It’s a rare and wonderful thing when you find yourself watching an episode of television and realize, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before.” HBO’s new half-hour comedy Los Espookys is a wonderfully weird and inventive show that inspires exactly that kind of thought at least once an episode, embracing bizarre characters, off-kilter humor, and a heady dose of magical realism where the impossible can, and often does, happen. It’s also hilarious.
Co-created by Fred Armisen, Ana Fabrega, and Julio Torres (all of whom also co-star in the series), Los Espookys follows a group of friends who embrace their passion for all things horror and macabre and decide to make a business out of scares. It’s sort of a reverse Scooby Doo – a title they lovingly name drop – where you follow and root for the people setting up the haunts instead of the ones solving the mysteries. Together, they call themselves Los Espookys, and they relish in bringing all things creepy to the world. Along the way, they also face some deeper truths about themselves (tongue always in cheek) and deepen the bonds of their friendship.
Led by Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), a gothed-out man who loves horror more than anything in the world, and whose dark obsessions belie his tender nature, greeting the world with endless friendliness and a broad, easy-going smile. Always at his side are his childhood best friend Andrés (Torres), the fey glam-goth heir to a chocolate empire; their pal Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), a no-nonsense dental technician with a gift for prosthetics and business dealings who brings the teeth to their enterprise in more way than one, and Úrsula’s sister Tati (Fabrega,) the most batshit weirdo of the bunch who brings no real talent for or interest in horror, but a game willingness to throw herself at whatever insane challenge comes up next – a characteristic she shares with the actress playing her; Fabrega’s zany energy often steals the show. Renaldo’s uncle Tico (Armisen), a kindly valet attendant who supports his nephew’s unusual interests, also circles into the mix occasionally.
The quartet of oddballs follow their endeavor from one absurd scenario to the next, tasked with staging horror-inspired spooks like an exorcism for an aging priest who misses the spotlight, a “classic inheritance scare” where five strangers have to survive the night in a supposedly haunted mansion to claim the prize, and the arrival of a tentacled sea creature to a local town in need of tourist commerce. With each new job, they make their way through classic horror tropes and Los Espookys mines each opportunity for unconventional and unexpected laughs. There’s an outstanding attention to detail that pays off in the sometimes guffaw-worthy visual gags and a fearless embrace of the absurd. Where else will you find bedazzled juice boxes or a town that’s “home to Marilyn Monroe’s ghost, which has been possessed by Fred Flinstone?” The contents of a sparsely packed suitcase made me laugh so I hard I missed the next two lines of dialogue. On top of that, the comedic ensemble so talented and well-matched that they steal scenes from each other like its an Olympic-level sport.
Jumping between Los Angeles and a fictionalized Latin country, Los Espookys embraces a bilingual approach, using English subtitles for the Spanish-language scenes, Spanish subtitles for the English-language scenes, and occasionally both during moments of silent communication. It’s a subtly impressive comedic feat in its own right since it requires the writers to craft jokes that land in not one, but two languages. And while I can only attest from an English-speaking perspective, boy do they land.
The series also embraces a surreal alt-universe, building a rich world where the surface-level concept evolves into something stranger, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, where there are more strange happening than the gang’s low-budget productions. That fantastical element pops up in the productions themselves as well, which are often visibly shoddy but greeted without of whiff of doubt from their audiences, until they occasionally pull off logically impossible stunts. The show doesn’t bother explaining how they do it. That’s just the vibe. Anything can happen in the world of Los Espookys.
At its heart – and underneath all the latex, fake blood and bizarre antics, Los Espookys has a ton of heart – the series is all about embracing who you really are and following your dreams. Each of the characters faces their own rocky path to self-acceptance, which is always extremely silly while somehow still tethered to a kernel of truth. Renaldo suffers an identity complex because his name should be spelled “Reynaldo” and continually rejects his hot neighbor, who openly just wants to have sex with him, telling her she’s tapping into something repressed within him that he doesn’t plan on facing for a long time. Meanwhile, Úrsula is trapped in a job she hates with a d-bag dentist for a boss, before getting tangled up in nutrition scam enterprise with an unhinged CEO, while Tati’s strange behavior sets up a late-series reveal that makes you want to go back and watch all six episodes from the start. Most entertaining of all, Andrés debates his future with his gorgeous but terrible boyfriend, who can’t stand anything that’s not beautiful, spookiness least of all.
The only real complaint I have about Los Espookys is that I want more of it and more from its world. The first six episodes are delightful, but they feel like they’re only scratching the surface of the possibilities this genre-defying series could conjure. In a great compliment to the series. I felt genuinely sad when I reached the final episode, desperate to see more of where this wild road leads and bummed to say goodbye to the infectious camaraderie shared by the gang. This series warmed my heart, stoked my imagination, and made me laugh the whole way through. It’s the kind of show that makes you want to crawl through the screen and join in on the fun. I love it.
As I’ve mentioned, Los Espookys is extremely strange and it will not be for everyone. This is a show about weirdos for weirdos, made by a trio of comedians who built their careers out of slightly askance humor. Armisen is the best known of the bunch, and you need only look to any of his previous shows like Portlandia and Documentary Now or his standup sets, but especially Standup for Drummers, to see where some of the show’s zany energy comes from. But SNL writer Torres (best known for writing the ‘Papyrus’ and ‘Wells for Boys’ sketches) brings his own flavor, as does Fabrega, whose anxiety-fueled stand-up and erratic energy has earned her spots on plenty of “Comedians to Watch” lists. Their brainchild, Los Espookys, is every bit as singular and esoteric as their individual careers. That’s part of its charm, and if you share their love of the bizarre, you’ll no doubt be won over by that spirit.