Grand Hotel premieres on KCET and LinkTV

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Eloy Azorín, Yon González, Amaia Salamanca and Pedro Alonso in Grand Hotel

Stations: Upstairs Downstairs TV Drama, Foreign Period Piece
Time Travel Destination: Edwardian Era Spain, 1900s
Conductor: Carlos Sedes

Grand Hotel

For fans of Downton Abbey, there is another upstairs-downstairs period drama with just as much intrigue and grandeur. Grand Hotel, or Gran Hotel in Spanish, is a television show from Spain that ran three seasons from 2011 and 2013. Set in 1905 in the Spanish countryside, the story follows the inner workings of a hotel that serves the wealthy elite. Run by the Alarcón family, Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) manages hotel with an iron fist. Running the hotel is a family affair along with her daughters Adriana (Amaia Salamanca) and Sofia (Luz Valdenebro) at the helm. The black sheep of the family, son Javier (Eloy Azorin), often disrupts his mother’s Doña Teresa’s tight control over her business. Much like in Downton Abbey, the upstairs family is closely connected with their team of downstairs servants. There is a mutual respect along with a strict code of conduct and high expectations for everyone involved at the establishment. The dynamic is slightly different here because both the Alarcón family and the servants work together to cater to a clientele. I always felt that in Downton Abbey, the Crawley family lacked purpose so it’s nice to see a working family instead.

You could easily call Grand Hotel Spain’s answer to Downton Abbey. This show offers viewers intrigue, murder, mystery, sex, deception all in the beautiful glory of Edwardian era Europe.

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A scene from the first episode of Grand Hotel

Episode 1: The Maiden in the Pond (La Doncella en la Estanque): On the night of the hotel’s party celebrating the installation of new electric lights, chambermaid Cristina (Paula Prendes), whose been accused by hotel boss Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) of stealing jewelry, has gone missing. A month later her brother Julio (Yon González) travels to the hotel to find her. Pretending to be the new waiter, Julio infiltrates the Alarcón hotel. Julio is brash and determined to find the truth. He tricks Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca) into thinking he’s a hotel guest so he can get some information out of her. Alicia has her own problems. Her strict mother Doña Teresa insists that she marry hotel manager Diego (Pedro Alonso) a man she doesn’t love. The news of their engagement upsets Alicia’s sister Sofia who, with a baby on the way, was hoping that her husband would be the next in line. As the first episode progresses we see a rapidly changing dynamics of Alarcón family and we get closer to the truth of what happened to Julio’s sister.

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The downstairs crew at the Grand Hotel.
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Yon González and Amaia Salamanca

The series is based on an original idea by Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira and is directed by Carlos Seda. All three have extensive background in producing original television programming in Spain. Like Downton Abbey, Grand Hotel is very much borderline soap opera especially with the various twists and turns the lives of the characters take. While Grand Hotel has its over-the-top moments, don’t expect a telenovela version of Downton because this not that at all. While the first episode lags a bit setting up the concept for the entire show, it quickly picks up in the second half. This is a thoroughly enjoyable period drama that will keep you wanting more.

I enjoyed the attention to period detail and how the hotel ushers in a new era with the reveal of their new electric lights. My husband spotted one anachronism which was Julio’s clip-on bow-tie. Otherwise, the costuming was very Edwardian specific.

Grand Hotel is premiering on the Southern California TV station KCET on Sunday January 28th 10 PM PST and on Link TV (available on DirectTV and Dish) on Monday January 29th 9PM EST. If you don’t have access to either of these channels, you can watch each new episode after it airs streaming on KCET’s website and LinkTV’s website for up to one week. Both channels will be airing all 39 episodes of the show’s original three seasons.

This show has been available on Netflix but in 45 minute increments rather than the 70 minute format that it was originally intended to be. Actress Eva Longoria and Desperate Housewives writer Brian Tanen are currently in the process of developing an English-language version for ABC.

Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with lead actress Amaia Salamanca posting on this site very soon.

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The Alienist

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Station: Historical Crime Drama
Destination: 1896, New York City
Conductor: TNT

In December of 1994, Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist hit bookstores and would spend six months on The New York Times bestseller list. In my bookstore days circa 1998-2002, I remember selling many paperback copies of Carr’s novel to eager readers. The book was so popular Carr went on to write a sequel The Angel of Darkness and a third book is in the works.

“In the 19th Century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be alienated from their own true natures. Experts who studied them were therefore know as alienists.”

Despite its popularity with readers, The Alienist faced a long road to adaptation. In 1993, the year before the book’s publication, Paramount Studios optioned the rights for the novel. It languished over the next couple of decades and went through various scripts and possible directors. Paramount was concerned about the budget and it seemed destined to never become a movie. Fast forward to 2015, when Paramount Studios revived an old branch of its business, Paramount Television. Looking for properties already at hand, they picked out The Alienist. Working with the production company Anonymous Content, they started on adapting Carr’s novel into a mini-series for TV.

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Carr’s story, set in the Gilded Age in 1890s New York City, is a mixture of forensic science and psychology. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) is an alienist. In other words, he’s a psychologist who helps his clients with various emotional or mental problems. He mets New York Times illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) who was on scene to sketch a murder victim. The young boy, dressed in girl’s clothes, was brutally dismembered. His mystery behind his death reveals the seedy underbelly of New York City where young boys dress as girls at underground brothels to serve male clientele. And there is a serial killer on the loose targeting these young boys. Kreizler and Moore enlist the help of Miss Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the assistant to police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. The headstrong young woman is the key to connect Kreizler and Moore to police records that are just out of reach.

Episode 1: The Boy on the Bridge – Kreizler meets Moore to discuss the murder of the boy on the bridge. Moore introduced Kreizler to Howard. Not satisfied with Moore’s illustrations, Kreizler orders the murder victim exhumed. They meet with forensic experts the Isaacson twins, Lucius (Matthew Shear) and Marcus (Douglas Smith) to discover what they can about how the

Episode 2: A Fruitful Partnership – The Isaacson brothers discover the type of knife used by the killer and Kreizler and Moore learn of a new victim. Howard proves to be a powerful ally for Kreziler and Moore giving them access to Roosevelt’s office and his records. The main players meet to discuss findings and Moore dives into the dangerous world of these boy brothels.

For the most part The Alienist is very true to the era. I love the attention to setting and costume. I did have some reservations with the dialogue, especially a line uttered by Fanning “Are you out of your mind? I mean, honestly” which smacks of modern speak.

I was pleased to see such a strong female protagonist in Dakota Fanning’s Sara Howard. In what could have been a very male dominated story, her character brings a lot of balance to the story. Bruhl and Evans balance each other out with their adept performances.

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The Alienist is a gripping psychological thriller that will shake viewers to their core. It blends crime, sexuality, psychology and mystery into a powerful drama. Some viewers, myself included, will be deeply disturbed by the sexualization of children and murder of young boys. If viewers could stomach Carr’s novel, they will find much in the TV adaptation.

The Alienist premieres tonight at 9PM EST on TNT. The limited series will go on for a total of 10 episodes.