Technically, “Acapulco” starts at the end. On a sunny, cloudless afternoon in Southern California, Maximo Gallardo (Eugenio Derbez) takes in his view of the Pacific from a sprawling estate. On a day off from his life as a financial mogul, Maximo welcomes his nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro) for a relaxing kickback. In celebrating his young relative’s birthday, Maximo regales him with the tale of his own teenage days, working at the luxury Las Colinas resort in Acapulco, Mexico.
As the show judiciously cuts back and forth between present-day and 1984, Maximo slowly introduces his younger self (Enrique Arrizon) amidst a sea of family members and coworkers. Childhood friend Memo (Fernando Carsa) helps him navigate life at Las Colinas, as he pines after hopeless crush Julia (Camila Perez), contends with rivals Hector (Rafael Cebrián) and Chad (Chord Overstreet), and does his best to impress the resort’s manager (Damián Alcázar) and owner (Jessica Collins). After long days keeping a revolving door of poolside guests satisfied, Maximo comes home to his devout mother, Nora (Vanessa Bauche), and spirited younger sister, Sara (Regina Reynoso).
In Max’s story to Hugo, “Acapulco” draws on some well-established film and TV conventions for cross-generational storytelling and glossy nostalgia trips (even ones that don’t involve a young Fred Savage, somehow). Through the haze of memory, some details get altered, some dialogue gets lip-sync’d, and a handful of moments play on Hugo’s expectations. Though Las Colinas is painted with a fairytale sheen (metaphorically and literally, in pastels so bright you can almost smell the hairspray), “Acapulco” uses those anecdote-puncturing techniques sparingly. There’s enough earned interest here that the elder Maximo doesn’t need too many gimmicks to keep either Hugo or the TV audience hooked.
He’s far from the only element of the series that works, but much of what makes “Acapulco” such a satisfying watch is Arrizon’s effortless charm. Switching between lovesick admirer, aspiring family provider, and occasional mischief maker, Arrizon handles each of those layers of Maximo with an honest eagerness. Even though kind-hearted optimists aren’t always the easiest characters to build around (even with the runaway success story a few clicks away on the Apple TV+ menu), “Acapulco” shows that Maximo isn’t immune to some of the same assumptions and metaphorical blinders that his coworkers and family members sometimes fall prey to.
And though the elder Maximo might be the one narrating the story, the rest of the people captured through his nostalgic lens still get plenty of screen time to benefit from that same depth. It’s impressive how quickly “Acapulco” settles on the ease of a workplace comedy. Even the characters like Memo, who show up initially as a means to serve up punchlines, get more to do as the season goes on. Julia grows into more than purely an object of Maximo’s affection. It doesn’t take long for Don Pablo, the decades-long hotel boss, to move beyond simply being the crusty stickler in charge.
Some of these “Acapulco” threads have a tendency to run a little repetitive, particularly when things move outside the bounds of Las Colinas. But even those moments are delivered with a care and sincerity that helps hold the show together. Tiny details like Maximo and Sara talking through a small hole in the wall between their adjoining rooms or the sherbet-colored towels in the laundry room where Memo works or the ever-present Spanish-language covers of ‘80s radio megahits: All of them paint a specific portrait of a time and place in one man’s recollections.
“Acapulco” earns its careful portions of sentimentality, partly because this is a show that doesn’t shy away from the tinge of melancholy dotting the whole thing. While Maximo doing the telling has found enormous success in some areas of his life, the mechanics of his story gradually show that not everything has worked out as neatly as his meticulous narration. Some of these episodes come from particular chapters in the overall story brought on by an item that Maximo has kept with him as proof. These mismatched souvenirs can be charming trinkets or a reminder of something lost. Derbez is in his uncle-joke element here, sometimes delivering a playful aside and at others covering up a sting that Maximo remembers all these years later.
It helps that this mix of promise and happiness and shortcomings is delivered with a real sense of timing. The season’s director roster is loaded with comedy vets, who help bring Las Colinas to life by repeatedly moving throughout the grounds. If Maximo’s life feels like a whirlwind, it’s partly because the camera is constantly in motion, following Hector as he secures tips from sunbathing loungers with balletic precision. It moves through the Las Colinas lobby, amidst the bustle of incoming guests. The bartender, the event planner, Julia’s colleagues at the front desk, and the rolling list of Maximo’s fellow staff members all add to the storytelling rhythm, a tiny ecosystem that Maximo becomes an indispensable part of.
“Authenticity” becomes an idea that’s always hovering in the background, too. Maximo’s various twists and turns in his ascendance through the Las Colinas ranks often come hand in hand with questioning what is actually real in an environment where some are paying guests and others are employees. “Acapulco” doesn’t shy away from some of those considerations, eventually spooling it out in relation to Maximo’s present-day status. The Maximo of 1984 is focused on getting the means to tell his own story. Looking back, “Acapulco” nods to the idea that getting to that point comes with its own set of complications.
Through it all, though, “Acapulco” is a skillful comedy, too. There’s a strain of tenderhearted goofiness to go along with some very funny setups. (By itself, Maximo’s response to being told the importance of being invisible is enough to convince anyone to keep watching the rest of the season.) There’s a sweetness here that doesn’t just come from relentless optimism, but from trying to live up to your own best memories.
“Acapulco” premieres its first two episodes Friday, October 3 on Apple TV+. New episodes will be released every Friday through December 3.