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A Hero With All the Wrong Moves

Television* In Telemundo's wildly popular 'Pedro el Escamoso,' a loser who thinks he's the Man has won viewers' hearts.


WASHINGTON — There is the mullet--so '80s, so terribly declasse. The ensemble: those high-water britches, the plaid jacket, the floral tie--declasse even in the '80s. The vaguest hint of an overbite, the unibrow, the corny come-ons. "Pedro el Escamoso" isn't the kind of guy whose very presence would start a quiet riot in the middle of a suburban mall.

And yet, he did. Pedro the Playa, the guy with the disastrous dance moves, caused enough of a commotion--3,000 fans' worth of commotion--to shut down Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton (Md.) Plaza on Sunday.

Wheaton had never seen the likes of this. Neither had the Telemundo network's local executives, who said they expected about 500 fans.

Pedro, however, has. In spades.

"This happened in Colombia, in Ecuador, in Venezuela and now in Washington," said Miguel Varoni, star of "Pedro el Escamoso," a wildly popular telenovela and Colombia's hottest export since "Betty la Fea."

"In Colombia, they had to cancel [the appearance] because there were too many people," Varoni says. "They rescheduled it. The next week, 60,000 people showed up."

They show up because in Varoni's sendup of all things machismo, he's struck a chord. There's charm in his cluelessness.

Pedro el Escamoso (the name is hard to translate, with meanings ranging from "the flaky one" to "the pretender wannabe") is the would-be Casanova of the Colombian telenovela, serving up soulful glances and wicked winks, a wild and crazy guy who believes his own hype and lives in a world of illusion where he's the star of his own romance fantasy. He really, really, really thinks he is el chacho--the Man.

These days, judging by his ratings, U.S. audiences think so too. That's amusing, considering that Pedro is the kind of guy who, on a first date, takes off his jacket and flexes a muscle, revealing a tattoo emblazoned on his bulging biceps: "(Insert your name here) and Pedro."

According to Alejandro Riera, arts and entertainment writer of Chicago-based Spanish-language newspaper Exito!, Pedro pleases because he sends up the realities of Colombia: life on the streets, the working stiffs struggling to make it. Pedro provides someone viewers can relate to, no matter where they hail from across Latin America's vastness.

"As a Latin American, you realize there are points of convergence, that what you see in Colombia is what you're seeing in Mexico or in Santurce [Puerto Rico]," Riera says. "You can find this guy walking down the street. Or go to any nightclub in San Juan, and there he'll be."

Tales of the Nerds

Who Yearn for Love

Normally, telenovelas are the province of the rich and the beautiful. But starting with the recent "Betty la Fea" (Betty the Ugly), a new type of telenovela star emerged: homely, humble, with origins firmly rooted in the ordinary. Ana Maria Orozco starred as a heroine with greasy hair, blackheads, glasses and braces.

An estimated 80 million viewers tuned in to watch the tale of the nerd who yearned for love, only to be rejected again and again. Her make-over was hotly debated by everyone from feminists to politicos.

After Betty waltzed off with her prince in the final episode (a telenovela's lifespan is about 18 months), there was a vacuum. Enter Pedro.

"Pedro is a man who thinks he knows everything," Varoni says. "But he's a good person. He wants the whole world to be happy. He wants everyone to be happy around him."

In that vein, we asked Varoni to lay it on thick. Varoni, talking from his crib in Bogota, was only too happy to oblige.

"Divina mujer," he crooned, "cosita linda--that means pretty baby, pretty woman--amor de mis amores--love of my love--boquita de caramelo ... honey mouth.... "

Hmmm. Maybe the geek does have game.

"Pedro el Escamoso" can be seen locally weeknights at 8 on KVEA-TV.

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