What’s Worth Watching: ‘Telenovela’ on NBC for Monday, December 7

TELENOVELA -- Pictured: "Telenovela" Key Art -- (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

Telenovela, “Pilot,” 10/9c; “Evil Twin,” 10:30/9:30c, NBC

One of my favorite characters in all of television, Jane the Virgin‘s sweetly self-absorbed telenovela star Rogelio De La Vega (the sublimely funny Jaime Camil), would be right at home on Telenovela, a slap-happily slapstick behind-the-scenes farce that, along with Superstore (which got its own back-to-back preview after The Voice a week ago), represents something of a minor comedy comeback for NBC.

Desperate Housewives‘ Eva Longoria, the sitcom’s driving force as an executive producer, stars as reigning diva Ana Sofia, star of a Spanish-language soap despite the handicap that she doesn’t speak the language. Improbable? Welcome to Telenovela, which merrily spotlights the absurdly heightened and feigned emotions on and off the soundstage. Longoria is impeccably adorable as the blithely bossy queen bee, her insecurities constantly goaded by aging one-time superstar Isabella (Alexandra Meneses, an awesomely fearsome Medea with eyes flashing beneath her helmet hair). The ever-blowing wind machines on set have nothing on the hot air expelled when Ana gets the unpleasant news that the network’s new boss (Zachary Levi) has hired her dashing cheat of an ex-husband, Xavier (Jencarlos Canela), to be her show’s new leading man.

A similar scenario played out with Rogelio on Jane the Virgin, and if Telenovela suffers by comparison for being much broader and less immediately endearing, at least the shenanigans are amusing. (The night’s second episode, which introduces Isabella’s twin sister—but which is the evil one?—is even more enjoyable in its rowdy catfighting.)

When Superstore and Telenovela return on Jan. 4 (8/7c and 8:30/7:30c respectively) to kick off a midseason Monday lineup that includes a new season of The Biggest Loser, both comedies may suffer by not having The Voice alongside to drive a big audience their way. The good news is they’re each appealing enough to be able to make some noise on their own. This is quite an evolutionary step-up from the network that gave us Bad Judge and Truth Be Told.