Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria on the new TV show Devious Maids

In Devious Maids, the creator of Desperate Housewives turns the upstairs-downstairs class warfare of Beverly Hills into dirt-slinging fun.

From left, Judy Reyes, Edy Ganem, Dania Ramirez and Roselyn Sanchez in Devious Maids. Ron Tom / ABC Studios
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When you pay someone to pick up your dirt – beware – you may find yourself horrified at just how much of the incriminating kind they dig up.

It soon becomes abundantly clear in Devious Maids – the new comedy-­drama with a twist of murder-mystery from the Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry – that whoever holds the dirt holds the power. Helping Cherry as a co-executive-producer is Eva Longoria, who found stardom in his first series.

“People within the Latino community have had their lives touched by nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, valets – whatever occupations we have occupied as Latinos – it’s a reality,” says Longoria, “so why not tell their story and their point of view? I commend and applaud Marc Cherry for doing that. He’s not Latino – and he has no obligation to do it. And he is one of the greatest show-runners of the past decade.”

Five of US’s most recognisable American-Latina actresses – Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Dania Ramirez (Entourage), Roselyn Sánchez (Without a Trace), Edy Ganem (Livin’ Loud) and Judy Reyes (Scrubs) – create the ensemble cast who portray five maids on fire with ambition as they clean up after the rich and famous.

But in less time than it takes to fire up a steam mop, murder and mayhem collide in the mansions of Beverly Hills, where class warfare pits wealthy families against their staff – who turn out to be as smart, funny and downright devilish as they are.

“It’s Desperate Housewives meets Upstairs Downstairs,” says Ortiz, who portrays the newcomer Marisol, who bonds the other four maids. “I’m definitely a devious maid because I’m not a maid; I’m sort of undercover as a maid. I’m trying to right a wrong that has been done to my family. It’s a little bit like Revenge.”

In the course of 13 episodes, expect this close-knit crew of maids to tidy up illicit affairs and lay bare deep, dark secrets as they seek the details behind the murder of a fellow maid, Flora (Paula Garcés). The dastardly deed happens at the home of her employers, Evelyn and Adrian Powell (Rebecca Wisocky and Tom Irwin), at one of the largest society events of the year.

Apparently, dirt-slinging is a growth industry. While a series typically sees audience numbers soften after the pilot is broadcast, Devious Maids not only swept up 1.99 million viewers upon its US premiere on the Lifetime network last June, but thanks to word of mouth, went on to clean up with three million viewers for its season finale. Lifetime has already given the green light for a second season of 13 episodes.

Also on board and deliciously cast is Susan Lucci, the daytime soap queen who held audiences spellbound for 41 years as the sassy, stunning woman we love to hate, Erica Kane, on All My Children.

Still smouldering at 67, in Devious Maids she plays a woman we’ll learn to love – the affectionate and generous Genevieve Delatour, a wealthy divorcee and fizzy socialite who has danced in the lap of luxury all her life. She’s also a hopeless romantic searching for true love – and her next husband.

On the political-correctness front, one might well wonder whether it’s perpetuating a stereotype to ask accomplished American-Latina actresses to portray maids.

“I resisted when I first heard about this show,” says Judy Reyes, who plays Delatour’s long-serving senior maid, Zoila. “My first instinctual reaction was, ‘Why does the first show about Latinas have to be about maids?’

“Then I read the script and I instinctively reacted positively. It made me laugh. I thought it was well-written. I was intrigued … and my mum was a housekeeper and a nanny for many years. I understood that relationship.”

In defending her show, Longoria adds: “Most of the Latina community is proud that there’s a show employing dynamic Latinas. They’re the leads of a show – they’re not the guest star, not the co-star, not sub-characters. And they are playing maids, which is a realistic reflection of our society today in America.

“My immediate response when we get backlash is this: so you’re telling me those stories aren’t worth telling? That these people are lesser-thans? That their stories aren’t worth exploring … because they’re a maid? That’s what angers me.”

• Devious Maids premieres at 11pm on Thursday on OSN First HD

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