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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

a view from the couch

First, there was "The Rich Also Cry," then "Simply Maria," quickly joined by "My Second Mother." In the last two years soap operas have formed a significant part of the foreign invasion of Russian TV. American soaps, shows such as "Santa Barbara" (Russian TV) and "The Edge of Night" (St. Petersburg), and several Australian soaps have or continue to air, but it's the Spanish-language soaps that have been most popular and the longest lasting. Their appeal may defy the cognitive capabilities of this critic, but the public laps it up. "The Rich Also Cry," was already long off the airwaves in its native Mexico when it became a sensation on Russian TV. With an audience share somewhere around 70 or 80 percent, the show's popularity brought the star, Victoria Castro, to Moscow in 1992. The reception she received was on a par with that of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev when he stopped his limo on a street in Washington, D.C. to get out and work the crowds. No other soap has achieved that kind of acclaim -- perhaps because it was the first. While daily broadcasts quickly used up the episodes of "The Rich Also Cry," and "My Second Mother," "Simply Maria" is still with us (Channel 1). "Maria" tells the story of a simple, young peasant woman who leaves her poor Mexican village and moves to the city, where after the usual trials and tribulations of love, deceit, etc., she becomes a rich, sophisticated fashion designer. In recent episodes, Maria's factory has mysteriously burned to the ground, while Maria herself is in a nunnery with amnesia. Perhaps the soap's popularity is due to the fact that Russian TV has produced nothing like it; the occasional domestic TV dramas are usually like something out of Dostoyevsky or Chekhov: depressing and tedious. They're also only a week or two long, unlike the imports which go on, and on, and on for 200 or 300-plus episodes. I haven't watched soaps since my early school days when my mother would tune in to "As the World Turns" after she had given us our lunch. Later, I was a devotee of "Mary Hartmann, Mary Hartmann" -- a distillation of soap opera cliches served up by Norman Lear, which is probably what people want. Certainly part of the appeal is you can forget where you are watching shows such as "Maria" or "Edge of Night." The newest addition is "La Revancha" (Revenge, 16:15 daily, on 2x2). In several recent episodes (155 and 156) Alejandro, the architect, gives his secretary Violeta her severance pay because his business is going through hard times. Violeta tells him she won't be able to find another job: "Don't you read the papers? In our country there's only hunger and unemployment." Suddenly an associate comes in to say a friend is opening a new bakery and needs an architect, and the secretary's job is saved. Cut to firemen in breathing apparatus carrying a litter with a body out of a ravine. Cut to Fernando, who's in jail under suspicion of murder. In comes his attorney who informs him that Mercedes has testified that she did not see him when her father was killed. "I'll get out of here and become even more powerful," Fernando declares. But did Fernando kill Ferrero? Maybe we'll find out in episode 300. It goes on from there to catfights between the blonde latino women with their perfectly coiffed hair and knife-like painted nails, people falling in love, out of love, cheating on their spouses and plotting against someone else, while their motherly maids gently chide them that they have become "cold-hearted." This is all fairly typical soap fare, and on 2x2 -- evercommercial and apparently unable to realize its own long-stated plans to develop a Russian soap -- follows the example of its Western brother networks by stretching the 45-minute episodes out to an hour with commercials for soap, among other things.