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This Fool Upends Aspirational Stories With Abundant Style

Chris Estrada's Hulu dramedy finds the pathos and humor in the quest for self-improvement.
  • Chris Estrada, This Fool, Hulu
    Chris Estrada, This Fool, Hulu

    If 2022 was the year of the deadpan Latina, then 2023 is shaping up to be the year of el vago: a genial but aimless dude; sometimes well meaning, occasionally just a lost cause. Not exactly a sinvergüenza, but hardly someone with a five-year plan.

    Shea Serrano and Greg Daniels’ Primo offers a few takes on the type — Rafa’s (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) uncle Rollie (Johnny Rey Diaz) and his tío Mondo (Efraín Villa) are both amiable slackers, but their lack of ambition comes from different places. The Zen-like Mondo mostly thinks attachment and desire lead to suffering, while Rollie usually isn’t thinking past the weekend. Rafa quickly learns to take their advice with a whole salt shaker, but their unreliability makes the moments when they do come through gratifying and hilarious.

    The primos of This Fool are also unmoored, though it takes Julio (Chris Estrada, also a series co-creator) and Luis (Frankie Quiñones) a while to figure out just how adrift they really are. In Season 1 of the dramedy, which was created by Estrada, Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, and Jake Weisman, Julio seems anything but shiftless. He’s a case manager at Hugs Not Thugs, a non-profit in South Central, where he helps former gang members reintegrate into society. With his solid work history and strong family ties, he looks every bit the productive member of society. Julio even agrees to look after Luis, who was recently incarcerated, as he makes his way through the Hugs Not Thugs program.

    But anyone expecting a heartwarming comedy about two reunited cousins will have to look elsewhere. Julio’s not some selfless social worker; Hugs Not Thugs provides the perfect cover for his judgmental ways, leaving him free to nitpick others and indulge his benevolent narcissism. He immediately lords his position over Luis in an effort to give his childhood bully his comeuppance. Estrada, a long-time standup comedian, brings the perfect blend of fastidiousness and smugness to the character, which marks some of the most important mosca muerta representation ever seen on TV.

    Luis quickly reveals he doesn’t really want to give up his old ways, like taking his jaitón cousin down a peg. One of the first things he does after being released is reignite a feud between his old gang and a neighboring Black gang, an encounter that quickly turns from ludicrous to insightful. Julio is always close at hand, as much out of a professional obligation as his desire to watch Luis fail. Their sparring is accompanied by the occasional breakthrough, but both cousins remain skeptical of the other’s intentions.

    This Fool walks a fine line of taking joy from other people’s misery and finding moments of joy within your own. That might not be what comes to mind for most people when they think of TV comedies centered around Latinx families — for years, the most common descriptors for such shows have been things like “boisterous,” “uplifting,” and, of course, “multi-generational.” But “petty,” “envious,” and “caustic” can be just as apt (just ask anyone familiar with el mal ojo). And, in the hands of Estrada and his fellow writers, including Eliza Jiménez Cossio and Jonathan Cerda-Rowell, they lead to moments of real pathos along with sublime comedy that would still pass any “authenticity” test.

    But the team behind This Fool isn’t looking to combat the more aspirational narratives crafted on shows like One Day at a Time, The Gordita Chronicles, and With Love. Instead, they’re upending viewer expectations of how a journey should end when it begins with a Latinx person, either down on their luck or just not where they think they should be in life. The premise of the show literally involves one Mexican-American man helping others better themselves. But all the while, he’s making his little digs and doing everything he can to maintain his sense of superiority.

    Julio, who’s seemingly made the “right” moves, is really in no position to guide others. His journey begins the moment he realizes that… at least, that's what would happen within a conventional story about striving to do better. Instead, This Fool mines humor and tension from characters’ various quests for self-improvement without resolving them. In its second season, the show remains just as committed to showing that progress is incremental — a desire to become a better person doesn’t automatically make you one (and, in Julio's case, first requires you to feel the need to change).

    This time around, almost everyone has to start over after Hugs Not Thugs loses its funding. Luis has a leg up on Julio; he at least wants to move on with his life. Julio, meanwhile, sits on a sofa on the curbside for hours a day, bumming out the entire neighborhood. Minister Payne (Michael Imperioli) is running a lucrative OnlyFans, but it and David Arquette, as his billionaire neighbor, are taking a toll on him. Chef Percy (Jamar Malachi Neighbors) and Maggie (Michelle Ortiz), Julio’s ex-girlfriend, are the only ones doing well (at first); even the industrious Esperanza (Laura Patalano) spirals when she faces retirement.

    Eventually, Julio does start a new business — Mugs Not Thugs, a coffee shop that also employs and mentors the recently incarcerated — but it’s almost by accident. He figures he loves coffee, so he might as well make it his life’s work. Minister Payne is desperate for direction, so he comes back, along with much of the original Hugs Not Thugs crew. Luis returns to the fold, too, but he can’t resist competing with his cousin again.

    Though the broad strokes may look familiar, This Fool paints with a much more expansive palette this season, taking inspiration from hood comedies like Friday and parodying action flicks like Die Hard. It’s a highly ambitious approach, but the show wears its well, even when it veers from the main narrative to place Esperanza in the middle of a riff on a Pedro Almodóvar movie.

    Julio and Luis end up in roughly the same place they were in at the end of Season 1, but it’s not for lack of trying. They still don’t really know where they’re going in life, even as Luis sets off on his first trip abroad and Julio finally starts therapy, and This Fool is in no rush to figure that out, either. Season 2's bigger swings prove that, even if the characters might be stuck, This Fool is evolving. 

    This Fool Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.

    TOPICS: This Fool