Acapulco serves up innocuous snapshot of ’80s Mexican resort life [Apple TV+ review]

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Eugenio Derbez in Acapulco
Eugenio Derbez takes a trip back to the '80s.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ brings its first bilingual sitcom to audiences with Acapulco, a workplace comedy with a nostalgic bent. Eugenio Derbez produces and stars in this look back at Mexican resort culture in the 1980s.

Will audiences continue their love affair with the Latin star?

Acapulco review

Here’s the setup: In present-day California, billionaire Maximo Gallardo (played by Eugenio Derbez) has to give his nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro) a birthday gift. But rather than taking him to China to get new sneakers, Maximo decides that the time has come for Hugo to learn the most important lesson life has to offer: How to be your own man.

He tells him about the most important summer of his life, when he worked as a waiter and fixer at Las Colinas, the most popular resort in Acapulco. The hotel is owned by another former striver named Don Pablo (Damián Alcázar), who sees something of himself in the young Maximo and gives him a shot.

Maximo meets the kooky staff, including Julia (Camila Perez), the girl for whom he develops feelings (despite her relationship to the head of staff). Over the course of that summer, Maximo learned a lot about life. Now he wants to instill in his young nephew how important hard work and life experience is.

Growing up, you can’t see the writing on the wall

Acapulco review: Enrique Arrizon plays a young Maximo working as a cabana boy.
Enrique Arrizon plays a young Maximo working as a cabana boy.
Photo: Apple TV+

Acapulco is ostensibly a sequel/adaptation of Derbez’s 2017 film, How to Be a Latin Lover, directed by Ken Marino, about the character Maximo fending for himself after his elderly girlfriend kicks him out. Derbez decided to make Acapulco, created by Austin Winsberg, Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman, as a way to ride the wave of rags-to-riches sitcoms. (The Rock and Eddie Huang have theirs; now Derbez has his.)

While the Apple TV+ series complements the film, its kinship is more with TV shows like The Goldbergs (itself a riff on The Wonder Years, which is also getting a reboot this year), with easy humor and a laidback beach vibe.

Your response to Acapulco will likely depend how much you find Derbez’s inoffensive brand of humor … well … humorous. There isn’t a single joke in the first season of Acapulco at which I laughed. But the production design and art direction are both excellent, so it’s not an unpleasant experience, either.

Questionable life lessons

Derbez is on his way to becoming something like a staple at Apple TV+, having co-headlined Sundance smash CODA earlier this year. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Derbez here represents an extreme, capitalist version of the self-made man America loves so much. (Too much, if I’m honest.) Maximo gets lessons in up-selling and self-branding that are in the show’s view as important as learning how to woo women and be himself.

The trouble here, beyond the broad sitcom humor that doesn’t land, is that the show has only the smallest autocritique for its vision of how to succeed. Just look at the character of Maximo’s sister Sara (Regina Reynoso), introduced as a pin-and-patch festooned communist deeply upset that Maximo is going to work for a resort that trades on the othering of the indigenous staff.

By the end of the first episode of Acapulco, she wants to hear about all the exciting things that happened at the hotel. Her fair-weather politics are meant to be a joke because in the world of a show like this, nobody is earnestly meant to have an issue with what happens at Las Colinas.

If they did, there’s no show. The hotel would be burned to the ground with everyone in it in the finale. But you can’t do that because the lesson of the show is that money is good but also you need to learn about life to be able to say you earned your riches.

A light touch with very few risks

There are worse things a show can do. Acapulco is nowhere near as bad as other Apple TV+ shows chasing trends with extremely audience-friendly bents like Central Park, Little Voice or Physical. But that’s mostly by dint of this show not taking risks or committing to much more than surface treatment of topics.

However, this isn’t the most stunning or assured debut a show can have. Acapulco needs stronger writers to succeed because its conceit isn’t going to become interesting unless they take serious risks with the premise, which isn’t going to happen. A show should aspire to do more than the bare minimum, but that’s not what Apple TV+ encourages or rewards.

Watch Acapulco on Apple TV+

Acapulco premieres on Apple TV+ on October 8, with new episodes dropping on Fridays.

Rated: TV-14

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.