TV picks of the week: Maids debunk stereotype

Five TV shows that will keep couch potatoes glued to their seats over the coming week.

Roselyn Sanchez, Edy Ganem, Ana Ortiz, Dania Ramirez, and Judy Reyes get their aprons on.
Roselyn Sanchez, Edy Ganem, Ana Ortiz, Dania Ramirez, and Judy Reyes get their aprons on.

Pick Of The Week: Devious Maids

After airing eight seasons of dirty laundry on Desperate Housewives, writer and producer Marc Cherry turns his attention to the women washing all those lipstick-collared shirts, the housemaids. Devious Maids follows the lives of five Latino maids working for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills, plus the mysterious murder of one of their fellow housekeepers.

Although it's not strictly a Housewives spin-off, Cherry's successful blend of camp dramedy makes you feel like Bree Van de Kamp may poke her sticky beak over a fence any moment - Housewives star Eva Longoria is a producer and is bound to make a cameo at some point.

But this is Wisteria Lane with a Latin twist - cue salsa music and maracas.

The first mainstream American TV show with an all-Latina ensemble, the show has been hailed for being revolutionary but also criticised for reducing the Latin community to "the hired help".

Before the show even aired Longoria had to defend it from critics. "Stereotypes are constructed and perpetuated by those who believe in them," said Longoria. "I choose not to."

"The only way to break a stereotype is to not ignore it. The stereotype we are grappling with here is that as Latinas, all we are is maids. And yet this is a show that deconstructs the stereotype by showing us that maids are so much more."

For three of the show's stars - Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Judy Reyes (Scrubs) and Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace) - being part of an all-Latino ensemble is no small feat. They have competed against each other for years for the few roles available to non-caucasian women in Hollywood. Reyes' Dominican mother was a housekeeper, and she's proud of her upbringing in the Bronx, but she and Oritz both had hesitations about the portrayal of Latin American women when taking the roles.

But on reading the script they realised that it was their employers (Susan Lucci, Mariana Klaveno and Rebecca Wisocky) who are the caricatures.

"There is something to be said about being able to poke the bear a little bit," says Reyes. "This is from the reality of the maids who, for the most part when you get to see them on film, are opening the door and have only five lines. Now you get to see life from their point of view."

The housekeepers in Devious Maids all have aspirations to head upstairs: Sanchez's character wants to be a singer, Reye's character wants a better life for her daughter and Oritz wants to free her son from prison. It's Upstairs Downstairs fused with the American Dream, which is where the humour lies, says Reyes. "Americans' vision of class has always been anybody can attain it.

"I think there are just a variety of hypocritical ideas with that, and there's genuine truth to that too. I think in today's day and age there's a wealth of opportunity - there's legitimate ways to get to the top, or devious ways."

When: Wednesday, 9.30pm
Where: TV2
What: Desperate Housewives with a Latin beat

- Emma Rawson

Doco pick: Witness

This four-part HBO doco series follows three photojournalists into some of the most volatile areas of the world - places where drug trafficking, poverty, gang violence and political corruption have created a hotbed of violence and danger. Executive-produced by film-maker Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider), the first episode follows Eros Hoagland amid the gang and drug-related violence in Juarez, Mexico. He also visits Rio de Janeiro in the final episode to document the ongoing war between police and the drug gangs who rule the city's favelas.

Michael Brown chronicles escalating tensions in Libya after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi; and Veronique de Viguerie follows the "Arrow Boys" - farmers who took up arms to protect land and families - and their struggle against General Kony in South Sudan.

When: Tuesday, 8.30pm
Where: SoHo
What: Inside the world's most dangerous places

Drama pick: MR SELFRIDGE

Selfridges is one of the most iconic stores in the world and its founder, Harry Selfridge, was a rather fascinating character. His life is brought to the screen in this new British drama, which has been described as "Downton with tills". Jeremy Piven (Entourage's Ari Gold) plays the American ex-pat who changed the world of shopping forever in the UK when he arrived in 1906.

Selfridge made shopping a glamorous, desirable pastime, rather than a necessity, and Piven is perfect as "Mile-a-Minute Harry" with insatiable energy. His penchant for dalliances with pretty women (like actress Ellen Love, played by Zoe Tapper), gambling and overspending make for plenty of drama, but there's also a world of scandal to be found among the rest of the staff and customers at the world-class, sumptuous store.

When: Sunday, 8.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Upstairs, downstairs department store drama

Soap pick: Shortland Street

After last year's epic helicopter crash into the hospital, expectations will be pretty high for Shortland Street's annual 90-minute episode - but rest assured, there will be flames, fights, emergency procedures and romantic declarations aplenty.

A flu epidemic puts the hospital at capacity, but it soon becomes clear that's not their biggest problem. Things don't go to plan with Josh's undercover mission for the police, when the bad guys unexpectedly bring their plans forward a week. Soon, one nurse is stuck in a storeroom with a henchman, the hospital is evacuated and locked down after smoke bombs are set off, and a pair of love birds get stuck in a lift. Bella's desire to help puts her in harm's way and Ula finds herself in a tricky situation on a call-out. Will Josh's hope for redemption end in disaster?

When: Monday, 7pm
Where: TV2
What: Shorty's annual mid-winter feature

Historical pick: Descent From Disaster

Celebrity chef Simon Gault, former newsreader Judy Bailey and All Black Anton Oliver are three of the well-known New Zealanders who take a look back at some of our most infamous disasters in this new series.

Each presenter picks up on a personal connection or historical link and delves into the history to uncover what went wrong. Events include the Napier earthquake, the 1963 Kaimai plane crash and the 1918 influenza pandemic. In the first episode, Oliver investigates the 1943 crash of the Cromwell to Dunedin express train. Gault looks at the DC3 crash in the Kaimai Ranges, which killed all of its 23 passengers and crew and remains the worst plane crash on NZ soil. Yachtsman Andrew Fagan explores the shipwreck of the SS Wairarapa, which ended up on Great Barrier Island in 1894.

When: Tuesday, 9.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Our dark days revisited

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