When I was a kid visiting family in Puerto Rico, someone gave me a shirt. It was a garish novelty shirt, the kind you only wear if you are five or sixty-five. On it: A dopey-looking goat kneeling on a hilltop. A large straw, inserted into its neck. A grotesque, upright lizard with an insect's eyes and spines down its back, sucking down the other end. Above its head, a comic book speech bubble. Mmmm. ¡Que rico! Or: How delicious!
The Chupacabra is Puerto Rico's very own Sasquatch, a cryptid that's said to drink the blood of livestock and pets. I heard all sorts of weird stories about it, but the one my cousin told me is the one that stuck: They were the abandoned pets of aliens who visited the island long ago, and now lived in the mountains, coming out only to feed at night. It was the sort of creepy tale that fascinates kids more than it scares them, one that got me curious about vampire bats and venus flytraps and all manner of natural curiosities that became small horrors in our collective imagination.
Yet the strangest thing about the Chupacabra is how new it is, with its first reported sighting in 1995—astonishingly young for a tall tale. As a modern monster, there were modern explanations for it: diseased coyotes and, according to one guy, the movie Species, which filmed scenes in Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory.
When it comes to horror, you can't really put the toothpaste back in the tube, though. The Chupacabra is out there, in movies and t-shirts and ghost stories kids tell their little cousins on an island, an absurd little monster of our own invention, haunting people all over the world.
In Los Espookys, the HBO comedy closing out its six-episode debut season tonight, four friends stumble their way into what might be their calling: staging horror scenes for those who might need them. There's a priest who wants to stage an exorcism, a mayor who wants to draw tourists with a sea monster, and a wealthy woman who wants ghosts to scare her heir into giving up his fortune. It's like Scooby-Doo, but in reverse, as a bunch of earnest, lovable horror fans turn their passion into an absurd, very funny business.
Set in an unnamed Latin American country with dialog almost entirely in Spanish, Los Espookys is an absurdist masterpiece, M.C. Escher-esque tangle of jokes casually spilling into one another, jokes that are casually taken very seriously, no matter what that might imply.
The perpetually morbid Andrés (Julio Torres) is the heir to a family of tremendously wealthy chocolatiers, but believes himself to be adopted and haunted by a dark presence—something that at first seems like a Kardashian-style rich kid fabulism before you see him, well, actually consulting with a water spirit that orders him to watch The King's Speech. Sweet, asexual Renaldo (Bernado Velasco) is always told that his name should have a Y in it, and he agrees, saying that he's been looking for that Y his whole life—a seemingly sarcastic gag that, delivered with Velasco's unflinching sincerity, makes you believe that yes, this is a world where letters can straight up run away from people's names. Scene-stealer Tati (Ana Fabrega) is somehow dating a man online that appears to be a cartoon prince. And her sister Úrsula always manages to build the Espookys costumes and tricks that utterly convince their clients, even if, to us, they look patently ridiculous.
That is what makes Los Espookys such a funny show. It's also why it is one of the best shows to debut this year—not simply because of its comedy, but because it deeply and profoundly cares so much about everything its cast of oddballs does. It's compassionate in its absurdity, humane in both its treatment of Andrés’s supernatural quest to see The King's Speech and Renaldo's struggle to have enough minutes on his phone; in Tati's strange collection of odd jobs to her victimization in a multi-level marketing scam.
But mostly it's a show full of brown weirdos like me, being weird on television. Being weird on television in a manner usually reserved for white characters, speaking English. That’s no small feat.
Los Espookys, as I mentioned before, is an HBO show. Co-created by comedy fixture Fred Armisen, who co-wrote the pilot alongside showrunners/stars Ana Fabrega and Julio Torres, the show felt like a small miracle from the start, a strange, low-fi outlier in HBO's highly cultivated garden of slick prestige fare.
HBO has long included Spanish-language programming; new movies and shows come and go every month just like everything else streaming on HBO Go. But Los Espookys is different, promoted alongside this year's "regular" programming like Chernobyl and Big Little Lies and Euphoria, a collection of Latinx goofs just one box over from Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.
Despite the glut of high-quality television spread across countless networks, HBO still holds much of the critical establishment under its sway. Every show it airs is at least commented on, and most, no matter how middling, are faithfully followed—because HBO programming is considered essential.
Latinx art never gets that kind of pull, even though we're in the middle of a small but substantial wave of it on television. Vida, which returned for its second season this year, is growing in its intersectional exploration of Mexican-American identity and queerness. Jane the Virgin, about to end its landmark five-season run, is a sly celebration of the telenovela, a uniquely Latinx spin on one of the most enduring television genres in existence. One Day at a Time, a revival of a '70s sitcom with a Cuban-American twist, survived cancellation at Netflix to continue telling modern stories in an old way over at Pop in the near future.
Does that mean Los Espookys is the show that finally brings that HBO sheen of prestige over to Latinx television? Probably not. It's likely too strange, too surreal, too wholly committed to it's Spanish-speaking Scooby gang's off-kilter sensibilities to really become the kind of show a popular podcast will commit to recapping every week. The kind of show full of not just Latinx people, but also Latinx people who probably wore Chupacabra shirts for reasons they can't fully explain.
In the end, that's what Los Espookys feels most like: A brand new cryptid horror, one that inspires an obsessive followings and memes galore, one that we will argue endlessly over whether or not it's actually real, one just as likely to laugh at than we are to be perturbed by. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, remember? Los Espookys are out there, a bunch of Latinx comedy ghosts, here to haunt everyone with an HBO account. You should let them.
Originally Appeared on GQ