‘Los Espookys’ Season 1 Review: Finding Authenticity in the Surreal

From the mind of Fred Armisen, set in an unnamed Latin American country, HBO’s Los Espookys follows the plights of four horror enthusiasts as they turn their passion for the strange into a business of the same name. The Los Espookys team consists of leader Renaldo (Bernardo Valsco), the goth make-up artist whose unwavering optimism brings the group together; Andrés (Julio Torres), the enigmatic heir to a chocolate fortune with a self proclaimed mysterious past; Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), the cool-headed technical genius, who elevates the group from horror fanatics to a legitimate business and her sister Tati (Ana Fabrega), the oddball of the group whose blissful naivete leads her to become the group’s test dummy. Together this band of misfits uses their inclination for the strange to construct elaborate fake scares for their eccentric clientele. In the absurd, surrealist reality of Los Espookys crafting the perfect horror fantasies is a lucrative business. From staging an exorcism for a fame-hungry priest to entrapping the U.S. ambassador in a bewitched mirror to get her more vacation time, the gigs get more obscure as the series progresses. 

In the world of Los Espookys, the mundane and the supernatural live side by side to create a dynamic landscape of absurdism. There’s a parasitic, clairvoyant sea demon with an obsession with The King’s Speech but Úrsula still works as a dental assistant. The magical ridiculousness of the setting ignites the imagination — anything could happen. As the context of their spooky gigs becomes more obscure, there is no great mental work needed to buy what the Los Espookys team is selling. The great joy of the show comes from watching this group be so wholesomely passionate. From the brainstorming to the execution, each scheme is a real D.I.Y project, and you can’t help but root for their entrepreneurial spirit. Their love of horror gleams off the screen–as Renaldo explains to his mother, “It’s not a hobby…It’s my life”.

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© HBO

Los Espookys is a love letter to horror lovers more than to the genre itself. Although the subject matter is gore and horror, the tone is campy and endearing. There’s a moment when a character simply referred to as the Mysterious Woman asks the Los Espookys team to do the “Scooby-Doo thing.” This reference to the goofy 1970s cartoon is an encapsulation of the essence of Los Espookys. The scares are cartoony, the clients are peculiar, and the members of the gang are delightfully strange. Los Espookys gives a different perspective of Scooby-Doo — telling the stories of the folks behind the masks, the ones who construct the elaborate hoaxes. The exact mechanics behind how the team pulls off their scares are unclear; however, the heart and humor of Los Espookys are in the dynamics of this business group turned family. A celebration of the strange, this world is a warm welcome to weirdos, offering a home amongst the Los Espookys team. 

The goth aesthetic of Los Espookys is heavily inspired by the Mexican subculture, “La Vida Alternativa” that embraces the strange and obscure. Fabrega and Torres, also writers on the show, drew from their own experiences of being Latino to build the dreamy world of Los Espookys. A fascination with death is prevalent throughout Latin America and often materializes in mainstream media. Los Espookys draws from the high fantasy and melodrama of Telenovelas while imbued with realism. This dark and gloomy subculture is not usually what we imagine when we picture Latinx culture. Los Espookys gives a window into a different facet of Latinx culture not often depicted in Latinx media. 

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© HBO

It goes without saying that Los Espookys was not created for mass appeal. The majority of the show is in Spanish with English subtitles. However, none of the humor is lost in translation. The bilingual writers purposefully crafted the subtitles to match the humor and speed of the dialogue so that the show could be accessible for everyone. Instead of landing on HBO’s Latino channel — which is to be expected with a primarily Spanish language show — Los Espookys airs alongside HBO’s main programming, solidifying the show’s accessibility. Beyond the language, the deadpan humor and surreal landscape cement the show as a particularly niche treasure. However, the specificity of the show is a part of its success. The need for TV and film to appeal to a wide audience in actuality work to a story’s detriment. True connection comes from the specificity in the narrative. In this industry, telling marginalized stories is seen as a risk for fear that people won’t understand the intimate details of underrepresented groups. However, telling specific stories about the human experience fosters the most profound connections. The offbeat sensibilities of Los Espookys make the show not only intensely funny but heartfelt and genuine. 

To have this unconventional show that portrays a side of Latinx culture that we’re not used to seeing is vital in pursuing diversity in representation. As Latinos in the U.S. are attacked for speaking Spanish in public, a show that portrays the Spanish language as normal is sorely needed. Los Espookys gives its Latino characters the space to express themselves authentically. In 2019 just existing as a person of color is an act of resistance. Although the show features Latino characters, it avoids making political statements —beyond jokes involving the ditzy U.S. ambassador — that seek to legitimize telling this story. Los Espookys showcases the importance of having diversity within stories about the Latinx experience. We deserve stories about not only our struggle but how we can have fun. Los Espookys has been renewed for a second season of spooks and scares; a major win for unconventional storytelling and an opportunity for voices that we don’t usually get to hear. 

★★

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