It’s not a stretch to say that streaming platforms have revolutionized how we consume television. Long gone are the days of waiting, one week at a time, to get bite-sized chunks of the story and talk about it with coworkers at the water cooler the next day. Now, audiences are able to plow through entire seasons of shows in a matter of days. Maybe hours.
Streaming giant Netflix has been at the forefront of this change, which is why it was so exciting when we first heard that the very first Argentine production had been picked up by the platform.
Helmed by acclaimed director Daniel Burman, Edha’s elevator pitch was intriguing: like House of Cards, but set in the fashion world. Soon our minds started racing with the possibilities of a taut, compelling high-stakes story of intrigue and drama within the context of the fashion industry.
Our hopes were high, but only a couple of minutes into the first episode we came to the shocking realization that… well, Edha’s a mess.
We could talk about how the show is lit like a television commercial, and how completely artless and awkward the framing and blocking are. We could talk about how sloppy the editing feels. Boy, we could talk about a lot of things. But let’s start by focusing in on one key aspect: the acting.
Storytelling – especially long-form, serialized storytelling – requires that we empathize with the characters in order to follow them through the twists and turns of the plot, and for their experiences and dramatic upheavals to resonate with us on a personal level. In the age of binge-ready television, it has become increasingly common for audiences to get so wrapped up in the drama that they feel they can’t wait another day to catch the next episode, they simply need to see what’s next. This is due to that connection.
The problem with Edha is that at no point is the audience able to empathize with its characters because these characters do not feel real; most every person in its sprawling cast comes off as an unfeeling robot, delivering painfully stilted, unnatural-sounding dialogue in the least convincing way possible, reacting to the world around them with a sort of cold detachment that makes them impossible to read, let alone care about.
Let’s take the titular character of Edha, as portrayed by soap-opera star and veritable Argentine entertainment royalty Juana Viale. Edha is a driven, ambitious, and talented fashion designer who finds herself embroiled in a dark tale of crime and deception as she struggles to launch a successful clothing line, stay at the sidelines of a rapidly growing scandal, and keep her family from falling apart. Her character provides the crucial role of the point-of-view character; it is through her that we are reeled into the story, as she addresses us in the very first episode with a voice-over narration which will recur throughout the series to serve as both an exposition dump (giving us information about the surrounding characters and their backstories) and as a window into her own thoughts, feelings and motivations. And even with this resource, Edha remains a mystery to the audience; Viale alternates between portraying inscrutable Claire Underwood stoicism and a half-hearted attempt at earnest vulnerability that never fully connects; this does not feel like a multi-faceted performance of a three-dimensional human person, but rather like the actor and director have both lost track of what exactly they’re attempting to convey.
Spanish-born model and actor Andrés Velencoso portrays Teo, the deuteragonist of this story and Edha’s foil.
A Central American immigrant seeking revenge, Teo is as frustrating and hard to read as Viale’s lead character. Though spelled out for us quite a few times in the dialogue, Teo’s motives and intentions are hard to fully comprehend at any given moment; this is due in part to Velencoso’s gritted-teeth performance which, though effective at times in conveying a kind of quiet intensity, also often comes off as wooden and one-dimensional.
Velencoso also sports a bizarre and inconsistent accent, slipping back-and-forth between Castillian Spanish, northern Latin American, and a kind of fractured Porteño. It might seem like a small detail, but it contributes to making his character feel both unreal and unrealized.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, falling somewhere between passable and plain horrible.
There are a few scattered bright spots: Delfina Chaves and Osmar Núñez, in their respective roles as Edha’s daughter and father, do an adequate job at navigating some complex emotional waters. Pablo Echarri, as Edha’s politician ex-husband, is suitably smarmy and two-faced. But that’s as far as the positives go; the cast of supporting characters is uniformly weak. Juan Pablo Geretto, as Edha’s assistant and confidante, is probably the worst of the bunch, though it is hard to imagine what he could have done better with the ridiculous lines they had him deliver.
And this speaks to the crux of Edha’s problem: yes, the performances are… shaky… but most of the time, the issues are in the script. Much of it appears to have been written without even a cursory understanding of how human beings think, act, or communicate. Characters are inconsistently-drawn caricatures, the thematic exploration is surface-level and clichéd, and the story goes in hilariously implausible directions for the sheer shock value of it.
Every ham-fisted dramatic turn, every unconvincing dialogue exchange, every painfully obvious plot contrivance add up to make this supposedly high-end production feel amateurish and haphazard. As easy as it is to make fun of Viale’s monotone voice-over, the lines themselves come off as horribly-written second-rate soap-opera fodder.
And that’s because the unspoken truth about Edha is that it is a soap opera. An expensive one, but a soap opera nonetheless. It has all the hallmarks of a tawdry telenovela: melodrama, betrayal, deceit, doomed love affairs, sudden dramatic revelations that stretch the limits of believability, impossibly attractive leads, elements falling into place exactly as they need to for the advancement of the plot. Though nicer-looking than most soap operas by virtue of the increased budget, it certainly sounds like a soap opera. But most in this genre are aware of the level of ridiculousness they deal with, and that’s what makes them fun. Edha is painfully earnest and self-serious, and that’s what makes it a drag.
There is so much talent in Argentine film and television. I’ve spent the better part of last week attending the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, and I believe more than ever that there are so many new, exciting, fresh perspectives out there to be shared with the world. It is honestly heartbreaking that this is the country’s first big production for an international streaming platform.
Edha season one is available to stream on Netflix. English subtitles are available.