By: Manuel Betancourt
I grew up on a steady diet of telenovelas. My taste was pretty indiscriminate. I enjoyed sweeping romantic dramas like Café con aroma de mujer as much as the more cynical like Perro amor (both produced in my native Colombia). But, given the cable package we had in my house, I also got hooked on others, such as the Brazilian whodunit novela La próxima víctima, which I watched dubbed into Spanish; the rich boy-poor girl Mexican melodramas that starred the likes of Thalía and Lucerito; even Peruvian ones about music groups and Venezuelan ones about star-crossed lovers. All of these stories, no matter how brightly comedic or how darkly dramatic they were, always centered on a couple — a man and a woman. I so firmly assumed that would always be the case that when watching the first episode of El corazón nunca se equivoca, the first novela with a same-sex couple as protagonists, it felt jarring in the best way. The Televisa series, which is now airing in the United States on Univision, is cut from the same cloth as the novelas I grew up watching, but there’s no denying there’s something quite touching in seeing a couple like “Aristemo” exist in a world I had long assumed would always remain indifferent to the gay experience.
A spinoff of Mi marido tiene familia, this Mexico City-set series finds the beloved Aristemo couple — Aristóteles “Ari” Córcega (Emilio Osorio) and Cuauhtémoc “Temo” López (Joaquín Bondoni) — attempting to leave Ari’s family behind in Oaxaca to take on the Mexican capital by themselves. But given that a spinoff all but requires some semblance of familiarity, the first episode quite quickly establishes that the young lovers won’t be alone for too long. They soon learn that Ari’s friend Diego (Nikolás Caballero) will be their roommate, as will Carlota (Ale Müller). Both are eager to get away from their respective family situations: Diego is eager to move out of his father’s shadow, especially as the ambitious Ubaldo (Sergio Sendel) is now running for office. Carlota cannot stand her mother (who works for Ubaldo’s campaign), as the two haven’t been able to process the suicide of Carlota’s brother two years prior. Add in the fact that Ari’s mother, Polita (Gabriela Platas) has decided to move out of Oaxaca (and into the same building!) to stay close to both boys, and you have a tight-knit web of social and familial connections that establish this telenovela’s sprawling ensemble.
While you may at first feel like you need a diagram to lay out how all of these characters are related, their ever overlapping social circles, in true novela fashion, help you along: Carlota and Temo both also work for Ubaldo’s campaign, while Diego’s two spinster aunts serve as landladies for the young group.
While watching El corazón nunca se equivoca, I was reminded of the kind of “novelas juveniles” I grew up with. The kind which rather than solely put emphasis on a love story would instead focus on a group of young kids trying to navigate the world around them. In a way, to see Ari and Temo struggle with their newfound jobs (and hilariously fail at making chilaquiles in their new kitchen) was to be reminded that this novela follows in a long line of didactic, if colorful, shows that preceded them. “Don’t you think we should be able to learn how to solve our own problems?” Ari asks his mom after she tells them she’s moving next door. It’s a line that could’ve come right out of any of the characters from Soñadoras, Alcanzar una estrella or Amigas y rivales. Those youth-skewing telenovelas always functioned like melodramatic PSAs, openly dealing with issues like depression, drug abuse, and bullying — in ways both simple and simplified.
El corazón nunca se equivoca‘s very first episode makes it clear that, focused as it is on its young protagonists and their relationships with their parents, it will just as eagerly offer that very same kind of heartfelt didacticism. It helps that, unlike its American counterparts, the young kids in this novela actually look their age: you won’t find any kind of bulging pecs or perfect abs. Their youth is very much unadorned, making their struggles all the more relatable. When Diego’s aunt Dora (Helena Rojo) openly tells Aristemo she doesn’t tolerate homosexuality, thinking it will infest her building’s community, both boys and Carlota stand up to her, making it clear where the show stands when it comes to such insidious homophobia. But while the boys’ relationship (and their tender love for one another) does feel progressive — and has been front and center of the telenovela’s promos — the show is truly an ensemble which gives the adults just as much to do; for good reason, too. Anyone who grew up on novelas like Esmeralda, Ramona, El manantial,and Abrázame muy fuerte will be glad to see the likes of Rojo, Sendel, Nuria Bages (who plays Dora’s sister Nora) and René Casados (reprising his role as Audifaz) given the chance to bring their decadeslong careers to this sunny story.
The best thing to say about El corazón nunca se equivoca (whose clichéd title already establishes its cloying sentimentality) is that it very much feels like a modern riff on a very much established tradition. Its central couple may be new, but everything around them remains very much the same: there are secrets Dora and Nora are hiding about their past; there’s an illicit workplace romance that skirts the line of impropriety; there are even impromptu song and dance numbers. Its sets and costumes, privileging bright primary colors and the lack of lived-in feel, goes instead for a glossy, pristine look — a reminder that this is a stylized world where its earnestness feels at home. Watching it, I couldn’t help but be transported back to those school nights when I’d put on El Canal de Las Estrellas (now Las Estrellas) and fall asleep watching stories that felt much too melodramatic, but that reassured me there could still be happy endings. Now, though, I didn’t have to try and imagine what a gay boy like me could look like in such a world. To my 30-something-year-old self, these bandanna-wearing gay boys are almost too precious. But perhaps they need to be, for novelas always sell an aspirational fantasy. Why should this one be any different?