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If you’ve watched Comedy Central’s Broad City and the second season of Netflix’s Narcos, you already know the wide range of Guatemalan-born actor Arturo Castro.
They aren’t Castro’s only credits — Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk would offer an additional data point, if anybody had seen it — but the gap between the actor’s flamboyant Broad City roommate and his terrifying budding kingpin on Narcos was big enough to mark him as a performer worth following.
Air date: Jun 18, 2019
After watching eight of the 10 episodes that make up the first season of Comedy Central’s Alternatino With Arturo Castro, my respect for Castro and his potential remain basically unimpacted. That’s not great. If I’ve watched eight episodes of a sketch comedy show in which the title star plays men and women of all ages, as well as several different nationalities, ideally my sense of said star’s range probably should be expanded and enhanced. Instead, this series is acceptable-but-unremarkable, the occasional perceptive or funny bit lost amid the inoffensively stale or inevitably dated. Watching all 21 minutes of any Alternatino episode won’t cause any real pain or irritation, but your life would be lived more efficiently by waiting and checking out whichever clip or two Comedy Central decides it hopes to see go viral each week.
The premise of Alternatino really needs no explanation. It is intended to do the same thing for Castro and his perspective — millennial and Latino — as Comedy Central sketch shows did for Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Nick Kroll and Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele over the years. In short, Comedy Central feels like this is the kind of thing it does well and with Key & Peele veteran Jay Martel as head writer, who could begrudge the confidence?
Episodes of Alternatino are straight-forward. Each half-hour has a slightly more expansive central sketch, generally featuring Castro as some variation on himself, told in pieces spaced out between very short and generally one-joke sketches that stick to tried-and-true genre staples like fake movie trailers, news reports and whatnot told with a Latinx perspective.
I feel like those bridging segments were sold as one of the differentiating factors for Alternatino and they are, frustratingly, not very good. Watched in a binge, it becomes hard to differentiate between which episode is about Arturo realizing his new girlfriend wants him to be more overtly Latino and which is about how strangers at a party want Arturo to be more overtly Latino, versus which ones are about the neighbor who Arturo is shocked turns out to be racist or the girlfriend he’s shocked turns out to be a Republican. These extended sketches are designed to have a four- or five-act structure, but they do so without any escalations on the gag, and it’s easy to walk away from an episode having forgotten entirely what the climactic punchline was or unclear on the desired satirical takeaway.
The shorter sketches are characterized by decent premises, a good first take on the material and then a distinct lack of surprise, twist or evolution. The best sketches from Alternatino’s Comedy Central predecessors, or Netflix’s recent I Think You Should Leave, come when you think you know what the intended joke was and then it finds another gear or level. On Alternatino, they all downshift to a, “Yup, that was the joke” simplicity, which becomes especially anti-climactic when Castro clearly wants to acknowledge some political realities of the moment, only to settle for pointed-but-toothless. Sketches built around Trump’s notorious Puerto Rican paper towel tossing and a White House attempt to rewrite Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty poem fit into this category.
Wink-and-nudge gags about the media and its reliance on Latino stereotypes go along similar lines. In one episode, he auditions for a superhero character called “La Pulga” — The Flea — and has to balance his desire for visibility and a career-changing role with the idea that the character’s powers involve crossing borders and taking siestas. And that’s about it. A behind-the-scenes sketch about iconic Latino actors from Entourage builds to the joke that… there were no iconic Latino actors from Entourage, but they all really liked Turtle. Another sketch is about how Latino actors are forced to choose between secondary representation in traditional sitcoms or being treated as gangbangers in urban dramas and, again, that’s literally all the sketch is.
This isn’t a show that’s going to spark a second of controversy, and although there are details that are probably very personal for Castro, nothing cuts very deep.
The struggles with escalating sketches also hinder Castro — who’s spending half of each episode playing a straight-man version of himself, anyway — from stretching himself as a performer. No sketch is long enough for Castro to develop a character, so it’s just “Oh, he’s playing Che Guevara as a time traveler in 2019” or “Oh, here he’s playing a woman who gets drunk at a wedding.” But I can’t think of a single character where I was impressed by any gonzo commitment — in hair, makeup, accent or physicality — nor any character about whom I immediately went, “I can’t wait to see more of that one!” He’s consistently OK, which is only disappointing if you know he can be much better than this.
Alternatino also underserves its supporting players. There’s an ensemble that includes Mulaney veteran Seaton Smith and American Vandal veteran Tyler Alvarez, plus cameos from a couple Broad City favorites. Nobody stands out, and it’s not because they’re trying to let Castro hold the spotlight alone.
Maybe if you have no familiarity with Castro coming in, Alternatino With Arturo Castro might be a decent introduction to some of his talent. For me, this initially marks the rare Comedy Central sketch showcase that doesn’t do justice to its central star, but perhaps if you tune in, it will be emboldened to take more — or, really, any — risks in a second season.
Premieres: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT (Comedy Central)
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