TV

Julio Torres On The Playful Spirit That Informs The Surreal World Of ‘Los Espookys’

HBO’s Los Espookys is one of those rare shows that’s impossible to predict, constantly bouncing back and forth between dreamlike surrealism and comic absurdism. At the start of a typical Los Espookys episode, you never know where you’ll end up by episode’s end (one character might end up arguing with a water shadow about watching the movie The King’s Speech while another takes a job as the second’s hand of a giant city clock), but one thing is for certain, it’s going to be a hilarious ride that pulls you in, puzzles you, and thanks to a brilliant costume designer (Muriel Parra) and some lo-fi synth wave both looks and sounds amazing.

“We don’t have a thesis statement when we start writing, ” show co-creator and co-writer Julio Torres told me over Zoom recently while discussing the new season (which premieres today on HBO), “we just sort of start writing for the fun of it and see where it takes us.” And again, the show can and does go anywhere.

As weird as this bi-lingual, magical realist, mystical, comedy, horror set in an un-named Latin American country is, however, it doesn’t ask much of its viewers aside from hoping you approach it with the same playful attitude it was conceived with by co-writers Torres and Ana Fabrega.

If you don’t try to make sense of anything that happens in Los Espookys, you’ll see that at its heart it’s a story about dreams, struggles, friendship, and found family.

Here, we talk with Torres the show, its playful spirit, and its influences.

For this season, when we catch up with the Los Espookys team, I noticed everyone is in a state of transition. Why was that aspect of struggle and that sense of everyone feeling lost such a heavy theme this season?

Well, I think that the first season really focused on this common goal of finding your dream, or finding what it is that you like to do. And in the case of our main characters, it’s to be a part of this group and have this weird business. But then it just sort of like, yeah, you can find the job that you like, but it doesn’t mean that you are whole or resolved.

We don’t have a thesis statement when we start writing where we’re like, “we need to tell a story that shows X, Y, Z.” We just sort of start writing for the fun of it and see where it takes us. But I think subconsciously, and even though we started writing before the pandemic or well before the pandemic, it’s felt like we were subconsciously interested in not so much exploring the idea of following your dream (which has been a theme in TV and film forever), but what happens when you get there?

This season you dive a little bit into the politics of this particular world they live in. I just want to know how you approach the political angle because obviously at the heart of the show is a lot of fun. It does kind of show the political environment to be a little bit corrupt, but at the same time it’s also really colorful and fun.

I think that with everything, we’re using fun tropes that we’ve observed in our lives. I know that speaking for myself, I grew up in El Salvador with inept, corrupt politician after inept, corrupt politician. And seeing the US Embassy breathing down their necks and doing what they can to advance their agenda. That’s sort of the satire that I feel my observations and experience bring to the table. Again, we didn’t set out to be like, this is what we think of politics, how do we show that? But more like, oh, she runs for president. Oh well, this X, Y, Z would happen.

One of my favorite aspects of the show is the [creative] freedom. Supernatural and weird things happen without explanation. They don’t need to be explained. I actually think it makes the world more real in a way. Where does that playful spirit come from with you and Ana? Is it just about having fun at the end of the day?

Yeah, it really is just about having fun and just feeling. We’re just sort of instinctual. It’s a very instinctual writing process. We’re just really following what we are interested in. And I feel very privileged that Ana and I have had both very freeing writing careers. And I think that we didn’t study this, we didn’t take any courses, any comedy courses or anything like that. And at Saturday Night Live, I really was granted the freedom to write things in my own way, that didn’t adhere to any formula. So we never got sat down and explained how to write efficiently, or what the show’s supposed to look like. And I think that that has been a good thing.

Los Espookys
HBO

What comes first, the personality or the character names? Because I feel like with characters like Pony or Oliver Twix, they feel so fully realized before we even really get to know them.

Well, the reason Pony specifically feels completely realized is because Pony’s a real person whose name is Pony. And the Pony that you see on screen was a wardrobe assistant the first season. We absolutely fell in love with him and we were like, you have to be in the show. And so it was like, yeah, it’s just Pony as Pony. Pony our wardrobe assistant. And so that’s why Pony feels realized because Pony is a person with agency who has a name and a look.

But as for all Oliver Twix, I think that, I don’t know, a lot of the characters are an amalgamation of people that we’ve seen or know. And then because Oliver Twix is clearly not a given name, but a chosen name, it’s like, well, what would this character name themselves? I think it’s definitely the personality that comes first and then the names.

I noticed that there seems to be heavy aquatic themes throughout the show. You have the Water Demon, the ghost haunting Renaldo. Even Andrés relationship with the Moon, which is also connected to water. Why is water such a strong presence in this little universe?

I don’t know. I don’t know! And to be honest, it’s a strong presence in my work outside of it, kind of. I don’t know. There’s just something mysterious and alluring about water. And you can see it, but you can’t quite understand it. And it’s just like you see a part of it, but you can never see the whole. I’m just naturally drawn to aquatic themes for some reason.

Obviously horror is an influence on the show. What’s your personal relationship with horror media?

Strained. I actually don’t consume horror. I scare very easily. I love the eerie and I love suspense and I love unsettling [things]. So I will not watch a zombie movie, but I will consume David Lynch movies or anything like eerie and odd and suspenseful.

I wanted to ask, what’s the deal with the app everyone uses in the show, Yippy? I know there is a Yippy app in real life, but it’s not the same Yippy.

No, it’s their WhatsApp. And it’s just…

Fun to say Yippy?

Yeah, I think it’s funny like these dumb names just become part of the lexicon. TikTok, what a dumb name. ‘Can you see this TikTok?’ ‘I’ll send you this TikTok.’ Like Twitter. ‘Oh no, do you see what’s happening on Twitter?’ It just becomes like what? Or WhatsApp. People are breaking up with people over WhatsApp. It’s so dumb. Yippy is like another dumb name.

I was reading in an older interview, and you mentioned how originally the show was written in English for studio executives so that they would be able to understand it and how that led to you guys writing in English jokes that were intended to work in Spanish. I just wanted to know, what are the kind of things that work comedically in Spanish that don’t translate to English?

I think a lot of phonetic things. I mean, I don’t know if they do or if they don’t, but a lot of specific character traits. I do wonder if you really get the kind of person that the mayor is without having the cultural context. Just the way that she pronounces the names of food. I wonder if someone who doesn’t know Spanish catches onto the comedy of that.

Season 2 of ‘Los Espookys’ premiers on HBO September 16th at 11PM ET

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