To enter the carefully crafted upside-down world of Los Espookys, you need to suspend your disbelief. That the one-of-a-kind, predominantly Spanish-language HBO series isn’t quite concerned with rules or even logic is what makes it so wonderfully unpredictable. One of Los Espookys’ main characters, for example, has an ethereal water spirit lurking inside of him, ready to reveal his innermost truths. And that water spirit will only reveal those truths if the two of them watch the 2010 Academy Award-winning Colin Firth vehicle, The King’s Speech together. Of course.
Co-created by Fred Armisen, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega, Los Espookys follows four friends — Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) the group’s horror-obsessed leader; water demon vessel Andrés (Torres), the spoiled adoptive heir to a chocolate empire; Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), the realist of the bunch; and Tati (Fabrega), Úrsula’s head-in-the-clouds sister — as they turn their love of all things spooky and strange into a business (from which the show steals its title). In practice, this means doing things like helping the executor of a massive fortune pull off a “classic” inheritance scare by inviting potential heirs to a haunted mansion; or donning hilariously amateurish alien makeup to help a researcher convince her supervisors that their grant money isn’t going to waste.
The show was an immediate critical darling upon its premiere in 2019, earning praise for its singular humor and oddball premise. After a pandemic-induced delay, the second season of Los Espookys premiered Sept. 16, and it doesn’t take long for the crew to lure viewers back into their whimsical world. Within the first five minutes, we find out that Renaldo is being haunted by the ghost of a beauty pageant queen who’s been impaled by a comically large anchor. In other words, even after a three-year hiatus, Los Espookys is still unlike anything else on TV.
“You have to be so open-minded to get into this show, because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Ciangherotti says. “I didn’t know anything [about this season] going in. You just have to trust Ana and Julio’s creative, crazy minds.”
Torres and Fabrega began writing Season Two shortly after their pilot premiered. With the group’s mission already established, they spent the bulk of the second season setting each of Los Espookys on a personal quest.
While Renaldo tries to get to the bottom of the beauty queen’s untimely demise, Úrsula becomes preoccupied with helping a local politician oust the sexist incumbent in the presidential election. Tati begins the season trying to make her farce of a marriage to Andrés’ ex-boyfriend work, and later finds purpose in a career as a bestselling writer. Andrés has just relinquished his stake in his family’s chocolate empire, and is trying to make it on his own by mooching off of every one of his friends. At the same time, the increase of self-driving cars in Los Angeles leads Renaldo’s uncle Tico (Armisen) to abandon his dream job of valeting, forcing him to take his perpetually pissed-off daughter Sonia (River Ramirez) with him to move in with Renaldo.
The quartet’s friendship is the core of the show, grounding it in reality, but never too much. Throughout the series, Fabrega and Torres delight in tipping the scales toward the absurd and unbelievable. It’s a mix of telenovela-level twists and tropes, mixed with elements of fantasy in moments that can swing from incredibly mundane to completely unbelievable from one minute to the next. We’re just meant to enjoy the ride, and not ask too many questions, especially when it comes to the setting.
Before they began filming Season One, Los Espookys was originally set in Mexico City, but when the production moved to Santiago, Chile, it provided an opportunity for the creative team to rethink things. “We realized it would be set in this special place, like Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude,” says Jorge Zambrano, the show’s production designer. “In Macondo, you can see a rain of flowers, or a baby being carried away by ants. In Los Espookys, everything is possible. The idea was that this place could be found everywhere in Latin America.”
Practically, the show’s nonspecific setting was also a way to explain away the different regional Spanish accents among the cast (Torres is from El Salvador; Fabrega is the American daughter of Panamanian immigrants; Velasco and Ciangherotti are Mexican), but more than that, it was a way to draw upon the various elements of folklore and magical thinking that are ingrained in Latin American culture. “There’s something about Latino culture that’s like, ‘Oh, I wonder why I was sick … maybe a ghost was trying to get me,’” Torres muses with a laugh. “Like, yeah, maybe! We don’t need to investigate that. We’re more comfortable with ambiguity and unanswered questions. We’re comfortable in something not having a clear reason or resolution.”
That mentality is the driving force behind the elusive magic of Los Espookys. Not having to worry about realism frees up Torres and Fabrega to invent whatever outlandish scenarios they want. This time around, they were especially eager to imagine the different types of clients that would need Los Espookys’ highly specific skill sets.
“In the first season, especially the first few episodes, we hadn’t quite found the show yet,” says Fabrega. “We were thinking of it as horror and things that fit in that world, but as we kept writing, we realized we could open it up. Going into the second season, it was like anyone hiring them for anything — to get out of a commitment, to trick someone — it didn’t have to be ghosts, or cemeteries, or vampires.”
“Just any form of elaborate deceit,” agrees Torres.
This season, the gang caters to a careless cemetery groundskeeper who’s tired of grieving families turning up and asking why their loved ones are in the wrong graves. (“Sweetie, I told you I was going to bury your loved one,” the groundskeeper explains. “I never said I was going to bury them in the right place.”) There’s also an archaeology professor who needs their help planting artifacts to bolster his theory that queer people have been wearing a “single dangly earring” since the dawn of time, and a schoolteacher who hires them to create “Bibi’s” a fuzzy, pink fictional monster that bursts out of an egg to help teach her students some manners.
“It’s sometimes more fun to write for those little side characters and non-Espookys because you don’t need to worry about their arc or their emotional story line,” Torres admits. “We just get to have fun thinking about their quirks and adding them into a scene.” And as Armisen points out, all of their clients have the same essential flaw: “They’re all just people hung up on this one thing,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like no one in their lives told them everything would be better if they just let it go.”
To help flesh out the world of Los Espookys, Torres and Fabrega work closely with Zambrano, who oversees the set design, and costume designer Muriel Parra. Together, they act almost like the real-life Espookys, trying to find ways to make their convoluted ideas a reality.
When Parra first read the script for Season One, she remembers experiencing a rush of emotions — and confusion. “I had never seen any other shows like it, so I didn’t know what it was,” she recalls. “I didn’t know if it was supposed to be serious or funny or what. By the second season, I knew a little of what to expect, but that didn’t make it any less interesting.”
It’s Parra who was tasked with bringing Bibi’s to life (”Bernardo suffered in that costume,” she says, laughing), but she also ensures that each Espooky’s wardrobe tells a story, too. “Andrés has this endless sense of fantasy, this air of madness about him,” notes Parra. “His outfits need to make you feel like he could travel the universe in them.”
Unlike Andrés, the rest of Los Espookys have a kind of uniform they usually stick to. For Tati, it’s intentionally unfashionable clothing and a constant rotation of newsboy caps. As for Renaldo and Úrsula, Parra concedes that their typically all-black wardrobes are fairly basic, but they serve to illustrate how much more practical and realistic they are in the group.
It falls to Zambrano to curate the offbeat aesthetic of the world Los Espookys inhabit, whether it’s the moody, entirely blue room in Andrés’ childhood mansion, or the inside of Tati’s brain (literally). “With [this show] you need to build almost everything from scratch because it doesn’t exist,” says Zambrano. “Ana had very clear ideas about Tati’s brain, so I started work before they arrived in Santiago, showed them my sketches, and filmed those scenes in one day, with Ana playing every single Tati running around [inside] her head.”
This season offers a bit more insight into the constantly evolving mystery of Tati. It’s impossible not to love Fabrega in the role, even if Tati has a tendency to distract and overcomplicate things for her friends in her constant struggle to find herself. (She confided in Andrés last season that she wants to “be” Cirque du Soleil. Not be in it, be it.) Though her previous attempt at a career led her straight to an Herbalife-style multilevel marketing scheme, this time, she gets a real taste of fame by writing “Tati’s version” of classics like Don Quixote.
“I thought it would be funny to explore, ‘What if Tati became massively successful,’” Fabrega says. “I wanted to see cocky Tati wearing aviators and being on top of the world only to realize that it was stolen valor.”
Both Fabrega and Torres admit that they’re often more concerned with creating funny situations than building out the show’s plot. “It’s a lot of reverse-engineering, honestly,” says Torres. “We have ideas of X, Y, Z scenarios happening and the plot is just an excuse to get there.”
That approach only adds to the enjoyment of the show, which often feels aware of how much fun it’s having. Midway through the six-episode second season, for example, Andrés finds a wealthy widower to take him in and immediately begins plotting ways to get rid of his lover’s children. At one point, he literally enlists the help of the moon (played by a heavenly Yalitza Aparicio) to aid one of his schemes. “I just loved the idea of playing with the trope of an evil stepmother,” says Torres, delighting in the drama of the Spanish translation of the word: madrastra. “You just can’t say, ‘Oh, I have a great relationship with my madrastra.’ Or ‘Oh it’s my madrastra’s birthday.’”
The show also delights in poking fun at aspects of Latin American life with a sensibility that can only be found on Los Espookys. There’s a recurring gag about Yipi!, a fictional WhatsApp-style messaging app that’s always full of disinformation. And toward the end of the season, the crew is recruited by the lead actress in a long-running (fictional) telenovela, Mi Puta Suegra (My F*cking Mother-in-Law) that’s referenced throughout the show. “That was very much a response to the types of comedies that the older generations I grew up with watched,” Fabrega says. “The type of humor was essentially, ‘Ha ha aren’t women awful?’”
America isn’t exempt from their parodying, either. After breaking out of a cursed mirror, self-absorbed U.S. Ambassador Melanie Gibbons (Greta Titelman) is determined to be a model employee (i.e. help influence the local presidential election) in order to secure her dream role of
Ambassador to Miami. Gibbons is later met by the U.S. Secretary of State, played by pop star Kim Petras, one of the season’s many guest stars. “I was told that I would be a mega-bitch,” Petras says. “That made me say yes immediately!”
The season culminates with a gag that — without revealing too much — requires the group to pull off a solar eclipse. In one of two episodes directed by Fabrega this season, the finale manages to unite each member of Los Espookys and their separate quests, folding them all into this final gig while also setting up a few new mysteries for Season Three.
“We have no idea where they’re going from here,” admits Torres of their beloved characters. “It kind of works better that way,” adds Armisen. “The less that it’s thought about, the more surprising it can be.”