Desperate Housewives on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Pedro Almodovar takes his zany Spanish film to the American suburbs – and television
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The Independent Culture

Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish director who gave the film world a comatose female bullfighter, a pregnant nun and charming drag queens, is poised to set foot on unlikely turf – the American suburbs. His 1988 Oscar-nominated comedy, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, is slated to become a television series for Fox. It will be set not on the stylish streets of Barcelona but in the land of two-car garages, where gazpacho is an exotic offering at the local mall.

The studio has hired Mimi Schmir, known for the hit series Grey's Anatomy, to write the pilot script. But the plump, spiky-haired director from La Mancha, who has won Oscars for Talk to Her and All About My Mother, will help develop the series and will appear as executive producer in the credits. Fox TV decided to acquire the rights to the zany comedy – about a voice-over actress who is dumped by her lover – because of the director's global prestige and strong female characters. "Pedro Almodovar is unarguably one of the great film-makers of our time, and this movie overflows with rich, funny, complex characters and relationships," David Madden, executive vice-president of Fox, told The Hollywood Reporter. "We know that the Almodovar brand will be meaningful both internationally and domestically."

This is perhaps the first time Almodovar has been described as a brand. The man who got his start with sex-crazed, murderous matadors before moving on to subtler stories is rarely described in commercial terms in his homeland. He is linked, rather, with the counter-culture movement of the 1980s, when arts and alternative lifestyles flourished after decades of repression under the Franco dictatorship. Almodovar isn't even a darling of Spain's film academy, having quit after a row over voting procedures.

But the colourful, pop aesthetic of his films is clearly made-for-TV material. In Women on the Verge, the main character sports high heels and a tube skirt worthy of Sex and the City. The director himself describes the film in terms that could apply to other tales of the rich US suburbs, like Desperate Housewives. "The world needs a good overdose of optimism. For that reason I have tried to make a film in which everything is very beautiful and pleasurable, even though it seems unreal," he said. "The people dress well. They live in nice homes with beautiful views. The public services are efficient and pharmacists don't ask for prescriptions. Everything is beautiful, artificial and stylised."

Still, it is hard to imagine how the movie will morph into a TV saga. The scriptwriter, Schmir, a self-confessed Almodovar fan, said the series will be a "suburban drama" about a group of women who have known each other for a long time, and are facing mid-life crises. By contrast, the film revolves around an actress called Pepa (played by Almodovar muse Carmen Maura) on a quest to tell the lover who has dumped her that she's pregnant. In the process, Pepa is nearly killed by her lover's insane ex-wife and her friend almost commits suicide when she learns her boyfriend and his friends are Shia terrorists.

A spoof of 1950s American comedies, the film bursts with gags. A murder is averted by a shopping cart. Phones and answering machines, Almodovar's pet peeve from his days working at the Spanish firm Telefonica, are repeatedly thrown out of windows. The gazpacho spiked with sleeping pills and intended for Pepa's unfaithful lover is consumed by someone else. There are chase scenes, a mambo-loving taxi driver and a kiss from a young Antonio Banderas. The film's ending is typical of Almodovar, but it may not appeal to the Sex and the City brigade: Pepa finally tracks down the lover who jilted her – and decides she's better off without him.

The Spanish media welcomed news of Almodovar's television debut with the usual patriotic cheer that pours forth whenever one of their own succeeds in an US market – even if that market happens to be relatively low-brow and tame for the director and many of his fans. "Almodovar's 'girl' will give a Spanish flavour to American television series," conservative newspaper ABC gushed.

So far there has been no mention of Almodovar's new (and Oscar-winning) muse, Penelope Cruz. But, at 35, she is presumably too young for a mid-life crisis.