An entrancing '00s telenovela with just a hint of drama.
On Netflix | 2004 | TV-PG | 115 40-minute episodes
Genre: Telenovela, '00s Drama/Romance
Why I watched: By some wild stroke of luck, one of my college professors invited me to go with her on a research trip to Chile next summer. This means I've been starting to brush up on painstakingly relearn Spanish grammar so that I'll be able to order empanadas without embarrassing myself. I've been trying to find different ways to get more exposure to the language, which is when I remembered watching Rubí in my high school Spanish class. Needless to say, giving the show a re-watch has accounted for a good chunk of my study time.
You might also like: If you're remotely interested in drama (the genre) or petty drama (your second cousin's comment to you at Thanksgiving dinner), then the only show to follow Rubí is another telenovela: Jane the Virgin. Between the implausible premise that Jane—the virgin—is accidentally artificially inseminated, the charming and seductive narrator, and generic meta-commentary on telenovelas, nothing can match the dynamism of this series. And, well, since you're now on a Spanish-language kick, you should also watch Elite, a high school drama turned whodunit when a student gets murdered. (A note from Liz: I am weirdly obsessed with Elite! It's like Gossip Girl meets Big Little Lies. So. Good.)
The premise of Rubí is simple enough: Rubí Pérez (Bárbara Mori) is a poor university student who schemes to marry a millionaire. And she'll do it at any cost. As the narrator suggests during the opening scene, Rubí is a variation of the femme fatale, a woman who derives power from her ability to allure and seduce men. "As attractive as cruel," he begins, "What woman wouldn't like to be as beautiful as her? What man wouldn't like to be with someone like her?" Rubí walks out into the school parking lot, wearing a white-knotted shirt and red plaid skirt reminiscent of Britney Spears, and this scene issues a warning—perhaps the most salient of the series. To women: don't let vanity destroy your soul. To men: make sure you really know the woman you fall in love with.
From this moment onward, Rubí unravels into a continuous cycle of seduction and scheming to improve her economic status. Take, for example, a mere seven minutes into the pilot when she goes over to her friend Maribel De La Fuente (Jacqueline Bracamonte)'s house. You can't help but notice the flirtatious glint in Rubí's eye as she meets Maribel's dad, complements the grandiosity of his house, and a pounding, almost-greedy drumbeat starts to play.
In both this scene and the series overall, Rubí captures the essence of the telenovela genre. The show amplifies conventional love triangles, hidden babies, impulsive murders, disrupted weddings, retribution, and everything in between. And, true to generic standards, Rubí aired daily—unlike many shows that now appear on streaming platforms with a full season of footage—so each "capítulo," or chapter, narrowly focuses on one or two storylines before culminating in a cliffhanger. While this structure kept viewers tuning in when Rubí was on the air, this serialized form makes the series digestible to watch over an extended period of time. When watched in more measured chunks, Rubí's plot twists somehow become believable, too. The over-dramatized tone of the show slowly builds a fantastical world where stealing someone's husband-to-be at the altar and traveling the world with him seems tame since the show always knows something more outlandish will follow.
There are certainly no shortage of Rubí episodes—115 to be exact. But this isn't a show I would binge in a few sittings (impossible!) or even a few months (bold!). Rubí is a telenovela to watch slowly with a collection of friends, so that you can talk about the jaw dropping twists that inevitably unfold.