The Joys of Spanish Television

With the small amount of TV that I actively watch, I find myself watching more Spanish television than English. The kinds of shows I watch in particular are popular American shows that have been remade for the Spanish-speaking market. What's strange is that I don't care to watch shows like Fear Factor, American Idol, Blind Date, Jerry Springer or Cheaters, but I get a kick out of their Spanish counterparts.

After six years of Spanish in school, I still can't speak or understand the language at its super-fast pace. I can get the gist of what is being said, but if I find myself lost in a Spanish-speaking country, I'm in big trouble. Regardless of the language gap, I can follow along with the shows' seemingly no attempt to cover up the fact that they're presenting something really forced and contrived. I know so much English-speaking TV is also this way, but they try and make some of their content believable for the English audience. Not so for Spanish TV-at least judging by the shows that I watch.

Fabrica de la Risa is a goofy little soap opera spoof complete with a fake laugh track. Gana la Verde is Fear Factor with a smaller budget (but there's plenty of live bugs and raw meat to eat in the second round). Objetivo Fama follows the American Idol formula but with more duets and theatrical ensemble numbers than solo performances. Buscando Amor: Desafio is Blind Date but with money at stake with the success or failure during "rounds" on a single date. Then there are the big ones: Jose Luis: Sin Censura and Secretos: Houston. Jose Luis is just like Jerry Springer: it's a talk show where people confront other people in their lives and make fools of themselves by fighting each other. Secretos: Houston is Cheaters but often follows people living a double life of illegal activities more than people cheating on his/her's significant other.

Maybe I'm losing or gaining something in the translation here, but I don't for a second believe that these shows are trying to be authentic. Of course they're entertainment, but I feel they expose the root of "reality"-based television: there is nothing "real" going on here. What you're seeing is 98% fake but at least these Spanish shows have a wink implied.

On Jose Luis, the main attraction is the tension. The tension usually leads to fighting between one or two guests and you don't have to know a lick of Spanish to get what's going on. The funny thing about it is that the men who look macho "fight" like sissies. Forget putting up one's dukes: these guys want to roll around the floor and hold each other tightly. For the women, they are more no-holds-barred: they kick, pull hair and are rather merciless. Regardless of gender, guests are egged on by the audience constantly. The audience loves to chant lines like "Beso!" ("Kiss!"), "Mucha ropa!" (implying that a female is wearing too many clothes and needs to take some off) and "Fuera!" (essentially telling the guest to get off the stage). This only makes the show more lively even if the guests' stories and fights are fake.

Host Jose Luis himself is a really charming and funny guy. He essentially introduces the guests, lets them explain their stories and lets them do whatever they want to do with each other. There's a dozen security guards who break up the scuffles as Luis stays back and observes. Sometimes he'll don caps or sunglasses worn by a guest that fell off during a brawl and resumes his business as host. He represents the guy who just sits and watches the sparks fly and provides a nice balance to the tension.

On Buscando Amor: Desafio, they usually pair a shy and reserved female with an outgoing and pushy male. Somehow that's funny for some, but it's not for me. Yet there is something akin to watching a train wreck when zero sparks are flying: you don't want to watch, but you can't turn away. For me and my uptight nature, seeing something like a date (which can be a really fun and carefree) be turned into a contest would offend me. Yet again, it's hard to turn away.

Then there is the plethora of shows and movies in English translated into Spanish. As always, the dubbing is off and is almost always way more melodramatic then intended. Watching WWE: Smackdown with zany, high-pitched translators gives this an edge over the original English translation. But that's no match for the cheesy kung-fu movies dubbed in Spanish. Forget all the poorly-dubbed English versions of foreign kung-fu movies from the '70s, take action flicks from the '80s like American Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja or any Chuck Norris vehicle and you've got some really funny stuff.

When I'm watching these shows or movies, I'm not focusing on the dialogue. Rather, the overall presentation (complete with fake acting and cheap special effects) is one of humor for the cynical mind. While I don't think I'm a cynical person overall, there's this sense of enjoyment I get out of watching shows like this than say something like VH1's Best Week Ever or American Idol. The detachment found could be because of the language barrier, but I'm constantly reminded at how contrived this stuff is while so many others think it's legit.


Anonymous said…
Holy Cow! I can't believe there is someone out there just like me! I LOVE to watch Secretos Houston. My family thinks I am bizarre. We are a true blood American family born and raised here. I have 2 years of college Spanish under my belt. I understand about 5% of the words. I too would be in BIG trouble if I was lost in a Spanish speaking country...oh wait, I live in southern California..