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Telenovelas: A Costa Rican Addiction

Once again the country is plunged into the depths of a telenovela, a continuing TV saga that has folks rushing home before 9 p.m. to sit in front of the tube.

Hasta que la Plata nos Separe” (“Until the Money Parts Us”) is another Colombian treat from the same company that brought us “Betty, la Fea” (“Ugly Betty”), the show that threatened to close down all of Latin America, forcing speeches and meetings and overtime to be canceled, and which has been copied in countries around the world.

Hasta la Plata has a zany plot, zany characters, zany situations and zany dialog, but is realistic enough for watchers to empathize. It is definitely not one for the teary genre of soap operas, and it appeals to people of all ages and social strata. I know a mature professional woman who invokes a client to tell her what happens when she’s forced to miss an episode.

The story begins when Rafa Méndez (Víctor Hugo Cabrera), who sells odd lot merchandise in a warehouse, has a car accident that seriously injures Alejandra Maldonado (Marcela Carvajal), sales manager of a car dealership, on the eve of her wedding. She sues him to pay her medical and wedding bills, but the only way she’s sure he’ll pay them off is to hire him and garnish his salary. Méndez turns out to be a top car salesman.

Tough-talking workaholic Maldonado accompanies Méndez to the wedding of the son and daughter of building contractors to make sure it’s a business deal, and has a surprisingly good time eating, drinking, singing, dancing and catching the bridal bouquet while Méndez nails down truck sales among all the guests.

Next morning, though, she is back to being the tough boss leading the sales staff in singing the company song before going off to sell their quotas of cars, and the Méndez of the night before is back to being the devious underling who ruined her life.

With his super sales record, Méndez is designated to set up a franchise in Cartagena.

Because of his inexperience, the company sends Maldonado, too, and the screw-ups begin.

Because prospective business partners think they’re married, they try to play the part of a loving couple in front of others while detesting each other when alone.

Invited on a cruise to an island for a day of parties, Méndez alone dons a life vest and snoops around the cabin, popping up in odd places such as a skylight on which someone is sitting. But everyone thinks he’s the life of the party and fun to have around.

At the exclusive island resort, when Méndez discovers that dinner will include live lobsters, he hides them. After her first horrific impression,Maldonado helps him save the lobsters by carrying them out to sea. After all, she explains to the bewildered hosts, the lobsters had names, and how can you eat one named Marilyn or Sandra?

Adding to the cast are a gossipy sales staff that includes Merino, who is hounded by ex-wives; sexy Claudette, who opens a top button when men customers come in; the know-it-all Ramírez; and the savvy Nelson, who tries to put the make on pretty Susanna, the administrative assistant who’s into vegetarian meals, crystals and chanting, and for whom Ramírez endures gluten dinners and ginger extract drinks as he tries to convince her they were lovers in a previous life.

We can already see how the story will end, even though Maldonado is engaged to sleazy lawyer Rubén and Méndez to bubble-brained Viqui,whose beefy butcher brothers, along with the rest of the family, don party hats and hide in a closet to practice for a surprise homecoming party for Méndez after his two-day trip to Cartagena.

Meanwhile, Maldonado’s attitude toward Méndez softens as she sees how he cares for his family, his surroundings and even the lobsters of the sea. By Jan. 29, when the soap opera is set to end, we expect to hear wedding bells.

“Hasta que la Plata nos Separe” airs on Channel 6 at 9 p.m. With 30 points on the rating scale, it’s the top show of the evening among Costa Ricans. Further proof of its popularity is that a store in San José formerly named Eco Moda after the fashion house on “Ugly Betty” has been renamed Méndez.



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