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From Elite to Lupin to Squid Game, there’s a tendency for the English-language media to treat any streaming series with subtitles that breaks into the wider zeitgeist as some sort of shocking anomaly, leaving aside that the frequency of such breakouts is only increasing with the globalization of the television landscape.
There will probably be some feigned surprise if Apple TV+’s Acapulco garners a wide following — or whatever counts as a wide following in a world without viewership data. This surprise will be silly and mostly an illustration of how entrenched we are in the perception that domestic audiences don’t like reading their television, because if ever a bilingual series was catering to the widest possible audience — probably to a fault — it’s Acapulco, which boasts a massive international star (Eugenio Derbez) at its center and takes loose “inspiration” from an extremely successful movie toplined by Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) and more direct inspiration from an easily digestible assortment of coming-of-age favorites.
Airdate: Friday, Oct. 8
Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Enrique Arrizon, Fernando Carsa, Damián Alcázar, Camila Perez, Chord Overstreet, Vanessa Bauche, Regina Reynoso, Raphael Alejandro, Jessica Collins, Rafael Cebrián, Regina Orozco, Carlos Corona
Creators: Austin Winsberg, Eduardo Cisneros, Jason Shuman
The show’s blend — Caddyshack (or Red Oaks, or The Flamingo Kid) meets How I Met Your Mother meets Ugly Betty — is aggressively and exhaustively going for a crossover audience. And while I’m sure there will be justifiable quibbling in many quarters over its authenticity, the series’ familiar genre rhythms and progressive undercurrents are consistently likable.
The premise of Acapulco, which shares character names and basically nothing else with How to Be a Latin Lover, is that in the present day, Malibu zillionaire Maximo (Derbez) is hosting his nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro) for Hugo’s annual birthday surprise. Normally that surprise involves a splashy trip or expensive gift. Instead, this year Maximo has decided to tell Hugo the story of … well, it’s hard to tell even after the entire first season of Acapulco what the story is that Maximo has decided to tell his nephew, other than that it’s a story that changed everything.
It’s the story of young Maximo (Enrique Arrizon) going to work at Las Colinas, a tony Acapulco resort circa 1984. Maximo grew up dreaming of the glamour and upward mobility of Las Colinas and, with the help of local-boy-made-good Don Pablo (Damián Alcázar), he lands a job as pool attendant. This causes conflict with his ultrareligious mother (Vanessa Bauche), who views Las Colinas as a den of sin, and his performatively leftist sister (Regina Reynoso), who views it as a den of capitalism. Starting work with his best buddy, Memo (Fernando Carsa), Maximo sees Las Colinas as an opportunity to make enough money for his mother’s cataract surgery.
At work he falls in love with the beautiful Colombian (Camila Perez’s Julia) at the front desk, a dream girl who happens to be dating the resort’s general manager, Chad (Chord Overstreet), son of the owner, former soap star Diane (Jessica Collins).
Operating in pleasantly low-key mode, Derbez has a slightly higher profile here than Bob Saget in the How I Met Your Mother narrative, but he still primarily functions as a semi-reliable narrator, talking Hugo through the season using an assortment of acknowledged narrative devices — the half-hour episodes have B and C storylines that Maximo admits he couldn’t have known about at the time — and props like a gigantic hardcover edition of Jane Eyre that plays a perplexing role in the story and has no visual connection to any existing edition of the novel.
The framing device also plays a part in the show’s clever linguistic code-switching, because Hugo is a fully assimilated American who barely speaks any Spanish and, in the flashbacks, the people in charge at Las Colinas insist that employees speak English. Enough of the series’ time involves Maximo’s home life or conversations between friends that Acapulco probably splits English and Spanish scenes evenly — or at least relatively evenly given the nationality split among creators Austin Winsberg, Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman (the disparity is even greater between the numbers of non-Mexican and Mexican directors). The chiding of characters who aren’t bilingual takes place in both languages, and although the dialogue in both languages seems designed for maximum accessibility, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are nuances to the Spanish left out of the English subtitles, and vice versa.
The story itself is awash in upstairs-downstairs and fish-out-of-water humor. However unfamiliar Maximo and Memo might be with the world of privilege they’re now adjacent to, Diane and Chad are equally unfamiliar with the country outside the resort gates. The farcical misunderstandings are designed to go both ways. Cultural and socioeconomic openness is the material’s ideal, to the point where Acapulco plays more as a fairy tale or a twist-deficient telenovela than anything even remotely realistic. A properly sized copy of Jane Eyre is of no interest here; nor is working-class Mexican life in 1984 Acapulco.
And that’s pretty clearly the show’s tonal aspiration: to follow pilot director Richard Shepard’s interest in colorful surfaces and broad performances instead of aiming for the hard satire of something like The White Lotus or the faux-gritty economic critique of something like Maid. Each episode has an easily digestible guest-of-the-week structure — with standouts including Simon Templeman as a snooty fashion editor and Eliana Jones as a flirtation interest for Maximo — and a steady progression through as many as four developing love stories. There’s room for most of the major characters, even the ones initially presented as villains, to attain a little nuance. And every once in a while the storytelling takes minor risks, as in a very good episode tracing Las Colinas’ history through five decades in a string of flashbacks.
The amiable cast carries the narrative through its lack of real urgency, with Arrizon and Perez delivering pleasant chemistry, Collins, Overstreet and Carsa providing humor and Alcázar and Bauche contributing some emotional grounding.
The series is tied together by its episodic Spanish-language covers of various hit songs from the ’80s performed by Las Colinas’ poolside duet. The goal is to make you hum along before you realize that the song you thought you knew is being sung in Spanish. That’s one strategy for making a crossover hit easily palatable, and it’s an approach Acapulco has taken to heart. I’m not sure if Apple TV+ is planning to make a dubbed version available, but don’t even think about watching it that way. Talk about defeating the whole point.
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