Cable Girls, or Las Chicas del Cable to give the show its original name, is Netflix Original’s first Spanish language drama and true to the streaming service’s productions so far, it’s a refreshing and lavish affair. A period drama that steps in the shadow of Baz Luhrmann whilst pushing an earnest message of feminism, it proudly stands apart from traditional British and American shows.
Set in 1928, the story follows Lidia (Blanca Suarez), a mysterious woman who starts work as an operator for a prestigious phone company in Madrid. Beginning with criminal motives, she soon finds her ambitions compromised by the appearance of an old lover, boss Francisco (Yon Gonzalez). Meanwhile, the lives of her fellow cable girls are equally complex, as each woman struggles with the pressures of family, love and the challenge of forging a career in a restrictive society.
Unlike many television shows today, Cable Girls comes prepared with a idealistic feminist message that has not only been repeated by cast press interviews, but is shouted within the first few minutes of episode one. It stands in deep contrast to recent press for The Handmaid’s Tale, which despite its brave approach to difficult subject matter, has been promoted carefully without use of the ‘F-word’ to avoid deterring viewers, drawing some discussion in response.
Cable Girls is entirely different in that respect – although it’s nothing radical, it proudly takes the name of a social movement to recognise a variety of complex female characters and plot lines devoted to recognising the difficulties of women in the early 20th century. Take for example, this unabashedly modern and earnest line of the narrator’s –
We didn’t have rights to dreams or ambitions, and others had to confront the norms of a sexist, retrograde society. In the end, all of us rich or poor, wanted to be free.
The less-than-subtle messaging in this episode is endearing, but the 70-year old respective take of the narrator’s is somewhat jarring, leaving you to wonder whether the period setting was chosen simply for its step back in a highly patriarchal era. It’s straightforward to look at sexism back then – what’s harder is to look at contemporary society and deal with the complexities, quarrels and shocking regressions that still lie barely beneath the surface.
Still, perhaps that’s giving Cable Girls a bad rap, as despite that association it doesn’t push itself as anything too ambitious. As well as its tie to feminism, the show likes to use plenty of modern music as opposed to a period soundtrack, making it feel more like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, perhaps complimented with a touch of quality soap opera. That isn’t intended to bring it down – again, the show comes across as comfortable and decisive in its intentions and as a result, is guaranteed to find a devoted audience who will love it for what it is.
The actors, unknown to many outside of Spain, are impressive in fleshing out each character in a short space of time. Whilst Blanca Suarez is brilliant at balancing both the vulnerability and guile of the lead role, Nadia de Santiago also stands out playing the naive Marga, whose wide eyes are constantly taking a daunting new world in the city.
Whilst watching Cable Girls, it becomes apparent that this period drama isn’t the type of show that would be funded or aired by traditional networks in the UK. With a Spanish setting; talented, not to mention previously unseen, actors and an earnest message, it’s definitely different television to what’s become the norm. It’s also wonderful when watched in the show’s original language – be warned, Netflix automatically puts on a dubbed English version for UK viewers, but I’d highly advise switching to subtitles in order to really enjoy the actors’ performances.
Looking for something beautiful, dramatic and a little different from conventional television? Cable Girls is definitely worth a try.