Telenovela vs soap vs sepie: What’s the difference and where to stream them

(Image: Supplied)
(Image: Supplied)

Okay, first things first: soap operas and sepies are identical – except soapies are in any one of 10 of the official 11 languages of South Africa (English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa or Zulu), while sepies are in Afrikaans (the 11th of the official languages).

Now for the fun part… the difference between soapies and telenovelas.

Soap operas by nature don’t have an ending. They evolve over time and new characters come in, old characters leave and sometimes return years later to continue their storyline and branch into new stories.

Telenovelas, when they’re written, have a definite start and end part – and they can last anywhere between 12 and 18 months. That’s the plan, but sometimes they become so popular with viewers that they’re turned into a soapie. Like Isibaya – when it started way back in 2013, it was planned as a weekday drama, which then turned into a telenovela, which then turned into a soapie.

There’s lots of differences between telenovelas and soap operas,” says Aaron Diaz, best known as Ricardo Calderon in Betty en NY (Betty In New York, the Mexican remake of Yo Soy, Betty, La Fea – the Colombian telenovela that became dramedy series Ugly Betty). The American-Mexican actor has starred in a telenovela every year since 2001 and says that “telenovelas are part of our TV culture. Us Latins like a lot of drama and that’s one of the reasons they do so well.”

“I actually got started in musicals,” adds Eugenio Siller, who played twins separated at birth Leonardo and Pedro in 2015 telenovela ¿Quién es quién?. “And I get to sing and perform in some of my shows because we’re all about being spectacular. My one song was the romantic theme for the entire show.”

Style says a lot

Telenovela are wildly popular in the Latin-American market (like Mexico, Argentina, Chile and other Spanish-speaking countries). They’re usually over the top in production style and flair, with characters being involved in storylines that are crazier than stories you’d hear in a psychiatric facility.

Everything from twins being separated at birth and accidentally meeting up as adults, to super villains trying to force a vineyard owner to sell his property by poisoning his crop and murdering half his staff. You name the theme, and it’s almost guaranteed to have been used as a plot in a telenovela.

showmax binnelanders

Binnelanders (Image: Supplied)

Soapies, on the other hand, tend to either be ultra-realistic (like local hospital drama Binnelanders or long-running US soap opera The Bold & The Beautiful) or they incorporate the supernatural into storylines (Isibaya featured zombies and witchcraft, while iconic US soapie Days Of Our Lives has had everything from zombies and mind-control to robots with memories transplanted from dead Salem citizens, devil possessions and more).

The acting is more realistic, so don’t expect too many bomb blasts and survivors escaping with their make-up looking perfect. At the same time, soapies tend to draw out storylines into a full week or so, while telenovelas time hop – one episode can see a character go from discovering she’s pregnant, to having a huge bump, to being in the delivery room, to having a toddler… and fans love it!

Egoli: Place Of Gold was a hit for M-Net in the 90s all the way through to 2010 because it incorporated multiple languages, diverse cultures and races, yet still kept its theme: the rich getting richer and doing everything in their power to stay ahead of the pack.

South African soaps tend to take actors and give their careers a life – people are referred to by their past characters years after the shows ended, like Brümilda van Rensburg, for example, who has had loads of other projects and roles since Egoli (such as in Lui Maar Op, Belinda) but she’s still known as “the actress who played Louwna Edwards in Egoli”.

“Telenovelas are a lot of fun also for us actors because they’re self-contained,” says Rafael Amaya. “Telenovelas have 180 episodes, things happen overnight because we’ve got a set story to tell. What happens in a week on a soap opera happens in a day on a telenovela.” There are exceptions and Rafael is one of the best examples. He’s played druglord Aurelio Casillas in seven seasons of El Señor de los Cielos (Lord Of The Skies) – it’s a telenovela that has been renewed for seven seasons so far, with each season somehow connected to the previous, yet a whole new story. His character has also appeared in three other shows as a cross-over.

Soapies very rarely cross-over (sister shows Days and Bold have done it fewer than 10 times in their history – and that says a lot since Days has had almost 14 000 episodes to date, and has run since 8 November 1965).

So, what’s on Showmax for you when it comes to daily dramas?

Soapies

showmax isibaya

Isibaya (Image: Supplied)

Isibaya: 7 seasons; two feuding families’ war over the lucrative taxi industry in the region takes a new turn when forbidden love takes over.

Isithembiso: 3 seasons; a family is torn apart by the criminal patriarch who drags anyone and everyone into his crimes that include bribery, murder and faking “finding the lord”.

The Wild: 2 seasons; about a group of people living and working on a game farm and how they’re often at odds with one another but come together when outsiders attack.

Sepies

showmax arendsvlei

Arendsvlei (Image: Supplied)

Arendsvlei: 2 seasons; centred in the northern Cape town of Arendsvlei where the high school is the hub of activity.

Suidooster: 6 seasons; set in the fictional Cape Town community of Ruiterbosch, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. 

Binnelanders: 14 seasons; following the medical professionals at Binneland private clinic in Pretoria.

Egoli: Place Of Gold: 18 seasons; M-Net’s first and original sepie follows the lives of the Edwards business family and everyone else tied to their company Walco.

Getroud Met Rugby – Die Sepie: 5 seasons; The Stryders rugby team takes centre stage, including everyone from the players and cheerleaders, to the significant others and the coaching team.

Villa Rosa: 11 seasons; a close-knit community in Bloemfontein go about their daily lives filled with drama, comedy, tragedy and more.

Telenovelas: South African

showmax gomora

Gomora (Image: Supplied)

Gomora: 1 season; a wealthy widow’s life falls apart when her dead hubby’s lies are exposed and she’s forced to move back in with her criminal mastermind mom in the kasi.

Legacy: 1 season; a mega-rich family face infighting when the patriarch steps down as CEO of the family company, then disappears.

The Queen: 5 seasons; businesswoman by day, drug lord by night – Connie Ferguson’s character Harriet rules with an iron fist and she’s afraid of no one.

The River: 3 seasons; Sindi Dlathu plays Lindiwe, a cruel mine owner who commits murder and worse to save her company and her personal life.

Telenovelas: International

showmax amar a muerte

Amar A Muerte (Image: Supplied)

Caption: Amar A Muerte

Amar A Muerte (Love To Death): 87 episodes; the soul of an assassinated tycoon is transferred to his killer’s body at the same time that an executed convict’s soul takes control of a professor. Together, the two re-incarnated men search for the people who wanted them dead.

El Hotel Del Los Secretos (Secrets At The Hotel): 81 episodes; A man lies to get a job at a hotel, searching secretly for the truth about his sister’s disappearance and who at the business had motive to murder her.

Lo Imperdonable (Unforgiveable): 121 episodes; A man goes on a revenge mission to find the person he blames for his brother’s suicide, even if it means lying to the killer and worming his way into her super-rich family.

Pasión y poder (Passion & Power): 137 episodes; Two businessmen re-ignite their feud over the same woman years after their first encounter.

Want more daily drama? Subscribe to Showmax from R49 per month »

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24