You've seen this somewhere before in an American sitcom: A character is portrayed raptly watching an undubbed and unsubtitled foreign-language soap opera with a box of tissues and some popcorn even though s/he doesn't understand the plot. Then, queue the canned laughs. Telenovelas
are most often used, but this trope definition covers any foreign-language melodramatic series. Invariably, these soap operas are excessively caricatured, with scenes of fights between jealous lovers and adulterous couples.
This is fundamentally a twist on Daytime Drama Queen
, with the enhanced humor arising out of the perceived over-emotionality of such soaps and the incomprehensibility (both cultural and linguistic): foreigners are just funny
and unintelligible languages can be exploited for their comic value
The characters' own reactions and responses – which can mostly be typified as "humorously bemused" – to foreign-language soap operas have a lot to do with the American audiences' relationship to them in real life. Exploiting the comic potential of Americans' superficial familiarity with Spanish-language soaps, David Letterman spoofed one (in Spanish) on his Late Night
show as early as 1990, and has also featured clips of South Korean soap operas starting in 2003. The trope has shown surprising resiliency in sitcoms from the early '90s until 2011 and in American animation series from that time to the present day.
The trope is mostly Played for Laughs
, but sometimes it can be used to add to the characterization of the figures or used as a plot device.
The underlying structure is of a Show Within a Show
. Necessarily, in this trope, Reality Has No Subtitles
and the character's perceived unfamiliarity with the language portrayed in the soap opera are prerequisites. Oftentimes, explaining the soap
compounds the humor.
- Northern Exposure. In the first episode of the flanderized second season, Shelly receives a satellite dish from her husband and becomes addicted to a telenovela, which is both Played for Laughs and used to help set up her realization that she has become disconnected from reality and the things she cares about.
- The pilot episode of Friends finds the gang intently watching, attempting to understand and providing commentary on Tres destinos, a Spanish-language soap, which seems to show that the group enjoys a good laugh together about pop-culture.
- Another episode of Friends had Ross' monkey Marcel change the language on Monica's TV, so they are forced to see all their shows in Spanish.
- On Modern Family, Jay and Gloria watch a Colombian telenovela called Fuego y hielo ("Fire and Ice"; or according to Jay, "Big Hair and Loud Yelling"). While Gloria does speak Spanish, Jay does not; she is making him watch.
- Supernatural (7/3). Dean is shown raptly watching an unidentified telenovela as the episode opens.
- In Will and Grace (8/13) Jack alludes to the fact that he watches "Spanish soap operas."
- In The Nanny (5/9) Niles and C.C. watch a telenovela together without their being able to fully understand the plot, which is played for laughs.
C.C.: Why the hell are you watching a Spanish soap opera?
Niles: Quiet! Something big just happened.
Niles: I have no idea. [Audience laughter]
- An episode of Psych shows that a telenovela that's watched by pretty much everyone in Santa Barbara, even characters who do not speak Spanish (and it isn't shown with subtitles). Shawn even gets a role.
- The Simpsons throughout its history has shown the characters watching Bumblebee Man in particularly over-the-top, Spanish-language television shows. There are examples of him in telenovela parodies that appear as shows within a show that are viewed by other characters in-universe.
- In King of the Hill, there is a recurring Spanish-language Show Within a Show, "Los Dias y las noches de monsignor Martinez," which is sometimes watched by the central characters.
- In a Phineas and Ferb episode (3/1), Dr. Doofenshmirtz attempts to rain out a soccer game that is scheduled to preempt his favorite telenovela.
- In an episode of As Told by Ginger, Hoodsie and Carl clean a house. Hoodsie is shown watching a telenovela, which Carla turns off.