
7. The acting can be hammy, but telenovelas have amazing production values.
Look at the detail in that Vidas Cruzadas screenshot. Because telenovelas are a multi-million dollar business, they can afford to shoot on location with expensive equipment, and have top notch production values. Yes, in terms of content, soap operas and telenovelas have similar “hammy” styles, with the dramatic turns and close-ups on the reveals, but the one that looks better in the 21st century is hard to deny.
8. Some telenovelas can have morals or larger messages involved in their narratives.
While soap operas have been known to cover popular topics concerning the times, such as the hard economic times, telenovelas often contain morals or larger themes. The previously mentioned Patito Feo and Yo Soy Betty La Fea deal with not judging women outward appearances, which is not exactly the most common lesson taught to the viewing audience. Others can include messages about kindness and compassion, doing what’s right in the face of danger, and putting family first above all else.
9. There’s bad, there’s evil, and then there’s telenovela villains.
The baddies in telenovelas are deliciously malicious, sometimes more so than their soap opera counterparts. Like Anibal Balvanera, from Amores Verdaderos who this image politely says is more evil than Lord Voldemort. It might seem extreme, but that’s why we love to hate them.
10. The feeling when your favorite telenovela re-airs is unmatched.
You’ve already seen it three times, but you just love it so much. American soap operas, because they run on a continuous schedule for so long, never re-air.
11. Well, okay, maybe it’s matched by the feeling when your favorite characters kiss for the first time on screen.
You have to work for that kiss in telenovelas. American soap operas can build the suspense with the romance, but there’s always someone dramatically kissing someone.
12. They never last a decade, but the endings can still break your heart.
American soap operas can last years, in some cases decades. Telenovelas, on the other hand, last on average between 1-3 years but always pack a powerful punch right at the end. So the next time you think a telenovela’s plot is complicated, remember that The Young and the Restless has been running for 40 years.