What is a telenovela?
To begin with, let’s first understand what beasts these telenovelas actually are. Contrary to popular misconception, they are not the Hispanic equivalent of our soaps and sitcoms. In fact, they don’t even have any parallel in the English-speaking world. While soap operas have a never ending storyline with the same characters essaying an indefinitely long sequence of events, telenovelas are more concise. Most telenovelas are done with a complete story in mind right at inception which means they are conceived as a limited-run program, generally less than a year, with a well-defined beginning, middle, and ending. The storyline often carries a strong sociocultural message and is invariably laden with drama and emotions.
As noted above, the main difference between a telenovela and a regular American soap is that the former almost never runs indefinitely. On an average, a telenovela would be programmed with 120 episodes aired during prime time throughout the week except weekends.
How to make the most out of them
|No matter what they say, telenovelas rule their living rooms!|
Photo credit: Gabriel Saldana licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
The best way to watch telenovelas for Spanish acquisition is to tape an episode (if not already recorded) and watch it over and over again, minute-by-minute, dialog-by-dialog, and scene-by-scene. Rewind, watch, rewind again, and then watch again...using the dictionary for look-up and SRS or flashcards for future reference and retention. For some, using a notebook to write down interesting dialogs verbatim works wonders. Choose your style but there’s no denying that telenovelas are the absolute couch potato’s ultimate Spanish sponge!
Now, let’s figure out what to watch. What follows is a list of top-five telenovelas in each of the five key countries where Spanish is the native tongue. The list is by no means exhaustive but if you follow these shows, you will be closely following most Spanish natives in these countries. If you are lucky to be living either in or around any of these countries, they are all right there for you on your TV. Just contact your cable operator and ask for canales (channels) like Telemundo® or Univision®. If you aren’t that lucky and live far from any Spanish-speaking society, you still have two options: Either buy box sets of any of these shows from your local store or get them online at Amazon®, etc. There’s just no excuse for not trying them now, is there?
Rebelde Way – Follows the lives of a bunch of wealthy boys and girls of a prestigious boarding high school near Buenos Aires
Floricienta – A loose adaption of the story of Cenicienta (Cinderella in Latin America) drawing parallels with “The Sound of Music”
Botineras – Revolves around the lives of soccer players, their love-lives, and police investigations
Los Roldán – A comic tale revolving around Tito Roldán, a fictitious supermercado (supermarket) driver in rural Argentina
Resistiré – A 2003 telenovela featuring a beautiful woman trying to balance her life between her terrorist fiancé and a handsome tailor
|“Ugly Betty” was a direct spin-off from Colombia’s “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea”|
Photo credit: Diego Torres Silvestre licensed CC BY 2.0
El Último Matrimonio Feliz – Follows the lives of five women undergoing different kinds of marital crises
La Hija Del Mariachi – A story revolving around the relationship of Rosario Guerrero and Emiliano Gallardo
En Los Tacones De Eva – The story of Juan Camilo Caballero, an ambitious, unscrupulous businessman and his exploits with Isabella Nieto, a direct business rival
Hasta Que La Plata Nos Separe – A tragicomedy relating the story of Rafael Méndez, a young and unpretentious businessman who vends anything possible to earn a livelihood for his mother and sister
Yo Soy Betty, La Fea – A 1999 comic soap that spawned “Ugly Betty” years later
Rebelde – A popular teen series set in an elite Mexico City prep school not much different from “90210” or “Saved By the Bell”; a remake of Argentina’s “Rebelde Way”
Martin Garatuza – A period romance set in colonial Mexico based on the life of Martin Garatuza, a legendary trickster in Mexican folklore
Simplemente Maria – Revolves around the life of an innocent small-town girl who goes to work in a wealthy Mexico City household and is wooed by Juan Carlos, a rich boy
Maria La Del Barrio – A Mexican working-class melodrama revolving around an orphaned teenage girl placed in the family of her priest’s wealthy benefactor
Clase 406 – One of the most popular Mexican telenovela depicting modern Mexican teen culture and its underlying problems like drugs, sex, heartbreaks, and abuse
Telenovelas are often called culebrones (long snakes) in Spain due to their complicated plots and here are some of the most popular ones:
Escenas De Matrimonio – Shows fun moments in the lives of several couples living in the same building
Los Hombres De Paco – A comedy show focusing on a group of cops in San Antonio, a fictitious Madrid neighborhood
Los Serrano – A hugely popular sitcom revolving around a Serrano family living in Round Santa Justa No. 133 in the fictional neighborhood of Santa Justa, in the Ribera del Manzanares, in Madrid
Yo Soy Bea – Spain’s adaptation of Colombia’s “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea”
Supervivientes – Spain’s very own version of the popular English show, “Survivors”
¿Dónde Está Elisa? – The story of a teenage girl who disappears, a relative being the culprit
Machos – The ordeal of Ángel Mercader, a native doctor of Viña del Mar, in bringing up his seven sons
Témpano – The story of the wealthy Graun family and the suspense surrounding the goings-on aboard one of the family-owned vessels on the ice in southern Chile
Primera Dama – An interesting soap detailing the life of Sabina Astudillo, an ordinary yet ambitious woman trying hard to seduce a presidential candidate in the hopes of becoming the First Lady of Chile
Mujeres De Lujo – Essays the lives of a group of prostitutes in a brothel
Some other day, we will explore the best other Spanish-speaking countries have to offer. Until then, hope you do manage to find your favorites from amongst these shows. Amassing an envious inventory of Spanish vocabulary and enjoying the Hispanic way of life can be a rich experience with these Spanish language shows. Do you have any favorites amongst the ones listed above? Do you have a favorite we have missed out on? We would love to hear you out; please drop us a comment and tell us about your experiences with them telenovelas!