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Everyone's got dirt to hide in soapy drama about the help

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The bad news is that the format and attitude are instantly familiar.

The good news is that in this case, familiarity doesn't breed contempt.

TV REVIEW

Devious Maids

Starring Ana Ortiz and Judy Reyes

Sunday at 9 p.m.

Lifetime

31Ñ2 stars out of 5

In creating the new drama Devious Maids, producer Marc Cherry fell back on many of the tricks he employed during eight staggeringly successful seasons of his breakthrough hit, Desperate Housewives. Like that ABC series, Devious Maids is a show about five gorgeous women whose close friendship helps them survive in an overheated corner of the world filled with intrigue, sexual politics, class warfare, illicit romance and, of course, murder and all manner of steamy mayhem.

It might be easy to dismiss this show -- which, by dint of its setting among the inevitably Hispanic maidservant class of Beverly Hills society, is sort of a mash-up of Housewives and Upstairs, Downstairs -- as a not-so-ambitious reworking of material that Cherry and former cast member/current co-executive producer Eva Longoria have already used.

But despite the obvious atmospheric similarities to Cherry's earlier triumph, Devious Maids quickly establishes its own identity and then efficiently gets on with the business of being silly, sassy summer filler.

Devious Maids (and yes, there's a constant temptation to call it Devious Housemaids) follows the Housewives blueprint by opening with a death that will serve as an important narrative and emotional driver for what follows.

In Housewives, it was the suicide of Wisteria Lane resident and series narrator Mary Alice Young; this time, it's the murder of maid Flora Hernandez (Paula Garc©s). During an elaborate party at a Beverly Hills mansion, Flora is accused by her socialite boss, Evelyn Powell (Rebecca Wisocky), of having an affair with creepy hubby Adrian Powell (Tom Irwin).

Moments later, a fatally stabbed Flora staggers out to the patio area and falls face-first into the pool, leaving dozens of guests to watch in horror as blood quickly clouds the water.

A suspect -- neither of the Powells, of course -- is arrested, and the BHPD's detectives prepare to leave. Mrs. Powell surveys the bloody scene in the library where Flora was stabbed and becomes hysterical.

"I don't care about evidence! I don't care about photos! My maid was murdered!" she wails at the cops. "Who is going to clean all this up?"

And with that, the mischievous tone of Devious Maids is set.

In the aftermath of the murder, Cherry expands the show's world to include five other maids who knew Flora and, apparently, feared for her safety while in the Powells' employ. There's Rosie (Dania Ramrez), who works for a couple of stereotypical Hollywood actors whose marriage is in trouble; Carmen (Roselyn S°nchez), an ambitious young woman newly hired to the housekeeping staff of an elusive Latino music star; Zoila and Valentina (Judy Reyes, Valentina Daz), a mother-daughter tandem toiling for a loopy Beverly Hills matron (giddily portrayed by soap veteran Susan Lucci); and Marisol (Ana Ortiz), who has been quickly hired by the Powells as Flora's replacement, and whose first job is to clean up the blood stains left by her predecessor's murder.

Five households means five sets of steam-heated, soap-sudsy storylines, and Cherry, not surprisingly, does an excellent job of making sure all his female leads (and most of the supporting cast, as well) are given lots of wickedly intriguing things to do.

There might be things about Devious Maids that make you feel like you've been down this well-appointed lane before, but there should be enough fresh mixed in with the familiar to convince many viewers that this is a perfect cable-series confection to heat up a few summer nights.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 G9

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