Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Matt Lopez has been a screenwriter for a couple of Disney’s big-budget films, such as Race to Witch Mountain (2009) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010). Five years ago, he tried his hand at writing for a TV series. It didn’t last long. Now, he’s trying his hand at a telenovela or a prime-time soap opera. About a decade ago, daytime soap operas started being canceled. The networks weren’t embracing family dramas in prime-time much either. Empire (2015) was a hit series that signaled a possible resurgence. This Is Us (2016), Dynasty (2017) and Succession (2018) were examples of that resurgence. The ratings for This Is Us in particular were pretty incredible. Empire had incredible ratings also. Empire was unique though because it focused on an African-American family, which is something that is rare, at least on network television.
Jane the Virgin (2014) was a series that spoofed the idea of the telenovela. It was also part of a wave of shows that put Latino or Hispanic characters in the forefront. Successful ones have been genre shows like action or science fiction. A straight drama like Party of Five (2020) only lasted one season before it was canceled. It seems as though this series will also last only one season, even though I think this is probably the best written series of a lot of the network dramas.
John Ortiz (Fast & Furious and American Gangster) stars as Joe Sandoval, the owner of Heritage House, a wine vineyard in northern California, in the so-called Sonoma Valley. He has five children, four biological children and one step child. Of his biological children, three of whom are adults. All of his family members have shares in Heritage House. Joe is the ultimate boss. He’s the CEO. However, like with Empire and Succession, a lot of the present-day plot involves the adult children trying to seize power or control of the company, arresting it away from Joe who represents the tough patriarch from most soap operas and in particular Empire and Succession.
The structure of the series is very much different from Empire and Succession. Each episode is divided in half. One half focuses on Joe and his family’s business, as well as the back-and-forth dynamics of who is loyal to whom. The other half focuses on the events in 1987 that explain how Joe rose to power in the first place and what he experienced before becoming the head of Heritage House. Its structure is akin to Lost (2004) where the bulk of it is built on flashbacks. Instead of focusing on a different character, living a totally distinct life, we focus on Joe and what he experiences 35 years ago, almost exclusively.
Andres Velez co-stars as Carlos Rincón, an undocumented Mexican immigrant. He crosses the border to get a job at Heritage House in 1987. His brother already works there and can get him papers to stay in the country. When he gets to Heritage House, his brother gives the papers that give him a new name. That name is “Joe Sandoval.” He begins working the fields as a fruit picker, collecting grapes for the winery, living in a nearby trailer that has been set up for migrant workers. Carlos only speaks Spanish, but, along the way, he meets another undocumented immigrant who helps him to learn English.
Katya Martín plays Juana Sánchez, the undocumented immigrant that Carlos meets. She’s the one who teaches him English. After a harrowing incident during their crossing into the United States, the two of them start to bond. Carlos and Juana even develop feelings for one another.
Rolando Chusan plays Roberto Rincón. He’s the older brother to Carlos who is already working at Heritage House when Carlos and Juana arrive. He sets them up with papers, a fake ID and passport, in order to allow them to stay and work in the U.S., but Roberto has a fake ID and new name too. His fake name is Guillermo Ramos, aka “Billy.” Roberto works in the fields picking grapes too, but his dream is to own the vineyard. Through a series of circumstances that include unfair and even racist treatment of the Latino workers, that dream is transferred to Carlos.
The majority of the drama is centered around the romantic entanglements between Carlos, Juana and Roberto. As it turns out, Juana develops feelings for both Carlos and Roberto. She’s conflicted over which brother with whom she should be. Things get a little bit messier when a fourth person is introduced into the 1987 story line.
Kerri Medders (SEAL Team) plays Margaret Honeycroft, the daughter of the man who owns Heritage House in the 1980’s. She’s not as racist as her father when it comes to his interactions with the Latino workers. She actually wants to learn Spanish, befriend and get to know them better. She does attempt that by taking Spanish lessons from Juana. Eventually, Margaret starts to take an interest in Carlos whom she only knows as Joe.
Bellamy Young (Scandal) also co-stars as Margaret Honeycroft in the present-day. She is now the owner of her own chain of hotels. It’s revealed that she is the mother to Joe’s three adult children. However, due to issues in her marriage to Joe, she ended up leaving him and their children to pursue her hotel career in Europe. She’s now back in California, trying to reconnect to her children. Only one of whom will give her the time of day.
Tonatiuh Elizarraraz (Hidden Canyons and Vida) plays Antonio Sandoval, the eldest son of Joe and Margaret. He’s the only child who will give his mother the time of day. The reason is because Antonio is gay. Like in Empire, Antonio’s father didn’t react well to his homosexuality. Antonio’s mother reacted better, so Antonio remained closer to her, rather than his father. Because of this and because of Margaret’s resentment toward Joe for wrestling Heritage House away from her, Antonio decides to help his mother stage a hostile takeover and remove Joe’s control.
Cecilia Suárez (The House of Flowers) also co-stars as Leticia Sandoval or Lettie. She’s the current wife of Joe in the present-day time. She was formerly known as Juana Sánchez. She has one child with Joe who is only a teenager. However, Lettie has another child, an older son who is an adult. The scandal is that her eldest son is the result of an affair that Lettie had with Joe’s brother. It’s not clear if Lettie had her eldest son while she was married to Joe or before, but there feels like there’s some bad blood as a result.
Augusto Aguilera (Too Old to Die Young and Chasing Life) plays Mateo Flores, the eldest son to Lettie. He tries to work for Joe at Heritage House, but the bad blood or whatever issues prevent him from getting along with Joe. Mateo decides to break off and start his own vineyard. He also struggles to get to know his biological father who became an alcoholic but eventually a priest.
Christina Ochoa (A Million Little Things and Animal Kingdom) and Mariel Molino round out the cast as Veronica Sandoval and Carmen Sandoval, respectively. Veronica is Joe’s eldest daughter and Carmen is Joe’s youngest daughter. Of the two of them, Veronica is the most ambitious and could see herself being CEO one day. If this were Succession, she would be the Shiv Roy of the group. Yet, an incident that happens early on also would make her the Kendall Roy of the group.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Available on Hulu.