The first episode of ABC's Grand Hotel is startlingly good. It's glamorous, sexy and mysterious. In the first few minutes, a terrible storm hits Miami, sending the staff and guests at the fabulous Riviera Hotel scurrying for cover; it's also the perfect cover for a crime when a young staffer goes missing under sketchy circumstances.
Grand Hotel is an Americanized telenovela and, as such, the central family can fill many Louis Vuitton trunks with its baggage. The Mendozas are a seemingly wealthy family who own the sprawling property (based on the Fontainebleau on South Beach) led by papa Santiago Mendoza (Demian Bichir). Santiago has a smoking hot new wife, Gigi Mendoza (Roselyn Sanchez), formerly the best friend of his deceased wife (played in flashbacks by executive producer Eva Longoria); and Santiago has two adult children, the business-minded Alicia Mendoza (Denyse Tontz) and her slutty brother Javi (Bryan Craig), an amputee from an undisclosed accident.
Naturally, Santiago's children see Gigi as something of an evil stepmother, while her own kids — twins Carolina (Feliz Ramirez) and Yoli (Justina Adorno) — play the bratty bitch and ugly duckling, respectively. Santiago's children discover that their father has questionable plans for their family property, kicking off satisfyingly messy drama and, to boot, another character emerges amid the family's bickering: new hire Danny (Lincoln Younes), who turns out to have a more compelling reason to join the staff than he tells the boss Mrs. P (Wendy Raquel Robinson).
At the risk of boring you with the obvious, it still needs to be said that seeing affluent, Hispanic people thriving and living full, albeit crazy lives, fills a void in the TV landscape and presents a vital counterpoint to racist messaging about Latinos coming from the president of the United States. So, just by existing, Grand Hotel is important. The first episode is so alluring, so sumptuous and so satisfying that it teases the possibility it might have stamina, too. Subsequent episodes leave that question open ended.
As it progresses, Grand Hotel seems confident to check a whole bunch of boxes — thriller, family drama, crime story, and workplace dramedy — yet eventually, the hodgepodge of styles gets distracting and the story overly melodramatic. Of course, telenovelas are melodramatic and campy by definition, but in the four episodes screened for critics, Grand Hotel sometimes seems too unwilling to crank the melodrama or camp high enough to be fun, and it ends up being silly, but not in a self-aware way.
For example, one plot involves a hotel staffer convincing a member of the Mendoza family she's pregnant with his baby. She's lying, but it takes about 12 seconds to convince the dolt he's the dad, and he immediately accepts financial responsibility... in spite of that fact that there's no proof or even a baby. Now, this reviewer has not had firsthand experience with the heterosexual mating process in some time, but this tale seemed so ridiculously far-fetched it begat suspicion that even more ludicrous leaps would soon follow, and they do.
It would be pat and perhaps problematic to compare Grand Hotel to Jane the Virgin, which is an entirely different show that's only like Grand Hotel in the ethnicity of its cast, but it's worth nothing that Jane has been successful in part because it leans into its own absurdity for intentional comic effect. So a better comparison might be Desperate Housewives, where Eva Longoria cut her TV teeth playing a busybody among snoops as sinister as those on Grand Hotel. Same thing though: Housewives' catty camp carried it through moments of genuine emotion, whereas on Grand Hotel the incredulousness and mystery form a jumble that's distributed in ways that lose oomph over time.
Setting a series up with a principal whodunnit involves tremendous risk: If done poorly, audiences will either figure it out too soon or get bored with it, forcing them to choose between bailing or sticking around for subplots that may or may not have the same appeal. Fortunately, Grand Hotel's sharply defined and enjoyable characters means Grand Hotel has potential for dozens and dozens of juicy conflicts.
Gigi, as the archetypal conniving stepmother, seems crafted perfectly, as is her machismo-fueled hubby Santiago, whose stubborn ego will lead him to make devastating mistakes. Carolina's bitchy, vapid persona means she'll always cause trouble or insult someone — particularly her stepsister Alicia — while her put-upon sister Yoli will always have impetus for grudges, if not outright revenge, against her twin sister. All this sets up a wonderful world wherein Grand Hotel's residents can fight, make up, form strange alliances and then destroy each other again. Once their stories take on a more consistent tone, viewers will feel encouraged to lengthen their stays to watch them unfold.
TV Guide Rating: 2.5/5
Grand Hotel premieres Monday, June 17 at 10/9c on ABC.