When it comes to film and television, there are few current shows out there that Miamians can be proud to own. Sure, there’s Jane the Virgin that takes place in Miami, but the show isn’t filmed here and its version of Miami is sometimes laughable (though we love it anyway). But if you want a
Imagined and produced by Dolphin Entertainment and airing on Hulu, South Beach brilliantly blends the classic Spanish telenovela with the typical American soap opera to create a series with a potentially global appeal. The initial idea, says executive producer Bill O’Dowd, was to create a show that centered on the music industry that included the universal themes of love and romance.
The goal for O’Dowd with South Beach was to try and create a soap opera that would sell all over the world. When you think about “global cities,” he explains, “there are very few iconic world cities where people go and know the skyline.” You can’t picture the skyline of some other random places like Houston, but you can envision Miami's skyline and the neon signs along South Beach. It’s only fitting that the iconic skyline it is the first image viewers see during the first episode.
From there, things get off to a banging start with the introduction of Carmen Suarez, a young singer about to embark on a world tour while also recording her second studio album, and the murder of mayor Gus Garcia. And there you have it, the million-dollar question that will have you asking: how is one connected to the other?
Throughout the series, there are various plot lines: Carmen and her brother recording her album, Mike is working on his DJ career, Isaac is trying to take over South Beach as his territory, the detectives trying to solve the mayor’s murder, and the two heads of competing music labels battling it out – but soon enough, the plot lines intertwine with one another. That’s the beauty of a telenovela: the audience is trying desperately to piece everything together when the showrunners already have everything perfectly planned out.
“I’m a big fan of the telenovela style,” says O’Dowd, adding how “that’s one style that American television does not dominate… The hardest thing [with American soap operas] is that you don’t know where to end it. With a telenovela, you know your ending beforehand – we know who the ghost killer is and we know how the whole thing is going to end.”
Although the series features a few different story arches, the most interesting – and most likely the one that will tie them all together in the end – is that of rising star Carmen, played by Miami native Ana Villafañe.
When she first read the script, Villanfañe comments on what attracted her most was the grittiness in the story, “it wasn’t the glamorized, stereotyped cliché that we usually see about Miami… with South Beach, you get to see the sexy side but also the dirty side and the crime side. You have enough variety in terms of storytelling that you really get a true glimpse of Miami and South Beach and I think that’s pretty cool.”
As an actor whose job requires her to create characters, Villafañe explains that she puts a bit of herself into each role she plays in order to make it an authentic portrayal. Though Carmen is more on the wild side than Villafañe ever was at that age, she says that Carmen was born out of her personal experience. “Everyone knows that girl who’s 21 (and sometimes not even) who’s always at the club and she just wants to go out and see and be seen and that’s her whole thing.”
“At the end of the day, it’s a story about access,” says Villafañe. “Isaac has access to all this money, and access to the beach, and access to all these people, and he wants to be in control. The ghost – whoever that even is – has access to all these people and has control. It’s like a big, intertwined game of chess and it just happens to be told by all these beautiful people in all these beautiful places [around Miami].”
The most amusing part about the show for any Miamian will be recognizing the familiar locations where they filmed. Fun fact: even though the show is called South Beach, they filmed entirely in the Downtown area. Locals will recognize the interior of Gramps bar, or when Carmen goes on a date at Prohibition, or even the transformation of Grand Central to be the posh nightclub called Fever.
“I’m hoping that people from Miami will squint a little,” says O’Dowd with a laugh.
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For its first season, South Beach was organized into six, 30-minute episodes — all of which will be released simultaneously via Hulu on Wednesday, July 29, so you can happily binge-watch in one sitting. And don’t worry, O’Dowd and his team are already working on the script for season two.
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