By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Most hopeless romantics say their expectations of life were shaped by fairytales and Disney movies, but if you grew up Mexican American like me, your delusions were probably shaped by the drama, intrigue and plain audacity of Mexican telenovelas.
Part of my love for storytelling was born from years of tuning in obsessively to telenovelas every weeknight on Univision. In my opinion, the 2000s and early 2010s were a golden era of Mexican television. So, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here are five telenovela recommendations to get you hooked.
Amor Real – Real Love (2003)
I was definitely far too young to remember watching this novela when it was originally released, but it was so popular that it’s been re-broadcast several times since then. The story is set in post-independence Mexico in the middle of the 19th century.
Matilde (Adela Noriega), a girl from an aristocratic family, falls in love with a poor soldier named Adolfo (Mauricio Islas.) However, her family is mired in debt which leads Matilde’s cunning mother Augusta (Helena Rojo) to trick her into marrying Manuel (Fernando Colunga,) who has just inherited a vast fortune.
The beautiful costumes and scenery draw you into the time period almost immediately and Helena Rojo’s stellar and intense portrayal of Augusta makes you relieved that she’s not your mother. The novela also established Fernando Colunga as one of Mexican television’s standout leading men of the 2000s, playing stubborn yet noble protagonists in several other novelas.
Las Tontas No Van al Cielo – Stupid Girls Don’t Go to Heaven (2008)
Romantic comedies are just as fun in Spanish as they are in English. This novela follows Candy Morales (Jaqueline Bracamontes) who, after being betrayed by her husband Patricio (Valentino Lanus) on the day of their wedding, moves to Guadalajara, Jalisco with her uncle Manuel. She fakes her death to her family and her husband to start a new life before discovering that she’s pregnant. Her son Salvador becomes the light of her life.
Seven years later, she meets Santiago Lopez (Jaime Camil,) a plastic surgeon who became a casanova after losing faith in love when his career-driven wife left him alone to take care of their daughter. He originally only chases after Candy in order to sleep with her, but her stubborn nature and wit make him fall for her. Candy eventually falls for him too but the return of their exes and their kids make happily ever after that much harder.
If you want to see Jaime Camil in his pre-Jane the Virgin days, this is one of his best performances on Mexican television. And Valentino Lanus is so good as Patricio that you might end up rooting for him to get the girl back, or at least to get redemption. Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob. Will you be Team Santy or Team Pato?
Fuego en La Sangre – Burning for Revenge (2008)
Dramatic doesn’t even cover this one. Passionate, thrilling, brutally enthralling is more like it. 2008 was a great year for telenovelas. Fuego en la Sangre was just the first.
The plot sets up the story of the Reyes brothers — Juan, Oscar and Franco (Eduardo Yañez, Jorge Salinas and Pablo Montero) — who make an oath to avenge the mysterious death of their sister Libia who had fallen in love with the older and married Bernando Elizondo (Carlos Bracho), also dead for mysterious reasons. They plan to enamor Bernando’s three daughters, Sophia, Jimena and Sarita (Adela Noriega, Elizabeth Alvarez and Nora Salinas) and then break their hearts in the same way they believe Bernando did to their sister. They soon realize things are not what they seem with the Elizondo girls who are under the control of their malicious, manipulative mother Gabriela (Diana Bracho,) and they begin to care for the sisters in earnest.
Adela Noriega has the worst luck with TV moms. Gabriela is worse than Augusta though. I mean, who forces their daughter to marry her rapist just to save face? To be fair, she didn’t know she was marrying her daughter off to a monster, but I have a feeling she would have done it anyway. Gabriela is after all, the ultimate of Karens.
Who doesn’t love a villain as the main character? Growing up humble and poor despite being surrounded by a supportive and loving family, Teresa Chavez (Angelique Boyer) resents not being rich. When her sister dies of heart complications, Teresa blames her family’s economic status for her death.
She embarks on a journey to improve her financial and social position through manipulation, seduction and lies. She leaves her boyfriend Mariano (Aaron Diaz) and marries Arturo (Sebastian Rulli,) a rich and respected lawyer. Intrigue and disaster unfold throughout the story and eventually Teresa is unveiled for who she really is.
Teresa was a breakout role for the beautiful and talented Boyer, and was her first lead role. She has since starred in several successful novelas and eventually ended up in a relationship with her co-star Sebastian Rulli with whom she filmed “Lo que la vida me robo” in 2013.
La Que No Podía Amar – The One Who Couldn’t Love (2011)
This is my favorite novela of all time. No other story had me hooked the way this one did. I was so affected and obsessed with this novela that not even the fact that my father accidentally spoiled the finale for me made me love it any less. (Or maybe he did it on purpose, who knows.)
In this novela, Ana Paula (Ana Brenda Contreras) gets a job working as a nurse for Rogelio Montero (Jorge Salinas) who was paralyzed after an accident on his ranch. Rogelio is bitter and mean since his fiancee abandoned him after his accident, leading him to lash out at everyone around him. Ana Paula doesn’t like the way he treats her, so she quits.
She then meets Gustavo (Jose Ron) who saves her from drowning, and they fall in love. But this is a novela, so things are never easy. Gustavo suffers an accident, and a misunderstanding leads Ana Paula to believe he’s dead.
Rogelio has since fallen in love with her and asks her to return to his ranch as his nurse for triple the pay. She refuses, but after her brother is involved in an accident that sends him to the hospital (and could possibly send him to jail,) she is forced to accept Rogelio’s marriage proposal instead. To make things harder, it turns out Gustavo isn’t dead after all.
The story that unfolds is addicting and tragic, full of intrigue, betrayal and heartbreak. If you only watch one of the novelas on this list, please watch this one. It’s arguably one of the best of the last decade.
You can find most the shows listed here and many other great novelas on Univision Now. However, “Amor Real” you might have to hunt down on DVD.