Julio Torres is Back to Short Form with the Refreshing “Fantasmas”

Julio Torres in Fantasmas

At the end of 2019, things were going well for writer/director/actor Fantasmas creator Julio Torres. The Spanish-language comedy Los Espookys, which he co-created and starred with Fred Armisen and Ana Fabrega, released that summer on HBO. His comedy show, My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres, came out two months later.

To ring in the new year, Torres treated himself to a diamond-encrusted oyster-shaped earring, but within 10 minutes of having it, he lost it. He spent the rest of the night searching for it with a flashlight and never found it. “And that was an omen for 2020,” Torres joked.

It was also the event that inspired his latest series, Fantasmas, which premiered earlier this month at ATX TV Festival. Torres stars as a heightened version of himself as he navigates life in New York. Life imitates art as the series focuses on his search for the aforementioned earring. However, now the search is merely a distraction from his adult responsibilities.

Fantasmas comments smartly on the gig economy, influencer marketing, and healthcare with the missing oyster tying the stories together. Because it’s from Torres, the storytelling is charming and whimsical with dreamlike sets and eccentric characters. Torres’ approach in addressing these mundane bureaucratic systems is amusing to watch, contemplative without the somber tone.

“I think that’s what happens when you divorce the creative process from expectations,” Torres said to LatinaMedia.Co. “It just comes out in the way that feels true to you and not necessarily in the way that people want it to come out.”

While the overall show is entertaining, it’s the short vignettes that really allow Torres to shine. The former Saturday Night Live writer found himself missing short-form writing and found a way to incorporate it within Fantasmas, its format allowing him to pepper each episode with guest stars, such as Paul Dano, Steve Buscemi, and Alexa Demie, who elevate the skits.

Buscemi explores the burden of being a trailblazer as the letter Q. It’s a bit lonely being weird among the conventional letters of the alphabet, but it’s the other avant-garde letters – X, Y, and Z – that remind him that it’s cool to be himself. Torres shared during the Q&A at the ATX Television Festival last month that casting Buscemi as the letter Q was obvious to him and an easy pitch. “He read the script and he was like, ‘Yeah, I get it,’” Torres said.

Demie initially turned down the pitch to play a character similar to the one she’s most known for on Euphoria, so she asked about Becca, the straight-laced customer service rep who is a little too enthralled with her job. It’s definitely a departure from Maddie, and Demie nails it, especially with her scene partner, Ziwe.

“People are eager to show different parts of themselves,” Torres said. “So for her to play this gothic customer service by way of the favorite being, it was very exciting. And then you just got to trust the actor and I’m glad I did.”

It’s humbling for Torres that the actors agreed to be on the show, but it is also fulfilling to work with his friends, such as Martine Gutierrez, who plays the scene-stealing performance artist, here Torres’ agent Vanesja (the J is silent, Gutierrez’ suggestion). “I’m attracted to interesting, collaborative people. Sometimes they’re Tilda Swinton and sometimes they’re my roommate,” Torres said.

In the current state of television, it’s hard to celebrate representation when the number of Latinx-led shows has dwindled. Then there are the shows that get the green light but still lean on stereotypes and tiresome tropes. A lot of the projects Torres is interested in are hard to pitch, but he feels lucky that the progression of his career has given him room to produce shows like Los Espookys and Fantasmas. Even though Los Espookys was canceled after two seasons at the end of 2022, staying motivated isn’t difficult for him as he’s always thinking of what to do next.

He always has ideas. “To me, it’s like my joy comes in creating things,” Torres said. “Since discovering that I can do that with people that I like, it’s where I’m the happiest.”

And that joy radiates out of Fantasmas, bringing some refreshing storytelling to the small screen.

The season one finale of Fantamas airs July 12 on HBO. The rest of the season is available to stream now.

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