Apple TV+ ’80s comedy Acapulco has romance on the brain this week. Maximo and Julia have to talk, Hector and Don Pablo are feeling unloved by Diane, Memo’s love is over and blooming at once, and Sara is heartbroken but she ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
A strong episode of the tacky comedy reveals some important things about the limits of a show like this, how formula and reality don’t always match, and how much you can get away with in a comedy. It’s a fascinating, frustrating study in the state of the sitcom.
Acapulco recap: ‘Love Is a Battlefield’
Season 2, episode 4: In this week’s episode, entitled “Love Is a Battlefield,” Maximo Gallardo (Derbez) continues his story for his nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro) and his bodyguard Joe (Will Sasso), about his younger self’s (Enrique Arrizon) relationship with Isabelle (Gabriella Milla).
Young Maximo and Julia (Camila Perez) are still a little weird around each other, having never resolved their feelings after Chad (Chord Overstreet) proposed to her. Of course, they’re not the only ones having trouble. Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, and it’s making everyone a little crazy.
Memo (Fernando Carsa) is trying to spend a night with his beloved Lorena (Carolina Moreno) before they’re separated forever. (I’ll be honest: I do not remember why — the Memo stuff just makes my eyes glaze over.) Her aunt is the resort’s grouchy laundry mistress, Lupe (Regina Orozco), so Memo must appeal to her in order for the young lovers to get any time alone.
Love, respect and alienation
Don Pablo (Damián Alcázar) wants time off and more respect from Diane (Jessica Collins), but she won’t give it to him, which means he’s got one foot out the door. Hector (Rafael Cebrián) wants badly to take things to the next level with Diane but she’s as disinterested in feelings as ever. Sara (Regina Reynoso) is still very mad at her mother, Nora (Vanessa Bauche), for having made her so paranoid about being caught that she alienated her secret girlfriend, Roberta (Samantha Orozco), who then broke up with her.
Chad goes to Hector for a little romantic talk and, though he can’t admit he’s dating Chad’s mother, he can confess he’s having trouble. Chad doesn’t realize Hector’s talking about his mom (and semi-humorously asks if she’s got a sister), and so gives him advice about how to win her affections in a more serious manner.
Hector tries to woo her more seriously but it just makes her pull back further. She breaks up with him. Chad tries to comfort him by saying that “whoever she is, her son’s missing out on a great dad.” That makes him happy and sad at once.
A forgotten kiss and a revelation
Julia and Maximo finally talk about their kiss at New Year’s Eve and what it means. And even though Maximo doesn’t want to say so, he allows her to forget that it happened so that she can feel unburdened. Now, we all know this won’t last and there’s a strong chance she and Chad will break up and that Maximo and Isabelle will break up, too, and even then, no one will end up together. Still, he cares about her, so he wants her to be able to live and be in love on her own terms. It’s a nice scene.
Sara and Nora go out shopping and Nora tries to cheer up her mopey daughter by allowing her to gently make fun of her boyfriend, Esteban (Carlos Corona). Things are going well until Nora goes into Sara’s room to get something and finds her love letters to Roberta.
Everything Nora suspected was true. They have a teary-eyed confrontation about it. Nora wants her daughter to have a regular family and life, and she is at once very upset that her daughter is different but also knows the world is just as bigoted as she is, and thus will not be friendly to her daughter.
“It’s a sin!” she cries when her daughter won’t accept that this is a phase.
It’s a sin
So briefly: This was a good episode pretty much all around. I find myself completely disinterested in Hector, who they’ve built up as a frathouse comedy villain, so no attempts to make him serious now work.
The Memo stuff still doesn’t really play, but the button at the end of his arc this week was pretty touching (Lupe rediscovering her heart at the urging of Don Pablo — very sweet). Julia and Maximo talking around but not through their feelings also proves good because it’s believable. Kids do and say all kinds of things they don’t mean in order to seem more grown up. Very heartfelt.
But the meat here is the Sara and Nora story. And I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I’m extremely angry that Acapulco decided to tackle really profoundly sad and traumatic material because it has in no way done the groundwork for a storyline like this with real-world implications and a whole history of violence and death and broken families attached to it.
A mother disowning her gay daughter isn’t just one more thing that happens on sitcoms — it’s a very serious matter with all kinds of horrific implications. Acapulco more than proves it hasn’t done the work to incorporate something this real into the elaborately artificial world of the show by cutting immediately to the face of Eugenio Derbez the second the scene is over — from tragedy to bad comedy just like that. It’s whiplash-inducing and not at all a welcome change in the moment.
When a sunny sitcom tackles homophobia
Now, my reluctance to fully penalize the show for the breach of tone is two-fold. One, it’s really well-performed and decently directed. In the role of Sara, Regina Reynoso has been the show’s secret weapon for some time now, having to exhibit a much more complicated range of emotions than most of her stars, who are mostly asked to play one or two emotions to the hilt. (There’s zero nuance in the Chad performance, just as a an example.)
Sara must be passionate, somber, angry, giddy and ashamed in every episode (sometimes in the same scene), which is just more heavy lifting than anyone else is asked to do. So yes, very good on the directors for hinging the show’s most important scene on Reynoso’s performance — she nails it.
The other reason I don’t want to get too bent out of shape about this is maybe in normalizing the discussion of really hideous homophobia, we’re normalizing the idea that those attitudes are wrong. Nothing says that an issue’s on its way to seed quite like it appearing in a broad sitcom. Maybe this is exactly how these issues have to be tackled for some audiences, but I don’t know exactly who’s watching this show and what their response to it is, so I can’t say. So I remain a little uneasy about this, but I’m glad I saw it all the same.
If anything, it just kind of hammers home how good an artist Pedro Almodóvar is. He does this stuff all the time and it always works. If I don’t miss my guess, the directors and writers of this show are fans — the sets are practically Almodóvar fan fiction.
Watch Acapulco on Apple TV+
New episodes of Acapulco season two drop each Friday.
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 author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.