There’s a running joke in Arturo Castro’s upcoming eponymous Comedy Central sketch series Alternatino with Arturo Castro that the Guatemala-born actor may not have always had the easiest time assimilating among fellow Millennials in New York City. This is not so much his own fault, but because of the preconceived stereotypes of the (white) people with whom he associates.
Throughout various episodes of this series, Castro—who, until this time, was probably best known on television in the States for playing Ilana Glazer’s character’s hipster, out roommate Jaime on Comedy Central’s recently wrapped Broad City and for playing a drug lord’s son who seemed to be a mix of The Sopranos’ Christopher Moltisanti and Donald Trump, Jr. in the third season of the Netflix crime drama, Narcos—can be seen pigeon-holing himself into a tight-pantsed, paisley-shirted, salsa-loving Latin Lover stereotype in order to get the girl, pretending to be abreast on the diplomatic relations of all the Central or South American countries while making small talk at a party, and attempting to take on a pack of (much scarier) rival gang members with choreography clearly inspired by West Side Story. Given that Googling a description of his series will come back with the simply worded “a sketch show based on Arturo Castro’s experiences as a Latino Millennial in the United States,” he and his network clearly feel that these topics will resonate with, among others, 20- and 30-somethings with a shared lineage.
“I didn’t want to make a sitcom; I wanted to play with as many characters as I could because I really like playing dress-up,” Castro says of the format of Alternatino when we spoke during a recent press day for his show. “I just felt that, in order to dispel some of the stereotypes that are out there, sketch was a really good format to do that.”
He understands the significance of doing a sketch show on Comedy Central, a network that previously used the format to highlight frequently marginalized voices through programs like the Peabody Award- and Emmy-winning Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele.
“Yes, of course, those are big shoes to fill, but I’m wearing sandals,” Castro offers as a metaphor. Besides, there’s also a more personal full-circle bizarreness of it. Ad campaigns for Alternatino include a spot in Times Square, which would theoretically beam down over where Castro used to work as a street performer.
And, no offense to the good fights for diversity on TV that family-centric comedies like The CW’s Jane the Virgin, Netflix’s One Day at a Time or ABC’s George Lopez have done (or, for that matter, Starz’s ground-breaking Vida, which straddles so many lines), but Castro says “I’m so happy that the show is a more current take of what I see in the world.”
Nor should this imply that people of other demographics wouldn’t be interested in his or other stories told by younger Latinx voices.
“I feel like we made the show that we wanted to make without thinking about markets, without thinking about demographics, without thinking like, ‘oh, here’s an untapped market that’s fertile,’” comedian Julio Torres argues of his new HBO series, Los Espookys, when we talk during the ATX Festival in Austin, Texas. He adds that “there’s this idea that certain shows or certain entertainment is universal. And then certain shows made by other types of people are niche.”
Told mostly in Spanish and set predominantly in an undisclosed Latin American country, this delightfully weird comedy stars Torres, his co-creator Ana Fabrega and actors Bernardo Velasco and Cassandra Ciangherotti. Together, they are a quartet of horror-loving entrepreneurs who will create sometimes-elaborate pranks for anyone who needs to, say, see which associate has the wits to withstand a haunted house in the name of claiming an inheritance, or help fool her bosses into thinking she wasn’t spending work hours updating her movie blog instead of searching for extraterrestrial life. Fred Armisen, Fabrega and Torres’ co-creator, also appears as Velasco’s character’s Los Angeles-based uncle, Tico, who has some interesting run-ins of his own.
They say that there was never any push-back from HBO as to how much Spanish would be allowed in the show (Armisen tells us during ATX that “it was designed to be all in Spanish. But for the story, it helped that there was some English speaking scenes”). However, ensuring that everyone’s accent and dialect are in sync wasn’t always easy. Fabrega grew up in the States, so it’s mentioned that her character, Tati, spent some time in Minnesota. Likewise, U.S.-born Armisen embraces the Americanized Latin inflection that’s common among so many native Spanish speakers who live in Southern California for his portrayal of Tico (he says they actually used Lopez’s voice as a model).
Both shows also do their parts to dissuade casting stereotypes. Castro often plays himself in Alternatino, which means his resume and auditions do come up in conversation.
“My first TV role was on The Good Wife and the character was called Dishwasher Juan,” he reflects now with a laugh. “It’s like, just call me one or the other. How many Juans are there in this episode?”
Mexican-born Ciangherotti argues that before she was hired to play a dental hygienist with bigger career dreams for Los Espookys, “it [has] always been hard to do casting [in the United States] because” she’d be called in to read for more stereotypical roles.
It’s also interesting to see how both series decided to handle their depictions of white Americans, especially given the current presidential administration. In Los Espookys, comedian Greta Titelman plays a Cher Horowitz-esque U.S. ambassador named Melanie who is more interested in Instagram followers than actual diplomacy—someone, whom Torres says, would reflect “all these tropes about an American abroad who just speaks English and expects the world to speak English” because “it’s funny that she’s the American ambassador but she’s shocked that people are speaking Spanish to her.”
In Alternatino, Castro portrays a white character in a parody of an ICE training video. He says he makes a point of not mentioning President Trump specifically, in part to not make the show feel dated as that news cycle travels so quickly. Instead, he says he wanted to “cover the policy and not the person.”
“Having a platform, you also have a responsibility,” he says. “We try to make funny first… I couldn’t not talk about it, but it’s not about a specific person. It’s about building empathy and counteracting the narrative. It’s very successful to try to downgrade Latinos in certain circles. And I’m trying to show people that the human experience, at the base level, is the same. Everybody knows what it feels like to be secretly awkward on the first date or scared about a job. I feel like if we put more content out there, we can bridge the gap a little bit.”
Perhaps both shows can do just that.
Los Espookys premieres tonight, June 14, on HBO. Comedy Central’s Alternatino with Arturo Castro premieres June 18.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son and very photogenic cat.