Los Espookys, HBO's new Spanish-language comedy co-created by Fred Armisen, is proof that niche ideas can have broad appeal. The half-hour series about a group of friends who start a business scaring people is a delightful mix of horror, heart, and humor inspired by goth and horror culture in Latin America.
"I love the love of horror in those countries and goth and all that stuff," Armisen told TV Guide at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas. The initial idea for Los Espookys sprung from that love, and once Armisen approached co-creators Ana Fabrega (Portlandia, At Home with Amy Sedaris) and Julio Torres (Saturday Night Live) with the basic concept, the show evolved into the wonderfully weird world you now see on screen.
"We didn't set up to make the show that we made," said Torres, who also stars as Andrés, a member of Los Espookys. "It just happened. We were just playing and having fun and I don't know, I can't really explain it."
Set in an unnamed, fictional Latin American country, the six-episode first season follows the friends, led by the horror-obsessed Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), as they decide to start offering their services to serve up spooks for cash. In the breezily surreal world Armisen, Torres, and Fabrega created, this means the group are hired to do everything from staging an exorcism in order to help an older priest regain his status to pretending to trap the U.S. ambassador in a cursed mirror so that she can secretly extend her vacation (but then accidentally trapping her in the mirror for real).
While there are aspects of the show that are more firmly grounded in reality — one of the group's members, Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), struggles with the very real and non-fantastical obstacles of working a thankless job and taking care of her guileless sister Tati (Fabrega) — the only rule the creators came up with when crafting the series was to never act like anything weird was weird.
"Everything that happens is very normal and no one's going to say, 'Oh, it's weird that she got trapped in a mirror.' No, someone could get trapped in a mirror in this show," Fabrega said.
"You just have to accept that the things that happen here just happen and that's that and don't get hung up on the logic of it. Don't dwell on it. It's very playful in that way," added Torres.
As a result, Los Espookys is imbued with a sense of earnestness and optimism that gives equal weight to Renaldo's tunnel-vision desire to make a living out of horror and Tati's desire to one day be Cirque du Soleil (and to clarify: Tati doesn't want to be in Cirque du Soleil, she wants to be it).
That's because while on the surface the show is about a group of friends trying to come up with clever ways to scare people, it's really about finding one's passion and the often off-kilter paths to achieving that goal. For Tati, this means working a series of odd jobs, including manually operating the seconds hand in a clock tower, breaking in other people's shoes, and getting repeatedly catfished by someone pretending to be a cartoon prince. For Úrsula, it means suffering through her job at a dental office while she figures out how to shed some of her unwanted responsibilities. For Renaldo, it means finding the balance between escaping into horror and learning how to relate to the real world. And for Andrés, it manifests in his obsession with his origin, having been abandoned at a church as an infant and adopted by wealthy chocolatiers, with the hopes that the truth about his parents will validate his impulse to live a life outside the privileged, glossy world he was raised in.
Of all the characters, it's really only Renaldo's uncle Tico (Armisen) who seems to have things relatively figured out. "For Tico, his only goal, it's actually not that big, he actually just wants to be a great valet driver, a great parker of cars," Armisen said. "There's something about the simplicity of that that I really like. 'This is the one thing I want to do.' And it's nice because you can end up happy in life."
There is a sweetness to everything in Los Espookys that makes you want to live in this world much longer than just the six episodes that make up the first season, which is why it'd be a shame if the language discourages some viewers from watching and falling for this friend group. While subtitled shows are becoming more commonplace in American media, the team behind Los Espookys knows it's still far from the norm and is hoping the HBO comedy will help lead other networks and series to follow suit by allowing stories to be told in the languages they're meant to be told in.
"They all speak Spanish because, first of all, Fred wanted to do a show in Spanish, but also we thought it just really, really had to be in Spanish because to me it drives me crazy in movies or TV when you see people go to a foreign country and they just speak English with heavy accents in those countries," Torres said. "As absurd and as not grounded as the show can be, we really wanted to explore that."
"I think, for me, it was really interesting that a big television company in the USA wants to do this experiment," Velasco said. "One, for the type of comedy and [two], for the language. ... At this time, there are still many people around getting really angry when they hear people talking in other languages that [are] not English in the streets. So maybe it's going to open a reflection, to get more people in the society [to not] fight with the language like this."
Los Espookys premieres Friday, June 14 at 11/10c on HBO.