Two new shows on Lifetime: 'Dirty' and 'Devious'

"Devious Maids," a dead ringer for "Desperate Housewives," stars (from left) Roselyn Sanchez, Dania Ramirez, Judy Reyes, Edy Ganem.
"Devious Maids," a dead ringer for "Desperate Housewives," stars (from left) Roselyn Sanchez, Dania Ramirez, Judy Reyes, Edy Ganem. (GUY D'ALEMA)
Posted: June 23, 2013

Lifetime, the cable channel geared to women, has hit the mother lode this weekend.

First up is the made-for-cable movie Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret. It's based on a still-in-the-headlines circus trial involving sex, murder, and religion. That's an orgasmic confluence for Lifetime.

Arias, 32, was convicted just last month of the brutal 2008 murder of her former lover. Her trial in Arizona turned her into an international tabloid fixation in the morbid mode of Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox.

The film plays out like a steamier but more plodding version of Fatal Attraction. Seven years ago, Arias fell hard for Travis Alexander, a Mormon salesman and motivational speaker. She's thinking "lifetime soul mates." He's thinking "disposable hot sex." It steamrolls into a nightmare of obsession and jealousy.

Casual followers of Arias' notoriety may have trouble squaring up the mousy, bespectacled defendant they saw in court with this movie's luscious blond siren. (Apparently, Arias darkened her hair just before Alexander's murder.)

The movie (8 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime) belongs to Jesse Lee Soffer, who looks like a preppy Jimmy Kimmel,

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as Travis and Tania Raymonde (she was the crazy Frenchwoman's daughter on Lost) as Jodi. Tony Plana ( Ugly Betty) and David Zayas ( Dexter) make very late appearances as the prosecutor and homicide detective, respectively. (Though Zayas gets a chance to utter lines like "Get it to the lab forthwith!")

The problem with this saga is how late those two characters show up. In a nearly two-hour film, only five disjointed minutes at the very end are devoted to Arias' trial, even though she was on the witness stand for 18 days.

I'm guessing the remarkable imbalance of the narrative is due to the producers' rush to get this on the air. Get it while it's hot.

The following night, the channel rolls out a new series, Devious Maids, which bears all the genetic markers of Desperate Housewives, including the similar title, creator Marc Cherry, and executive producer Eva Longoria.

As in Housewives, there's a violent death before the first commercial break in the pilot. That sets up the adventures of a close group of gal pals who are dealing with a giddy mix of comedy and crime, punctuated by a pizzicato soundtrack.

The formulaic repetition may explain why ABC passed on this series before it found a home on cable. The principal differentiation? While D.H. was set on suburban Wisteria Lane, D.M. takes place on a luxe palm-lined drive in Beverly Hills.

Devious Maids (10 p.m. Sunday on Lifetime) is based on Mexican telenovela Ellas Son . . . La Alegria del Hogar ( They're the Joy of the Home). But a better title might be Arriba Abajo, because this is basically a humor- (and chili-)spiced Upstairs Downstairs in which the craven phoniness of the rich WASPs who own the mansions (including an operatic Susan Lucci) is pointedly juxtaposed with the life-and-death concerns of their Latina domestics.

The show stars Ana Ortiz, Roselyn Sanchez, Dania Ramirez, and Judy Reyes as the pragmatic working women and Rebecca Wisocky, Tom Irwin, Brett Cullen, Brianna Brown, Grant Show, Mariana Klaveno, Matt CedeƱo, and Lucci as the decadent, idle rich. (Want to feel old? Pit your memory of Irwin as the young dad on My So-Called Life against his turn here as a lecherous seigneur.)

Bonus points for including so much Spanish dialogue. But the tone of Devious Maids manages to be not-so-subtly racist, classist, and sexist. (The men are either clods or cads.) Which would be easier to forgive if the plot weren't so predictable.

Contact David Hiltbrand

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