This Fool Gets Real — & Weird — About Latine Families

Latines love entertainment. For years, we have been the top moviegoers — even though the films we watch rarely reflect our communities. While we represent 19% of the U.S. population, we make up only 4.6% of movie roles and 5.3% of TV roles. When we do see ourselves on the big or small screen, we are often playing one-dimensional characters or are cast in films riddled with stereotypes, tropes, and stories that fail to represent the totality of who we are. So we decided to hold Hollywood accountable. Welcome to La Nota, a column where we measure the (mis)representation of Latines in film and TV and grade projects against a Somos test that looks at gender, race, language, and more. This month, we’re grading the Hulu series “This Fool.
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I could write several essays about my complicated relationship with my family. I could fill pages and pages with our conflicts and disagreements, with the emotional taxonomy of how my family made me the person I am today, and how they still inform the person I want to be. I could create a million characters and storylines with the narratives of my family, how they’ve touched me, how they’ve pushed me away, how I struggled to understand them, and how they struggled to understand me. It was with my family that I learned that love can be explosive and difficult, but also reliable and dependable. 
This is what is at the heart of Chris Estrada’s Hulu show "This Fool:" the complex, somewhat toxic, yet reliable familial relationships that Latine identity, immigration to the U.S., and Catholic guilt produce, and how to negotiate its contours as they push and pull your heart. Perhaps this is too serious of an opening for a review about a comedy series about the intergenerational relationships in a Mexican family living in LA, but beyond the punchlines and the weirdness — and believe me, it gets weird — “This Fool” is an unflinching, hilarious, and incredibly foul-mouthed look at the importance of family and the pitfalls of your identity being so tied up with your origins.
“This Fool” is based on the lived experiences of Estrada, who plays the goody two-shoes main character Julio Lopes, a nonprofit worker with a savior complex who is tasked with rehabilitating his wayward cousin and his ex-bully, Luis (Frankie Quinones). Luis is the opposite of Julio, who has spent most of his life dedicated to running the Hugs Not Thugs nonprofit, where formerly incarcerated people get the resources to get their life back together. While Julio has worked his hardest to be reliable and responsible, Luis lived a life of crime that landed him in prison. After being released from almost a decade in prison, Luis enters the Hugs Not Thugs rehabilitation program and Julio becomes his case manager —  a problematic yet entertaining setup that results in messy adventures and a fraught power relationship. 
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‘This Fool’ is an unflinching, hilarious, and incredibly foul-mouthed look at the importance of family and the pitfalls of your identity being so tied up with your origins.

nicole froio
And yet, what becomes clear from the conflicts in their relationship is that Julio is just as directionless as Luis. Despite working for Hugs Not Thugs for a decade, Julio still lives with his mother Esperanza (Laura Patalano) and his iconic abuelita Maria (Julia Vera), insists in a toxic off-and-on relationship with childhood sweetheart Maggie (Michelle Ortiz), and distracts himself from his own problems by helping other people. All these factors hit home when Luis moves into Julio’s family home: freedom and being responsible did little to catapult Luis forward. The enemies-to-friends relationship between Luis and Julio shows a rare turbulent yet meaningful relationship between two Latino men who choose different paths in life. 
The conclusion that both of these characters have more in common than they think is a trope, of course — but “This Fool” manages to renew it. 
Through a depiction of family and community, the series does not shy away from showing a vibrant Latine culture in LA, tackling the good and the bad. The best episodes are about the ambivalence Luis, Julio, and the rest of their family have toward tradition. In episode 6, as Esperanza lays the immigrant guilt thickly on the rest of the family, abuelita Maria finds a way to speak up against her sacrifices: just because Esperanza made a lot of sacrifices, it doesn’t mean they can’t have nice things in the house. In episode 8, the whole family practically admits to not believing in God, but Julio’s nephew Aiden is still forced to do his first communion. By depicting this ambivalence, “This Fool” gives us new perspectives on old dynamics, thus affirming that the Latine community engages with tradition in energetic and progressive ways that challenge stereotypes and ossified narratives.
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Photo: courtesy of Hulu.
Despite the authenticity of most of the characters, I couldn’t help but be disappointed about how the women in “This Fool” are written. While the female characters in the show seem to be attempting to subvert and renew well-known Latina stereotypes — particularly, Esperanza as a hotel cleaner and matriarch provider, and Maggie as the overly passionate Latina girlfriend — the lack of Latina women in the writers’ room is painfully obvious. Indeed, “This Fool” was created by four men — Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman, and of course, Estrada who draws from his own life story for inspiration — and IMBD only lists one woman writer, Caroline Anderson, and one woman story editor, Tamara Yajia. 

The enemies-to-friends relationship between Luis and Julio shows a rare turbulent yet meaningful relationship between two Latino men who choose different paths in life.

nicole froio
The lack of creative input by Latina scriptwriters was so evident that it dampened some of my excitement for the show. Maggie in particular, brilliantly portrayed by Ortiz, comes across as a Latina manic pixie dream girl whose only role in the narrative is to have a romantic relationship with Julio. The audience hardly gets to know anything about Maggie beyond her need to be with Julio. There isn’t any real exploration of her character beyond who she is to him. Similarly, I wish we knew more about Esperanza’s need to control her own family through immigrant guilt-tripping and the invocation of her hard work. The constant repetition that she worked “three jobs” when she immigrated to the United States and her gratefulness to Ronald Reagan for her own amnesty are great punchlines, but I was waiting to understand something beyond that. 
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Despite this, “This Fool” has the potential to address these issues in an eventual (fingers crossed) second season. The end of the first season, where the end of Hugs Not Thugs left Julio without a job and without solid plans to truly move away from his family, teased a narrative of self-discovery and growth for both cousins that I am excited to watch unfold. However, the growth and self-discovery of the women characters should also be a main selling point of the show — so far, I was left wanting.
That said, here's how "This Fool" fared on our Somos test, La Nota, which grades along areas like diversity in gender & sexuality, race, and region & cultural identity; the authentic use of Spanglish, multilingualism, or accents; the reproduction of stereotypes and tropes; and, well, the quality of the project overall.

Gender & Sexuality: D 

Women are given one-dimensional roles that overwhelmingly support male characters. Also, there are no sexually diverse characters.

Regional Diversity:

Not unlike most Latine entertainment, the series takes place in Los Angeles and most of the characters are Mexican or Mexican American. That said, the characters realistically portray Chicano life in LA.

Language:

The accents are authentic. Also, the Spanglish and the transitions between languages are seamless.

Race:

There isn't much racial diversity among Latines, with most characters presenting as white or brown. More injurious, however, the series reproduces this dichotomy between Latine people and Black people with a couple of scenes that imply, jokingly, that Latine people cannot be Black and vice-versa. None of the main characters is Afro-Latine, which further confirms this dichotomy in the show.
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Stereotypes & Tropes: C

While "This Fool" reproduces stereotypes and tropes, the writers manage to hilariously renew them.

Was it Actually Good? A 

I thoroughly enjoyed this series and laughed a lot!
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