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Devil in the details

Los Espookys brings gothic absurdity to your summer television lineup

Courtesy HBO

“It’s too big for my little hand,” Andrés says. It’s a languid protest from a slight, blue-haired man whose air of disinterest is palpable after receiving a flippant but aggressive proposal of marriage and a huge, ridiculous gemstone ring from his insufferable boyfriend, Juan Carlos.

“Okay, then you’re gonna have to make a little fist at all times,” his boyfriend earnestly responds.

It is exactly this brand of deadpan absurdity that makes HBO’s Los Espookys so worth your time this summer. There are many TV shows vying for your long July evenings, but I’m not here to interrupt your Stranger Things season three bender. All I ask is you make space in your hearts, minds and TV queues for this weird, delightful, disarmingly absurd show.

Created by and starring Ana Fabrega, Fred Armisen, and the other-worldly Julio Torres, Los Espookys is all at once familiar but not, an alternate reality that is only slightly out of alignment with the one we live in. Tonally, this bilingual pièce de résitance lands somewhere at the cross-section of a Spanish-language Twin Peaks and an inside-out Scooby Doo —a combination you didn’t know you needed.

The show follows the self-proclaimed “Los Espookys,” a group of young goth-tinged misfits living in an anonymous but essentially Latin American city as they set out to begin their peculiar business: manufacturing horror for an odd set of clients. In the show’s pilot, the group is called to their first assignment by local priest Father Francesco, who has a big problem—the convent’s new glossy-lipped priest is so pious, young and hot that he’s stealing Francesco’s priestly prowess. There’s only one way to solve this: Los Espookys must help Father Francesco stage an exorcism of a demon-possessed orphan to prove he’s still got it.

Fortunately for Father Francesco, the group is up to this task and the exceedingly weird ones that follow in the show’s six-episode arch. Leader Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) is a man of one mind, obsessed with his identity as a manufacturer and connoisseur of horror. Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti) is the straight-shooting dental assistant who takes no shit and always gets paid. Her younger sister, Tati (Ana Fabrega), is brought in as the group’s wild card, often taking on the role of dead-eyed stunt dummy.

However, it is Julio Torres’ presence that makes Los Espookys a delicious experience for those of us who delight in a very specific brand of nonchalant surreal humor. Torres is the cerulean-haired, impeccably dressed space prince of my dreams as the adopted-heir-to-a-chocolate-empire Andrés. The show spins an ever-more complex and ridiculous backstory for Andrés throughout its six episodes. Afflicted with ennui and saddled with aforementioned terrible boyfriend Juan Carlos, Andrés is plagued by the mystery of his own life circumstances: Does he really belong in the chocolate business? Will he ever know who left him at the orphanage? Can he make peace with the parasitic demon who lives inside him and knows all the secrets of his past but won’t lend him the answers until he watches the movie The King’s Speech?

The show‘s biggest success is its employment of small and inconsequential detail to manipulate tone within the structure of the magical world the writers have created. When Andrés attempts to coax the story of his adoption from the nun at the convent where he was left as a baby, the nun waxes poetic in a dramatically moody montage that ultimately offers our chocolate prince no helpful information. Andrés’ response is flat and unaffected: “This brings no clarity or further insight into my past, but thank you for the beautiful flashback.”

Bilingual and Latinx-centered, Los Espookys is a breath of fresh air. This show isn’t meant for only an audience of Spanish speakers, but also proves a Spanish-language show can be just as appealing to a so-called “mainstream” audience of English-speaking HBO subscribers. In doing so, the show both centers Latinx actors and stories in a way that is much needed while respecting its English-speaking viewers’ intelligence enough not to dumb itself down (stop looking at Instagram, you have subtitles to read).

The writers have spun many complex and ridiculous threads into a satisfying tapestry. A series about horror that is never scary, Los Espookys’ devil is in the details; it’s a show that takes time to linger on the absurd, with a comic mastery that requires no translation.