Mexican pop singer Luis Miguel has long been a hugely influential figure in Latin American pop culture in a way that may be hard for foreigners to fully comprehend. In trying to think of a comparable figure in the English-speaking world, it’s hard to come up with someone who is as much of a venerated yet strangely distant pop idol, enthralling thousands in sold-out shows around the region while also being the object of so much morbid speculation due to the constant turmoil in his personal life. Luis Miguel evolved from teenage teeny-bopping heartthrob into buttoned-up balladeer, and is now a veritable elder statesman of song.
As if he were terrified by the notion that his stronghold on regional zeitgeist was starting to fade, Luis Miguel is now effectively inserting himself back in the cultural conversation with a new TV adaptation of his life story, earning a rightful place in the minds of the “Netflix and Chill” generation.
Based on interviews with the elusive star as well as Javier León Herrera’s biographical book Luis Mi Rey, La Apasionante Vida de Luis Miguel (though the closing credits bear the disingenuous disclaimer that “any resemblance to reality is coincidental”), the new series follows Luis Miguel’s rise to stardom, as well as his troubled relationship with his fans, lovers, and (most crucially) overbearing father/manager. Though Telemundo holds the distribution rights in Mexico, the show is streaming on Netflix for the rest of the world. As has been the case with other TV channel/Netflix co-distribution agreements, a new episode will be released to the streaming platform eachSunday.
The first episode premiered this week, and the big question is… is it any good?
All told, the Luis Miguel pilot episode falls short of must-watch prestige television, but it shows promise. While there are some aspects of it that feel a bit by-the-numbers and uninteresting, there are many other aspects which hint toward something that could develop into an intriguing, dramatically satisfying storyline. As a stand-alone episode, the pilot feels perfectly serviceable, if a little flat. However, as a mere introduction into a larger unfolding story, it’s effective in putting all the dramatic elements in place for things to really take flight.
The episode spends most of its runtime showing us the rise of Luismi’s flourishing pop stardom, while also cutting back and forth between the very start of his career as a child. Played by Mexican actor Diego Boneta, teenage Luis Miguel is on top of the world, savoring every moment of his newfound success with a doe-eyed optimism and a palpable vulnerability.
Boneta does a fantastic job at portraying the singer as a sincere, well-meaning, painfully naive young man who may not be fully equipped to handle the army of vultures that this kind of commercial success tends to attract. Boneta’s performance, conveying both a sense of teenage awkwardness and burgeoning charisma, was one of my favorite things about this episode.
Opposite Boneta is veteran Spanish actor Óscar Jaenada, who plays Luis Miguel’s domineering father and manager, Luis Rey. Ambitious, haughtily arrogant, and in constant need to have full control over everything, Luis Rey is a former singer who has been irreversibly hardened by his own crushing failure. Flashbacks show us the extent of this collapse, as he struggles to keep his family from homelessness after squandering several key performance opportunities due to his outsized ego.
Recognizing Luis Miguel’s immense talent and seeing him as the one who could achieve the level of success that he himself was never able to reach, Luis Rey takes it upon himself to micro-manage every aspect of his son’s life, spiraling out into blatant lying, manipulation, and gaslighting. Despite a few unfortunate choices in his performance scenes that would only annoy the most pedantic of audience members (like me!), Jaenada is convincing in portraying an embittered, manipulative abuser without falling into the realm of outright caricature.
The supporting cast is also very good, particularly Colombian actress Paulina Dávila as Luis Miguel’s girlfriend and the first real catalyst for the fracturing of Luis Miguel and his father’s relationship. Italian actress Anna Favella also plays a key role as Luis Miguel’s mother, a pivotal figure in his life and, one would imagine, this show’s story. The episode also features a rather Hitchcockian blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by the real Luis Miguel as a party guest at the “Cuando Calienta el Sol” video premiere.
That being said, there are a few things that keep this episode from true greatness: one, and perhaps most importantly, its sense of aesthetics. Though well-shot, there is something rather ordinary and generic about how the show is put together; the composition is often boxy, dull, and flat. A more expressive approach to cinematography is an effective storytelling tool in of itself, and though the production design is competent, Luis Miguel is made up of static, un-cinematic medium shots. The second thing keeping the first episode from being great is how the story beats all feel rather familiar, but this might be a case of “first-episode syndrome”; that is to say, the characters need to be introduced and the story needs to be set in motion, which makes it feel rather perfunctory.
All in all, I’d give the first episode of Luis Miguel a solid B. It’s not incredible, but it’s also nowhere near the Edha disaster. There is a little bit of a grading curve when it comes to pilot episodes. It’s hard to juggle the introduction to a world of new characters, set the central conflict in motion, establish tone, and also be a dramatically satisfying piece of television in itself.
Tellingly, the best scene in the entire episode is the cold open, which is set in the “future” (relative to the 1980s setting of the show) and showcases a grown-up Luis Miguel hearing news about his father’s imminent death and struggling with it for a moment before throwing himself completely into a performance. It’s a gripping, dramatic moment, beautifully conveyed in the acting, direction, and sound design. There are various other elements present in this pilot that hint at something great. Let’s just hope they’re not false flags.
The first episode of Luis Miguel is available for streaming on Netflix. New episodes are released every Sunday. English subtitles are available.