Los Espookys is the best show you’re not watching

Describing the premise of Los Espookys, HBO’s wackiest sitcom and its first primarily Spanish-language original series, is easy enough. A ragtag group of friends start a business where they stage fake supernatural events for people who pay them. In the first episode, released three years ago, the team are hired by an older priest losing favour with his congregation to a younger cleric with great hair and glossy lips. He asks Los Espookys to rig up an exorcism to boost his reputation.

That’s the premise of the show. Its sensibility, though, is harder to pin down. The series, which returns for a much-delayed second season this week Sky Atlantic and NOW, is a comedy that exists in an elusive space. Not only because the Latin-American country in which it’s set is unnamed, but because there, the surreal and the mundane sit side-by-side. Although the means that the group use to put on their spooky spectacles are endearingly low budget – a rented costume, some SFX makeup, a smoke machine working overtime– their everyday is infused with real-life strangeness. For example, one of them regularly communicates with a water demon who is obsessed with the 2010 Colin Firth film The King’s Speech. In the second season, the same character asks the moon (personified by Oscar-nominee Yalitza Aparicio wearing a silver sequined jumpsuit) to shine brighter for a minute so he can find his lost earring. When one of their clients gets trapped in an alternate reality after stepping through a mirror, it’s not a question of why there’s an alternate reality but why they bought the wrong type of magic mirror. Moments like this are taken at face value by the audience. Maybe they’re real. Maybe they aren’t. Who cares? You’re having fun.

And that’s what Los Espookys is all about: having fun. Which makes sense given it has Saturday Night Live in its DNA. Created by SNL stars Fred Armisen and Julio Torres, as well as comedian Ana Fabrega (all of whom write and co-star), the show is an antidote to self-seriousness. It’s illogical, whimsical, earnest. Given its SNL-approved cast, respectable platform on HBO, 100 per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating, and celebrity cameos (Isabella Rossellini features in season two), it’s a wonder that Los Espookys is still flying below the radar. The fact it’s in Spanish will have something to do with that – but it’s a shame because Los Espookys is one of the best, most memorable comforts TV has had to offer in the past decade.

Unlikeable protagonists may be in vogue, but the characters at the heart of Los Espookys are completely charming. It’s a motley crew comprising the cool and collected Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), her kooky sister Tati (Fabrega), and the group’s founder Renaldo (Bernado Velasco), whose leather jackets and chain jewellery belie a soft interior. Even Andres, the moody and melodramatic heir to a chocolate fortune played by Torres, is a snob you can’t help but root for. Speaking about Los Espookys, Armisen said he wanted to create a show with a fundamentally optimistic outlook. “I just don’t like conflict on TV,” he told The New York Times.

In place of conflict then, is silliness. The opening scene of season two sees Tati impersonating Shakira. The group have been hired by a besmirched artist whose sculpture of the Colombian singer has attracted criticism for looking nothing like her. Tati’s Shakira – who, besides the low-waist trousers and glorious mane, also looks nothing like her – tells an audience of art critics: “Wow, I can’t believe how accurately you captured my likeness. As you can see, one of my eyes is actually bigger than the other… So please don’t be mad at this woman for making this statue given it’s the only one that actually looks like me. Well, I have to go now. I’m late for the World Cup. Waka Waka!” Not exactly a supernatural encounter, but there are no rules in Los Espookys.

Another thing the show has going for it is originality. Right now, everything looks and feels and sounds the same. Take the logline from any future release and I’ll predict a few keywords: thriller, dark, twisty, buried secret. Maybe there’s a detective. It’s TV soup: a minestrone of easily digestible ingredients that goes down easy and leaves zero impression. Scroll through the Emmy winners from earlier this week (Succession, Severance, Squid Game, White Lotus, Yellowjackets, Hacks, Abbott Elementary, Barry, Ozark) and you’ll see how much audiences appreciate an honest-to-goodness fresh idea. And Los Espookys should be on that list. It’s original – and not in the capital “O” way that’s lost all meaning thanks to the ubiquitous Netflix Original (… adaptations of bestselling novels). Jemaine Clement’s vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows is a worthy point of comparison but even so, while the two shows share an offbeat humour, their rhythms are worlds apart.

The ‘Los Espookys’ team are tasked with creating alien lab subjects for a government presentation

(Sky / HBO)

Los Espookys is also visually exciting. Every shot is worthy of a screenshot in the same way that every shot in a Wes Anderson film is. The cinematography does not aim for naturalism and the colour palette is bold and deliberate. From Andrés’s cerulean hair to the bubblegum pink headquarters of the airhead American ambassador Melania (Greta Titelman) to whom our protagonists turn in search of US visas (leaving in a storm one night, a couple of green cards fly out of her purse: “They’ve touched the ground, now they’ve gone bad!”), Los Espookys is easy on the eye.

Not insignificant, too, is the show’s runtime. A lot has been said about brevity lately, with streamers regularly pumping out hour-long episodes for a nine-episode series that could have – and in many cases, should have – been a 90-minute movie. By contrast, every Los Espookys instalment clocks in at 25 minutes. Each morsel is short, sweet, and leaves you wanting more. These days, that’s a novel feeling. In a TV landscape increasingly defined by middle-ground mulch, Los Espookys dares to be different – and is all the better for it.

Season two of Los Espookys is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW on 16 September

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