Los Espookys follows a group of three friends, Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), Andrés (Julio Torres), and Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherhotti)--and Úrsula’s sister Tati (Ana Fabrega)--as they begin to work as Los Espookys, horror enthusiasts who give horror to “those who need it” (as Renaldo says late in the series). The group stages elaborate horror scenarios--like an exorcism meant to make an aging priest more popular--for money, but their true joy is concocting the elaborate practical effects and make up that power their gigs.
The show has a pedigree of weird comedy brilliance; Fred Armisen, Fabrega, and Torres all write for the show. Armisen needs little introduction, as he was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for years, but his quirky brand of strangeness truly shines through his work on Portlandia, and his very specific comedy special Stand-Up for Drummers. Fabrega wrote for the cult classic Chris Gethard Show and The Special Without Brett Davis. Torres’s brand of stand-up comedy is best demonstrated in his latest comedy special from HBO, My Favorite Shapes, but he’s also been delivering his strange humor to SNL through skits like “Diego Calls His Mom,” the many “Melania Moments” sketches, and my favorite, “Wells for Boys,” co-written with Jeremy Beiler.
With all that weird comedic energy rolling around the writers’ room, Los Espookys was bound to be strange, but it’s also a show that packs a surprising amount of heart and insight into current events. The show is solidly bilingual, with characters that speak exclusively in Spanish and English, and subtitles for both languages accordingly. The show does not assume its audience, which is refreshing in a world of content marketed to very specific groups of people. Additionally, the inclusion of Spanish as one of the main languages of the show highlights not only the Latinx comedians behind the series, but also American anxiety over immigration and race.
In the magical realism world of Los Espookys, America is all pink and pastel and blonde, a land of opportunity, but ultimately a land of fakeness. This criticism of Americans never seems cruel or judgmental, and instead forces the viewer to sympathize with the passionless, beauty obsessed American ambassador, as well as Renaldo’s Uncle Tico (played by Armisen) who lives in America and works as a valet. America, despite all of its advantages and wealth, is not the only place in the world where good things (and horror-related things!) happen. Los Espookys supposes--and correctly so--that the world is full of smart creators and art.
Magical realism is something I’ve talked about on the blog and podcast before (look, I took a class in it during PhD work and will use that knowledge forever), and I can’t think of a better example of what magical realism means than Los Espookys. Without giving anything away, the show features a magical amulet that allows Andrés to spy on his beloved, a parasitic sea witch, a mirror realm that can trap people, cursed objects, and people who can survive Multi Level Marketing scams--and none of it is ever explained (OK, maybe the MLM is explained, but still! Herbalife got read to filth and I’m here for it). The characters simply accept that Andrés was a mysterious and dark powered orphan abandoned by strangers. Actually, they get tired of him telling the story and wave off his dramatic past. No one questions the existence of cursed mirrors because in magical realism, the magic simply is. This sense of the magic being mundane isn’t restricted to the main cast of spooky friends; everyone sees magic as sort of blasé. This indifference creates a lot of funny moments throughout the series, but it also allows us to examine the real world through this clearly fictional, magical inversion of it.
That’s not to say that the show itself isn’t funny, or is only interesting for its ability to be analyzed by tired PhD students like me. Los Espookys is first and foremost a comedy, full of strange pauses and deadpan humor. I found myself laughing out loud at the show, and recapping my favorite moments later to anyone who would listen. That is the sign of a good show. My recaps are horrible and nothing like the real thing, and if you were subjected to them, I apologize. But I digress. The beauty of this series is that it does so many things well and at once. It can be both insightful and funny. It can force us to examine American politics while also refusing to be set in any specific country (the Latin American country where Renaldo and friends lived is never named). We can analyze it and we can relax and laugh at it.
I slept on Los Espookys while it originally ran on HBO, but at the time I was watching another spooky show that checked a lot of the same boxes, What We Do in the Shadows (which aired on FX around the same time). Both series have similar senses of humor, but ultimately Los Espookys wants to create a space for its viewers to contemplate how regionality influences art. While What We Do in the Shadows was created by two New Zealanders (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi of Thor: Ragnarok), it’s not ultimately interested in the ways that different cultures influence art--or in this case, comedy.
Los Espookys is a smart show, and it straddles the line of political commentary and weird comedy well. It’s renewed for a second season, and I, for one, will be returning to this tiny world of horror next summer!