“Los Espookys” is not an easy show to explain quickly, but the creators have it down to an art.
“The term we’ve been using a lot is a reverse ‘Scooby-Doo,'” co-creator and star Julio Torres said to IndieWire. “We don’t solve the mystery, we create it.”
The new HBO comedy is as creative in its storytelling as it is in building that story with props, practical effects, and its stellar overall production design. Torres stars alongside fellow co-creators Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen, with the former two playing friends who turn their love of horror into a peculiar business. Alongside Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) and Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), Andrés (Torres) and Tati (Fabrega) form a traveling band of crafty scarers, eventually creating sea monsters that double as tourist attractions, but first throwing a themed quinceañera for a family friend.
“The priest saw them throw a really cool party, right? They made horror-themed cupcakes, so they were like, ‘Given that we know how to do that, obviously we know how to make someone levitate in the air.'” Torres said with a laugh. “And rotate!”
The “Los Espookys” team tackled a fake exorcism for a fame-seeking priest in the premiere, and turned an ordinary mansion into a haunted house in the second episode. But in each version, what they’re capable of doesn’t abide by the laws of the real world. When Tati pretends to be the possessed woman, her friend not only make her levitate in front of eyewitnesses, but turn her over like a pig on a spit. In the mansion, they pull a man through a bed and the floor underneath, convincing him the place is haunted.
None of this is really possible, sans the illusions of careful framing and savvy editing, but that doesn’t matter.
“I think the rules are we make them up as we go,” Fabrega said. “It’s not like they can or can’t do this. From the beginning, we knew we wanted Andrés to be able to look into an amulet and see his boyfriend, but we didn’t want that to be a weird thing. We wanted everything to be treated very normal and matter-of-fact, so [there’s] no ‘straight guy/crazy guy’ vibe. Everything is just normalized in this world.”
“To them, in their world, I think Ursula would be the person who could explain how they were able to make [Tati] levitate and rotate in the air,” Torres said. “But you just have to buy that they know how to do it.”
Though “Los Espookys” sparked from Armisen’s original idea about a group of Latin American friends who love horror, “then they took the story and expanded it, deepened it, and added all the detail. I was pleasantly surprised by it all,” he said.
Torres said, rather than draw inspiration from the horror genre, old movies, or cult filmmakers, many of the friends’ gigs are inspired by crazy things he saw walking through real-life sets. “I’m like, ‘How did these people manage to do this?'” he said. “‘There’s fire here? How did they get fire here?'”
The show doesn’t expect its audience to know the answers, so much as they can bask in the absurd surreality of the work. “Los Espookys” is filled with inexplicable, eye-catching entertainment; some of the scares may not make sense, but a) that’s part of the fun, and b) they’re beautiful pieces of art on their own — like a live exhibit recorded and enhanced for viewers to appreciate. It’s the series’ creativity, in where the story goes and what they physically create, that sets it apart.
“What is their take on whatever they’re doing?” Fabrega said. “I think as the season goes on, the gigs get more and more abstract. So from the first two episodes, it’s kind of a classic exorcism, horror, haunted house vibe, and then as they move on, any references don’t really exist for pretending to do research on aliens when you’re not really doing research on aliens.”
“Los Espookys” is also an ode to talented craftspeople, who Torres, Fabrega, and Armisen had to find in the real world. To bring the comic horror in their heads to life, they turned to the Chilean production company Fabula.
“When we would write them, we had an idea of what they would look like, but then the director has his take, the art director has his take, the makeup person has her take, and then we’d put all those things together and end up with what you see on camera,” Fabrega said.
“We got so, so lucky,” Torres said. “Everyone there is incredible. From the costume designer to the art director to the makeup, they’re Oscar winners.”
“He means literally,” Armisen said, noting Fabula’s win for “A Fantastic Woman’s” 2018 win for Best Foreign Language Film.
As for Armisen, who plays Rodrigo’s friendly uncle, Tico, he never wanted to be one of the stars. He wanted to play a valet “because I’ve always wanted to play a valet.” But Tico isn’t just any valet — he’s a Los Angeles legend, making a name for himself by learning how to park two cars at once. Though “Los Espookys” has yet to show how exactly that’s possible, Armisen claims to have cracked it.
“I figured out a way to do it,” he said.
“Is it a stick?” Torres asked.
“It’s a stick that has another stick sticking out of it, almost like a handle. But we will see that happen [in Season 2],” Armisen said.
After everything we’ve seen in Season 1, there’s no reason to doubt him.
“Los Espookys” airs new episodes Fridays at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.