Remember sitcoms from the ’80s that were full of broad jokes, intensely loud laugh tracks, and eye-rolling physical humor? Trying to forget, right? Anyway, there are some sitcoms like that still around, and it seems like all of them have landed on Netflix. A new sitcom from Brazil will give you the feeling that you’re flipping around the international side of your cable dial somewhere around 1987. Is that a good thing?
Opening Shot: An apartment building in downtown Rio de Janeiro, then we see a car driving a highway to a beach house in uptown Rio.
The Gist: At the beginning of the pandemic, Isadir (Rodrigo Sant’anna) moved in with her son Carlos (Rafael Zulu) at his sprawling house, with the very reluctant blessing of his wife Alice (Lidi Lisboa). Why recluctant? Because Isadir is a self-proclaimed “smother-in-law”, who is so critical she actually calls the gorgeous Alice a “cow” to her face. She also will only drink water from a clay filter, and is pretty much an overall pain in the ass.
As we all know from our own lockdown experiences, what we thought might be a few weeks became a few months, then well over a year. At this point, Isadir has completely insinuated herself in her son’s family’s life, and is making Alice miserable. But there’s some hope: Carlos is taking his family on a well-needed vacation and he thinks it’s time to have Isadir move back to her apartment downtown. One problem: She’s sublet it to Cezhina (Ney Lima),the son of her friend Fátima (Solange Teixeira) and doesn’t want to leave her son’s house.
He’s basically using it as a place where he can carry on an affair with his secret boyfriend, but once the boyfriend dumps him, Isadir goes into action to keep him in the downtown apartment, throwing him a birthday party at Carlos’ house. Only she’s surprised when Carlos comes back soon after he left to fetch a pillow for Alice.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Smother-In-Law feels like a not-as-smart version of Everybody Loves Raymond crossed with every Madea movie Tyler Perry has ever done.
Our Take: While Smother-In-Law (original title: A Sogra Que Te Pariu) is Netflix’s first Brazilian multicamera sitcom, it certainly has the goofy feel of the service’s U.S. based multicams. In fact, it feels so retro that it reminds us of the Mexican sitcoms we used to come across on Univision and Telemundo. Despite the difference in language between Brazil and Mexico, the broadness and pacing are the same. And, unless you’ve got nostalgic feelings for this format, you’re in for a very long 26 minutes.
One of the things that Rodrigo Sant’Anna is known for in Brazil is playing female characters, and at times he embodies Isadir in a way that makes us think he’s an actor in drag and in other spots he looks more natural as a crotchety, but seemingly sexually open, old lady. It’s pretty obvious that Isadel’s antics will be at the center of the series, and Sant’Anna’s over-the-top performance permeates the rest of the show, making for a bunch of scenes where one person mugs for the camera while the other one yells his or her exasperation.
Sex and Skin: Isadir talks about sex all the time, and granddaughter Márcia (Bárbara Sut) has a different man over the house every day, so there’s that.
Parting Shot: Isadir somehow manages to stay at the house, especially after she gets Márcia and grandson Jonas (Pedro Ottoni) on board.
Sleeper Star: Daniela Fontan plays Marinez, the family’s housekeeper, who seems to enjoy Isadel’s wacky presence in the house.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Isadir finds out that Cezhina got dumped, she calls Fatima and says, “that f–” when she found out that the boyfriend who dumped him is the one paying the rent. This is after saying “They can call each other that” to Fatima when she reports that the name was uttered in their breakup.
Our Call: SKIP IT. If you’re in the mood for goofy, broad jokes that have little to do with the characters and the situations they’re in, retrograde jokes about women as “cows” and some wacky physical humor, you might like Smother-In-Law. But this show feels like a relic from the 1980s, and not a good one at that.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.