The new HBO show Los Espookys invites you right away to enter a spooky world that’s distinctly Latinx. Its taglines follow suit: “For all your haunting needs” and “Para todas sus necesidades oscuras” are here to remind you that this is a fully bilingual show, though Spanish (with requisite English subtitles) is the dominant language throughout.
The brain child of Fred Armisen, Julio Torres and Ana Fabrega, Los Espookys follows an eclectic group of four friends who make horror for a living. Literally. In its pilot episode, they design an exorcism for a priest who’s fed up with everyone in his community doting on the new good looking priest. Creating a scene straight out of The Exorcist, los ‘Espukys’ (the double ‘O’ comes later, in the hopes of being more international) find themselves in demand, soon finding other eager clients who want their services. At the organization’s helm is horror super fan Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) who recruits his best friend, the gay and melancholy Andres (Torres), as well as entrepreneurial and pragmatic Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), and fumbling but eager Tati (Fabrega).
If the premise sounds like a mish-mash of genres and possibilities, it is because the show very clearly exists at the intersection of the sensibilities of its creators. That it’s as funny as it is is a testament to their open collaborative spirit. Armisen, an SNL veteran who comes from a German-Venezuelan family, was eager to create a show that tapped into a subculture he’d seen for himself while visiting Mexico City, one that went beyond the Day of the Dead.
“There’s this like, goth world, and this sort of horror movie world that isn’t just Day of the Dead. There’s something else,” Armisen explained. “They’re also fans of The Cure and The Smiths, there’s a sort of a goth element to it, a passion there for it that I just love. I just love the way that looks and feels there. So it just seemed like the right setting. Who are those people? Who are those music fans in Mexico City who are so into all those bands? Who are they? And what would they do? What would they want to do as an occupation or a hobby?”
His description could be a character sketch of Los Espookys’ Renaldo: he wears all-black clothing, wears his hair long, and enjoys watching old-school horror movies with his friends. (Armisen plays Tico, Renaldo’s uncle, a happy-go-lucky valet driver in LA.)
If Armisen brought the goth horror world, Torres was always more interested in an eerier and odd sensibility: think Walter Mercado. The caped Puerto Rican astrologer may well be a perfect way to think about Torres’s character Andres, whose blue hair and fabulously baroque sense of style sit neatly next to his supernatural inclinations. Adopted from an orphanage by a wealthy chocolatier family whose fortune he is set to inherit, Andres would rather spend his days brooding by a mirror and figuring out where he and his latent magical powers come from. In keeping with Torres’s off-kilter sense of humor, Andres is dating the much too beautiful Juan Carlos (played by model and telenovela actor José Pablo Minor) who feels imported straight from Televisa. Minor is the kind of person who, as it turns out actually happened, can step in for a friend at a beauty pageant, and easily earn third place representing Mexico in the Mister World contest.
“He’s made for that,” Torres shared. “But what’s great is that he has a sense of humor. That’s like, yes, this is silly.” Their chemistry (or lack thereof) is one of the funniest parts of Los Espookys, which thrives on the clashes between normality and eccentricity, between the beautiful and the horrific.
The show’s signature absurdity is perhaps best encapsulated by Fabrega’s Tati, who brings her own surreal sense of humor. Fabrega, who left her cozy job at a finance firm to pursue comedy, plays Tati as a kind of Buster Keaton-esque everywoman who will take any job she can. She’s the priest’s fan—as in, she manually operates the broken fan he has in his office; she breaks in other people’s shoes; and, in one of the show’s many nods to real-life horrors, becomes involved with a get-quick-rich scheme called Hierbalite. Fabrega knew she wanted to bring this riff on Herbalife to the show because the company so obviously targets vulnerable Latino households, especially in the US.
With guest stars that include Chilean actors Luis Gnecco and Giannina Fruttero (the show was shot in Chile and co-produced by Fabula), Los Espookys finds both humor and horror in the everyday life of Latin Americans. It’s likely the only show on primetime American television where you’ll find a full-blown satire of Primer Impacto. Moreover, as Torres told Remezcla, it’s the kind of show that could only ever be made in Spanish. There was no question for them on that: “It was was really the only way it could have been done, right. It was very important for us that it’s a show set in Latin America. Therefore, they have to speak Spanish. We’re not gonna like, just like throw ‘mijos’ and ‘abuelas’ into the English dialogue and assume that that’s gonna take care of it.”
As for whether its subtitles may prove an obstacle for some English-speaking viewers, Torres was unequivocal: “I’m optimistic about the American viewer’s ability to read,” he deadpanned. “Children all over the world watch stuff in English, so I’m like, yeah, you can do it.”
Los Espookys premieres on June 14, 2019 on HBO, HBO Latino and all of HBO’s digital platforms (HBO GO, HBO Now, and HBO on Demand).