What first caught my eye about Los Espookys wasn't the prestige TV street cred, the perfect horror-comedy tone, or even the much-needed infusion of brilliant Latinx stars into Hollywood. It was the title; a rather clever play of Spanglish, which was my (and many Latinx folks') second language. With this instinctual code switch right in America's face, I knew the series would serve up that sazón, unconcerned with whether white people could understand it. I knew the show would translate to whatever part of me was missing home that night.
The show, co-created by Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen and current SNL writer Julio Torres along with Ana Fabrega, takes place in a fictional Latin American country, "where the strange and eerie are just part of daily life," according to the show's summary. It follows the journey of four friends, Renaldo (Bernanrdo Velasco), Andrés (Torres), Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), and Úrsula's sister, Tati (Fabrega), as they build a business that stages horror fantasies for "those who need it most," as Renaldo said in one episode. Those who need it most might be a priest hoping to stage an exorcism to gain some clout or a town that requires a new tourist attraction.
But what makes Los Espooky's quintessentially Latinx is not the fact that it is in Spanish or takes place in some realm of Latin America. It's the weaving together of folklore and myths, central aspects of all facets of Latinx culture that are present in all Latin American countries, into a truly unique hangout comedy.
When I was little, being warned about the existence of duendes, la llorona or el mal de ojo were lessons as important as washing my hands after going to the bathroom or not talking to strangers; they were concrete realities. Most Latinxs are taught some form of spirituality — Santeria, Catholicism, Curanderia, among so many other religions and forms of belief. So the fact that Andrés has a water-inhabiting spirit following him around that just really wants to watch The King's Speech didn't come as a surprise. Rather, it was an expected thread, in line with how Andrés raised. For a Latinx audience, the casual acceptance of the fantastical is part and parcel of how we walk through life, so ingrained in our cultural psyche that donning protection jewelry is considered an everyday accessory.
A show that touches on the mystical without the mystical becoming an inexplicable phenomenon that needs to be solved is incredibly rare. A show written purely outside an American frame of reference where witchcrafts, spirits, and the supernatural aren't relegated to the margins of reality is even rarer. It would be almost cliché to call this show magical realism — everything that is Latinx eventually gets called magical realism — but Los Espookys can't be anything but that.
The main characteristic of magical realism is that the mystical is as real as reality itself, sometimes even more so, and that's just what our cultura is. An ongoing blurring of what parts of the day are real and what parts of it are a force of cosmic or spiritual energy, our lives (and the show) blend into an amorphous reality where anything goes. In the case of Los Espookys, that includes accidentally buying a real mirror when trying to stage a trick portal that the ambassador to the United States can use as a getaway, or the mystery behind a TV journalist whose short term amnesia might be a sign that she's actually a robot. For Latinx folks, magic is never outside of our frame of reference, and Los Epsookys is magical realism in its truest form.
We can't deny that shows like One Day at a Time, Vida and Jane the Virgin, walked so that Los Espookys could have the chance to run, but these shows don't hit home the way Los Espookys does. Every other Latinx centered show in recent Hollywood history has aimed to explain the Latinx experience specifically in the context of the United States. The sitcom structure of ODAAT is palpable and familiar to white audiences. Some jokes are cheesy, and the caricatures of white characters in comparison to the Alvarez family is made to be a blinding billboard for white audiences to understand their microaggressions and the highlight cultural differences. Jane the Virgin uses a Latinx narrator to guide and heighten the experience for viewers who are unfamiliar with a telenovela-type storyline. And while one of the characters on Jane speaks consistently in Spanish, the conversation flowing around her, even in response to her, is solely in English. It's in these small (and frankly necessary, unless we all want to be race ambassadors) ways that other Latinx shows use Latinx narrative formats, style, and characters to talk to and cultivate non-Latinx audiences.
Los Espookys, on the other hand, simply is Latinx rather than a window into the Latinx community juxtaposed against a white backdrop. In relegating non-Latinx audiences not just to the back, but all the way to another dimension, Los Espookys has the room to be exactly what it wants. It's also why Los Espookys has turned into exactly the show I need.
The success of Roma, Alfonso Cuaron's autobiographical Oscar-winning movie, proves that there's an appetite for stories by Latinx people, for Latinx people, about Latinidad as its own entity. The Latinx community is growing to be the largest minority in the United States, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, falling only behind Mandarin. And more and more, a different type of storytelling is being carved by a multi-national audience.
But when it comes to the Latinx community and TV there's still so much more to be done. Jharrel Jerome's Emmy win for his role as Korey Wise in Netflix's When They See Us marks only the ninth time a Latinx actor has won an Emmy and the first for an Afro-Latinx actor. The reanimation of ODAAT by PopTV after the series was canceled by Netflix shows that there is a space for these stories to grow when given a chance. Los Epookys has been renewed for a second season on HBO, making it HBO's second ongoing non-English show and has been raved about over and over, gaining a 100 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The magic of Los Espookys is that it is a series that immediately transported me back home. I was watching a Latinx series in my mom's living room in Cali, Colombia. I wasn't in New York, this show could not have possibly been made for an audience that wasn't me. It is what Latinx artistry looks like. It's the next step in proving that Latinx storytelling is as palpable and better seasoned than all that American-centric TV I had been fed for years.
Our sazón had been missing in our own story, Los Espookys addresses that by simply existing.
Los Espookys is now streaming on HBO.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)