No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti: 6 Telenovelas You Won’t be Able to Live Without
Admit it, you’re guilty of binge watching a TV show. Friends, Breaking Bad, Dr. Who… We’ve all done it at some point or another. And with the advent of Netflix, it’s even easier to *accidentally* watch an entire series in one sitting. Bonus points if you binge watch in foreign languages! If this sounds like you, let me introduce you to your new best friend: Spanish telenovelas. No, we’re not talking about the NBC dud starring Eva Longoria as a Spanish soap opera actress who – get this – doesn’t speak Spanish. We’re talking real, juicy, dramatic, cliffhangers to look forward to every weekday afternoon (or all day any day, if you choose to watch online). And even better, you can use them to brush up on your Spanish skills.
Although your time definitely won’t be wasted on these shows, since you’ll be learning language along the way, if you don’t have any more hours in your days to devote to TV, look away now, or risk addiction!
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the telenovela, think soap opera with a Spanish/Latino twist. Telenovelas range in format, topic, length, and popularity all over the Spanish-speaking world. Mexico is widely considered to be the leading country for these types of shows, and the Mexican plot model is used all over the world. Spaniards call their telenovelas “culebrones,” from the word “snake” (culebra) because of their long, winding storylines. In Colombia, telenovelas tend to be comedic, but recently several new “narco-novelas” have become popular, dealing with the topic of drug trafficking.
Unlike American soap operas, which can run on for years and years, telenovelas generally have a fixed beginning and ending. Most have between 80 and 120 episodes, though they can be longer if they get good ratings. Like American soap operas, they tend to be quite melodramatic, and usually have a romance component.
Telenovelas are so loved by the Spanish-speaking community that they even have their own awards ceremony, called the TVyNovelas Awards. This year was its 35th annual show. Did you miss the TVyNovelas this year? Don’t worry, we have you covered. These telenovelas are a great place to start.
Telenovelas to Watch
María la del Barrio
This one is a classic. The third in a trilogy of telenovelas starring the beautiful Thalía, a Mexican actress, singer, and fashion designer (and more!) this show jump-started her career. Since its debut in 1995, it has been broadcast in over 180 countries. This is one telenovela that isn’t just known around the barrio (“neighborhood”). María is a young, poor landfill worker who ends up becoming “adopted” into an upper-class family. Kind of like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but with an extra helping of family drama.
If you are a fan of political thrillers like Scandal, check out this Mexican telenovela. Corruption, deception, and ex-lovers all play a part in La Candidata. Regina, played by Silvia Navarro, and her husband Alonso, played by Víctor González, go from husband and wife to presidential election opponents. Talk about picking sides… The series won a whopping 8 TVyNovelas awards in 2017, including Best Telenovela of the Year.
Get your listening comprehension skills out, because we’re headed to Spain with the next telenovela on our list. Gran Hotel takes place in the early 1900s in a fictional Spanish beach town. Obviously, it features a big, luxury hotel, and revolves around the drama (and mystery!) among the staff and guests. One reviewer had this to say: “Think Downton Abbey on steroids in Spain. But with less #richpeopleproblems, more murder.” If that doesn’t make you want to watch it, I don’t know what will. And if you can’t get enough, check out the Mexican remake: El Hotel de los Secretos.
Yo Soy Betty, la Fea
Most people don’t know that the hit American TV show Ugly Betty was based on this Columbian soap opera. More than 20 countries have created their own versions of the show, using roughly the same plot. The premise is basically what it sounds like: Betty, “a sweet and intelligent ugly duckling” gets a job in the fashion industry. Sounds contradictory, right? Perfect soap opera material!
We don’t know about you, but we can’t get enough Thalía. This 1994 series actually got its premise from a famous radionovela, called La Indomable. Once again, Thalía plays a poor young woman who ends up rubbing shoulders with the wealthy. But this time, it’s because she falls in love with the son of a rich farming family. Of course, most of the family does not approve of this, and drama ensues. Like any good telenovela, this one includes: prison, car accidents, forged letters, and a trip to the opera. Oh, and a talking dog.
Last but certainly not least (there are literally hundreds, probably thousands, of telenovelas floating around on the internet), La Usurpadora. The title makes it sound like it would be about kings and queens usurping territory, but it’s even better. This Mexican romantic drama that aired in 1998 is about twins, separated at birth. They meet later in life, and one twin talks the other into “standing in for her” in life, so that she can take on new lovers. Sounds like trouble…
More Spanish-Language Fun
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments! And if telenovelas aren’t your thing, click here to see our recommendations for other Spanish TV shows great for learning. If you’re more of a movie buff, check out these subtitled films. And when you finish those, we have even more great selections of Spanish learning resources. ¡Hasta pronto!
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