The Cleaning Lady

2 out of 5

Developed by: Miranda Kwok

covers season 1

There are good bones here for a compelling drama, and as proof of that, the 10-episode The Cleaning Lady successfulyl zigs out of the way of some lazier and more obvious structural devices. But, as though over-correcting for those zigs, the show also zags right into plenty of other eye-rolling moments, and feels like it wastes its bones – good actors, good character concepts – on lots of TV padding. As such, what should be a pretty tense, ticking clock experience, with Thony (Élodie Yung) doing everything she can to secure a necessary surgery for her dying son, comes across as a muddled mix of Breaking Bad, vague social commentary, and telenovela.

Thony and her best friend, Fiona (Martha Millan) are living as illegal immigrants in Las Vegas, working for scraps as cleaning women, the former having joined the latter in America order to find treatment for her ailing son, something that was not available to them in her home of Argentina. While Thony cautions Fiona away from supplementing their funds with risky ventures – such as dealing drugs – she gets caught up in her own morality mire when witnessing a mob murder during a late night job. She bargains with the perpetrator, Arman (Adan Canto): her life in exchange for cleaning up after their crime, which she’s especially skilled at because something something she’s also a magic brilliant doctor back in Argentina, and this buffs her cleaning experience with, like, science.

This is the pitch, we imagine: that now Thony will be called in to apply her apparent expertise, finding herself increasingly mixed up in bad business while working to save her son. And the show doesn’t avoid framing things as such, trying to force a chemistry between Arman and Thony that never quite makes sense as a further justification for why starts keeps calling her in for such jobs, but this is one of those worthwhile zigs, in that Thony doesn’t just lay down for this new lifestyle. She realizes it’s not the smartest play, and rather tries to avoid it at all costs, despite the financial gain, making it clear that every job is her last one. If the show leaned into this a bit more – her animosity towards Arman – it would be even more intriguing, especially when an FBI agent (Oliver Hudson) is thrown into the mix, forcing her to work from the opposite direction, against Arman, if she wants to stay in America.

The show’s attempts at humanizing both Arman and the agent, Garrett, are also unusually good character arcs. Or they would be, if the writing better served those intentions. The structure is there, and the actors are definitely capable of carrying the bits, but the show gets continually bogged down by the aforementioned forced pseudo-romance, and isn’t quite sure how capable to allow Garrett to be, such that he comes across as partially lucky, partially an idiot, partially a bastard, and never quite conceptually clear as a character. The week-by-week instances of dumb mistakes to add fake tension – Thony drops her necklace at a crime scene, of course; Arman tries out a lie that’s easily provably false with a single phone call – create a show of conflicting intentions, wanting to be a deeper story of crime and gray morality, but then also wanting to be a popcorn drama, making for an unfortunate milquetoast compromise between the two that rarely satisfies for either.