Promised Land Stirs Up Drama on ABC

Amidst its soapy intrigue, this wine-soaked ABC drama explores the complexities of chasing the American Dream

Amidst its soapy intrigue, this wine-soaked ABC drama explores the complexities of chasing the American Dream

Decades after decadent family soaps Falcon Crest and Dallas held viewers captive with their rich-people-scheming-to-get-richer antics, California vineyard drama Promised Land arrives, ready to truly resurrect the genre.

Creator Matt Lopez fully admits he was inspired by the king of ’80s soaps in creating this multi-generational epic about a Latinx family vying for wealth and power in Sonoma Valley. “I was a huge Dallas fan—J.R. Ewing was my spirit animal,” says Lopez, whose other source of inspiration was not a nighttime soap, but a book. “I read East of Eden with my daughter a year-and-a-half ago, and if East of Eden was just a logline, you would think it’s a 10-o’clock soap. Yet, in terms of the complexity of the characters, the richness of the themes, it’s striving for so much more, and that’s what Promised Land really tries to do.”

The competitive world of the wine industry means a backdrop ripe for all kinds of backstabbing. But at the root of it, Lopez’s family saga is an immigrant success story. Heritage House winery owner Joe Sandoval (Messiah‘s John Ortiz) runs a thriving business with eldest daughter Veronica (Animal Kingdom‘s Christina Ochoa), who is all but set to take the reins from daddy. The passion for the family’s success runs deep throughout the entire Sandoval clan, even where it falls upon deaf ears: Joe’s stepson Mateo (Augusto Aguilera) is fighting tooth-and-nail to prove himself as a winemaker to his dismissive stepfather and his youngest daughter Carmen (Mariel Molino) wants nothing more than to make their brand appeal to a younger demographic—which, to Sandoval Sr., seems like a fruitless endeavour.

But dark secrets bubble under the surface of the majestic Heritage House, as Joe and the love of his life, wife Lettie (Cecilia Suárez), harbour a past so murky that not even their own children know the depths of it.

As if the inconvenient truth about this well-respected couple is not enough to threaten the Sandoval empire, Joe’s scheming ex-wife Margaret Honeycroft (Scandal‘s Bellamy Young) is happy to serve as a catalyst for chaos, in her quest to take over the vineyard her family once owned. “Margaret comes into the series in this very antagonistic posture, and my feeling about great antagonists or villains or whatever you want to call them, is that they all think they’re the hero of the movie,” says Lopez. “Margaret has a legitimate claim on the vineyard and the empire that John has built. I hope and expect people will sometimes find themselves rooting for her too.”

But it’s not all vintage wine and glamorous magnates on this show. Counter to the “lives of the rich and famous” storyline is the journey of young Mexican immigrants making their way illegally across the American border. Carlos (Andres Velez) and Juana (Katya Martin) are thrown together by fate, and as they begin their new lives as grape pickers at Heritage House, the two experience both the heartache and the joy that come with chasing that American Dream.

To accurately honour their characters’ roots, Martin and Velez worked with a cultural consultant, who helped them achieve the right regional accents and idioms. “It was very important that these people sounded like where they’re from,” says Velez. “I’ve seen other shows where people are supposed to be from a certain country and they don’t sound like that. It took me away from the story. I just wanted to make sure that our accents or whatever we were saying wouldn’t take someone out of the world.”

To Lopez, there is no better time to introduce a series about the immigrant plight. “The immigration issue is at the forefront of people’s minds. To depict the pursuit of the American Dream in all its beauty and all its costs, speaks to the now,” he says. “The immigrant experience is broader than just the Latino experience. I’ve seen time and again how this has resonated. I like to say that Promised Land is a Latino story but it’s an American journey. And that’s very much the story we want to tell.”

Meanwhile, what Young believes viewers will respond to, first and foremost, is the human element of this very polarizing issue. “I’ve only usually seen immigrant stories told from a politicized point of view,” she says. “Promised Land tells these stories of human beings and people living the American Dream any way they can. We’re going to all watch this hour of television and we’re going to be so wrapped up in the soapy-soapy, but at the end of the day, our hearts are going to expand because we see people—people just like us—and that’s what compassion grows from.”

Promised Land airs Mondays at 10:01 p.m. on ABC