If you’re a fan of deadpan comedy, eccentric characters who seem to originate from another world, excessive camp, and ridiculous storylines, all while paying homage to Latin American culture, then HBO’s Los Espookys is for you.
Created by Fred Armisen, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega, the tale set in a fictional Latin American country (which is actually shot in Chile), tells the story of a group of friends who create a business that produces fake horror events. Whether they stage a full-blown exorcism at an orphanage to help raise the popularity of a desperate priest or stage a standard inheritance scare involving a haunted house with an unlikely winner at the end, the quirkiness and absurdity of it all mesh together to make an entertaining and hilarious narrative.
But who are Los Espookys? There’s Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), who dresses like a member of a goth band and looks like the suspicious butler in scary movies, but is actually an idealist and the one who motivates the group to stick together. Then Tati (Cassandra Ciangherotti), who steals the show every time she’s on camera as the eccentric little sister with ridiculous side hustles like breaking other people’s shoes in (!). We can’t miss Andrés (Torres), a blue-haired adopted boy and heir to a multi-peso chocolate empire Charlie Wonka Chocolates. Finally, there’s Úrsula (Fabrega), a miserable dental assistant who is seemingly the most grounded in the clan, advocating for pragmatic solutions to their problems.
It’s an eclectic group, but what makes it work, and what makes the show successful, is that they’re all oddballs and complete outsiders, who despite already living in a pretty surreal universe, don’t fit in.
The prime example is Andrés, who despite being incredibly rich, living in a mansion, and having his ken doll-like boyfriend Juan (played brilliantly by José Pablo Minor), is obsessed with learning about his “real” origin story. He wants to trace his lineage and validate his belief that his fascination with the macabre is because of his biological family. He’s convinced he’s a son of freaks! He feels the responsibility of inheriting the chocolate business from his adoptive parents will forever hinder his chance of learning who he really is.
While strong personification and characterization are key to making a very funny comedy, the writing is monumental. The zingers and crazy one-liners in Los Espookys perfectly capture the absurdity of the show. Like when Juan tells Andrés that he doesn’t like him getting involved in the horror business, especially with the not so well kept-up Renaldo, “But first promise me you won’t do more ugly things with that greasy guy. You know I can’t tolerate ugly things.”
You don’t believe his abhorrence for the “ugly?” Think again. Juan is so committed to his adoration for beauty and aesthetics that it borders on the extreme, “When we watch ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ I skip the scenes with the beast. I can’t stand ugly things. Seriously.”
It turns kookier when Andrés has a mini-monologue of sorts, venting about his partnership and acknowledging that his relationship is a bit of a farce and he’s just in it for the ride until the truth is just too much to bare. “Loving someone means muting their flaws for two to five years.” Mocking himself he says, “Ha-ha. I’ve invested too much time in my boyfriend and can’t go back. Ha-ha. So, so funny.” And on the next breath and in deadpan says, “Juan Carlos is perfect and I love him.” Delivered in a monotone voice that characterizes Torres’, this turns into comedy gold.
Speaking about comedy gold, we have to talk about Tati (Ciangherotti), who’s clearly the star in this ensemble—well, at least to me she is. Watching her made me go back to the time I watched El Chavo Del Ocho, a Mexican sitcom from the ‘70s. Created by Roberto Gómez Bolaños, or more widely known as “Chespirito,” the show follows the adventures of the titular character (a poor orphan), and of the residents of a low-income housing complex.
But why was I quick to draw that comparison in a flash? Perhaps because like “El Chavo,” Tati also channels child-like mannerisms, an uncorrupted innocence that leads her to have unconditional faith in anyone and anything. That coupled with her knack for physical comedy—it’s a spectacle to see her on scene.
The show references other Latin American works and it’s blatantly obvious with the character of Gregoria Santos, host of Mira Esto, a show dedicated to the paranormal. To many living in the US, that show might remind them of segments of Primer Impacto or Al Rojo Vivo—Bárbara Bermudo and María Celeste Arrarás, Gregoria is coming for your gig!
Those shows drew their inspiration from Latin American programs dedicated on covering paranormal activity, horror, the divine, and trying and failing to explain the unexplainable. Gregoria Santos is over the top and the fact that Los Espookys creators decided to satirize such TV is reminiscent of Almodóvar’s filmography—the obsession with “TV basura” and focusing on how it shapes popular culture. Gregoria Santos’ theatricality is also akin to the classic telenovelas.
A minor character that embodies a rich lady in a telenovela is the Mysterious Woman (Tatiana Molina) in episode two. The big hair, matronly demeanor, and over the top campiness: I’m here for it. But Andrés, not so much. A very funny exchange happens between them in which he tells her that since they’re supposed to be in a haunted house, she needs to be more horrific in her delivery, more deliciously malicious. She says she’ll work on it, but once she meets the inheritance scare players, her delivery falls flat to the rolling eyes of Andrés.
So how to sum up Los Espookys? It’s weird. It’s funny. Has badass ‘80 synth pop. It’s a freak show you didn’t know you needed and will not want to live without.
Luis Luna is Latino Rebels’ arts writer and associate producer of Latino Rebels Radio. He tweets from @luarmanyc.