“Alternatino” starts with a defining sketch in more ways than one. When a father (played by creator, writer, executive producer, and star Arturo Castro) hears his young son is going out with a female friend, the graying older gentleman tries to sit him down for “the talk.” Yet instead of imparting any knowledge onto the boy, the dad gets an overwhelming education of his own.
First off, the boy isn’t interested in girls, he’s interested in women. But he also knows he’s interested in women right now — he’s young, things change, gender is fluid. As the dad stutters and tries to regain his authority, his son presses on, talking about how sex is different for different people, trying to get his old man to define what kind of sex he’s talking about, and chastising him for describing penis-to-vagina sex as “normal.”
The gag is simple: The roles are reversed, and the person in-the-know isn’t the wizened father but the hormonal teen. The execution, though, that’s one of the first elements to set the sketch, and the series, apart. From the timing of each cut, to the rhythm within the dialogue, to Castro’s committed, clever performance — at one point, the son asks what it means if there are “more” than two partners, and Castro’s head tilt and curious question, “More?” induces a fit of laughter all by itself — all of the elements are done well enough to elevate the opener above its easy set-up.
This isn’t the best sketch of the first season. It would be very difficult to pick just one, honestly, given how many prove memorable, insightful, and very, very funny. But what makes this scene the perfect starter is how it immediately positions Castro in a new light. He’s not the drug dealer from “Narcos” or the gay best friend from “Broad City” — he’s still recognizable, which is important, but he’s playing against whatever expectations fans may have coming into “Alternatino.”
And that’s the point. Castro uses his sketch series to push back against Latinx stereotypes (including a quick, effective takedown of Latinx representation on HBO), while illustrating his own vast range. There may be a few duds in these first 10 half-hour episodes, but there are far more hits, and each one is very conscious of how it positions its star.
“Alternatino with Arturo Castro” talks about Latinx culture, from how they can be tokenized by white friends and fetishized on dates, and plenty of the sketches feel personal and distinct. Castro even elongates one sketch every episode, breaking it up into three or four parts and spreading them throughout the hour. In one episode, he auditions to play the first Latin American superhero, “The Pulga” — which translates to “The Flea.” During the first sketch, he’s in a meeting with his agent. In the second part of the sketch, he’s reading over the stereotype-laden script with his friends. A few sketches later, we come back to “The Pulga” as he goes on a screen test for the part, suited up like a cross between “Ant-Man” and “The Tick.”
Each of these parts could stand on their own, so you’re not left hanging for a punchline or conclusion when Castro moves on to another, unrelated sketch. Then, when he comes back to this storyline, it’s a welcome surprise. The series, produced by David Martin, Jon Thoday, Richard Allen-Turner, and Sam Saifer, knows it needs to exist in quick, easily digestible bits, while also recognizing it can offer a bit more for people who watch the entire episode. Some of these sketches may have to take off through YouTube or shared on social media, but most of the extended sketches are worth the further development.
Not everything works about “Alternatino with Arturo Castro.” Some jokes are obvious from the get-go, or, after watching a few episodes, Castro’s sense of humor starts to become a little too predictable. Mid-way through, you can feel the team straining to subvert expectations. Thankfully, Castro’s charisma and range go a long way. He’s more than worthy of a series all his own, and it will be exciting to see where he goes from here. Like most sketch shows, “Alternatino” should form an excellent creative base for its team to develop new ideas, try out new personas, and say whatever the hell they want to say. Here’s hoping Castro gets picked up for a few more projects during hiatus.
“Alternatino with Arturo Castro” premieres Tuesday, June 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. You can watch the first episode for free on YouTube.