A love letter to Los Espookys, TV's most delightful freak show
Los Espookys is a show that will follow you, the way great series do. For several days after I devoured all six episodes of HBO’s kindhearted Spanish-language comedy about a group of horror-loving friends, funny moments kept bubbling up unannounced in my brain. Blue-haired Andres (Julio Torres) arguing about The King’s Speech with the “parasitic demon” that lives inside him; glamorous tabloid-TV hostess Gregoria Santos (Paloma Moreno Fernandez) looking around a darkened studio in confusion, wondering, “Where do I go when the lights turn off?”; perpetually underemployed Tati (Ana Fabrega) struggling to keep up with her gig as a “human Fitbit.” This is all a long way of saying that if you’re not comfortable laughing out loud to yourself at unpredictable intervals, Los Espookys may not be the show for you.
Created by Torres, Fabrega, and Fred Armisen, Los Espookys opens with a horror-themed quinceañera for Mexico City teen Beatriz (Giannina Fruttero), complete with severed-finger cookies, servers whose limbs drop off unexpectedly, and a cake that looks like a pile of bloody human entrails. When Uncle Tico (Armisen) learns that everything at the party was created by Beatriz’s brother Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), he urges his nephew to pursue his love of horror full-time. Renaldo and his gore-enthusiast pals — Andres, a gay heir to a chocolate fortune and the group’s idea man; Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), the pragmatic engineering whiz; and Tati, an unflappable utility player (and my favorite new TV character of 2019) — dub themselves Los Espookys and begin staging hilarious and horrific scenes for pay. An exorcism, a sea monster, a haunted mansion — whatever their clients need, Renaldo & Co. can make it (appear to) happen.
Writer-actors Fabrega and Torres do a wonderful job balancing Los Espookys’ mood of magical realism with real-world silliness; characters are just as likely to get sucked into a pyramid scheme selling nutritional supplements as they are to get trapped in a cursed mirror. The jokes are fast-paced and tinged with absurdity; at its best, Los Espookys can feel like a half-hour telenovela assembled in the 30 Rock writers’ room. Velasco’s Renaldo is an earnest fanboy who’s so dedicated to his horror business that he rebuffs the advances of a randy neighbor with grim determination (“You’re trying to tap into a part of me that I’ve locked away and don’t intend to deal with for a very, very long time”).
Running jokes abound: Andres’ parents are always pressuring him to marry his boyfriend, Juan Carlos (Jose Pablo Minor), but we’re never allowed to see their faces. Renaldo is haunted by the lack of a Y in his name, and he’s doomed to explain the unusual spelling to every client. (Exchanges like this are typical: “Reynaldo?” “Renaldo.” “Are you sure?”) Every time Mira Esto host Gregoria removes her pink stilettos, her feet remain in the painful high-heeled arch of a Barbie doll. Though he’s the biggest (American) name in the ensemble, Armisen is perhaps the show’s weakest link; a subplot that pairs him with guest star Carol Kane (as the famous, and famously difficult, horror director Bianca Nova) feels both lazy and overworked.
When they’re not crafting bespoke spooks for paying customers, the Los Espookys gang grapple with relatable challenges: making rent, coping with familial strife, meeting online dates whose profile pictures definitely do not match reality. Though these worldly concerns sometimes cause friction within the group, Renaldo and his compadres always find their way back together. For all of its fantastical foolishness, Los Espookys is, at its heart, a comedy about friendship, following your passions, and fighting the urge to fit in. Grade: A-
Los Espookys airs Fridays at 11 p.m. on HBO.