Any description of “Los Espookys” will ultimately come up lacking, because the English language cannot create vibes that ring out with the coolness, vitality, and weirdly fused nerd-punk energy of “Los Espookys.” The HBO comedy has the same sense of care and texture and human creativity as hand-drawn animation, which is not to say that it looks unreal. But there’s a heightened quality to its visuals that perfectly matches who the characters are and the spirit of the show’s humor. You can tell the Los Espookys crew and even the hound-dog parking attendant Tico (Fred Armisen) are of, and have power over, their unnamed Latin American home. The costumes and the production design are central to creating the look and feel of Julio Torres, Ana Fabrega, and Armisen’s series about (if we must reduce it to a plot) a group of friends who run an agency that solves peoples’ problems with spooky live theater.
The world of “Los Espookys” is one that production designer Jorge Zambrano needs to build from scratch, not just for every season but for every set and location. “From props and decor, costume design, everything is new,” Zambrano told IndieWire. “Julio told me how they work in the States and it’s very different from the way we work here [in Chile]. We have to self-make everything, mostly. So it’s a little bit of challenge the whole time.”
The challenge has always been one one of material and time, but the early episodes of Season 2 offered Zambrano the chance to subtly adjust the sensibility of show’s world. “For the first four, [director Sebastián Silva] wanted to bring ‘Los Espookys’ and the world [into] a little bit more darkness — not this pop world like was in the first season,” he said. They adjusted the color palette, to one that Zambrano describes as “softer.” “We used color in a way to not be afraid if everything is more dark here in ‘Los Espookys,'” he said. “We don’t need to see everything.”
That sense of greater darkness doesn’t make the show necessarily scarier or change its essential attitude, but it does create quite literally a more cosmic stage for all of the characters. While Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti) and Renaldo (Bernado Velasco) struggle with the wrongness of the world around them and ghosts that are, sometimes, actually haunting them, Andrés (Torres) and Tati (Fabrega) to wrestle with inner struggles of who they ought to be, going to the moon and even into their own minds.
Pablo Arellano Spataro/HBO
For costume designer Muriel Parra, these journeys were a chance to refine some of the characters’ styles and blow out others. “The most entertaining fittings are those of Andrés and the subtle details of Tati, but the rest of the characters are quite clear, and I take care to keep their silhouettes,” Parra told IndieWire. “It is important that they are an easy to identify team, like the Scooby-Doo crew.”
The crew of the show itself has a rapport worthy of the Mystery Machine, and both Parra and Zambrano spoke about how collaborative the process of creating sets and costumes with the right colors, textures, and level of realism is. “My job goes hand in hand with the art and makeup departments,” Parra said. “We come to an agreement on ideas and Jorge is someone who not only shares his vision but invites you to contribute to the conversation and his ideas.”
One place where the team pulled together was in the design of a new character for Season 2, Luna (Yalitza Aparicio). Building a look for her and the orbits she moves in (yes, she actually is the nearest celestial body to Earth and no, don’t worry about how she became friends with Andrés — it’s honestly not that surprising) was a collaboration between costume, production design, lighting and camera, as it often is on “Los Espookys,” which loves to saturate environments in color and create a mood that is loud, unrestrained, and undeniably magnetic.
Pablo Arellano Spataro/HBO
“I like Luna very much, because Yalitza has a very powerful internal beauty and I feel that that silver suit does justice to her shine,” Parra said, adding that she was partly inspired for some of Luna’s looks by seeing Dua Lipa in spangly Valentino couture. The elevated looks puts Luna, out of maybe everyone on the show, in a place where she can inspire Andrés to change (slightly). “There is a moment that left me very inspired and that is when Andrés talks with Luna outside at night,” Parra said. “She wears a simple cut blouse with transparent sequins and black velvet pants. I felt the beauty of glowing in the dark, it was very personal and I was happy to see him in that way. My instinct tells me that there is a new Andrés there.”
For Zambrano, the overall look of “Los Espookys” defines the characters as much as the characters define it — something he sees as part of its resonance with audiences. “For many people, especially young people, ‘Los Espookys’ has a very special aesthetic,” he said. “I think it’s one of the facts that maybe makes the show successful in the States, but at the same time, it’s important for me because it’s a show that’s in Spanish. I think it’s important to have a show in a Spanish language in America, in primetime.”
Equally important to the Zambrano is that the fact that “Los Espookys” is so gloriously, hopelessly itself, a TV show where campaign debates are as absurd as communing with water spirit-demons. “This is not Mexico,” he said. “This is not Chile.” Rather, Zambrano likened the setting of “Los Espookys” to Macondo, the fictional town at the center of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s magical-realist classic, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
“Mocondo is some place that you have no idea where it is, but you know it’s real,” he said. “It’s like a magic place and that’s connected with this Latin American tradition of ‘everything is possible.’ You can die in one [episode] and in another, you come alive again. You can be rich in one and in another you’re completely poor. Magic is involved. So it’s not strange that this water spirit comes and talks with Andrés. It’s completely normal.”
Zambrano sees the show’s language, queerness, and dreamlike setting as political choices. “And I’m very happy with the result,” he said.