When wide-eyed, ambitious Maximo (Enrique Arrizon) looks at the gleaming pink hotel that’s overlooked Acapulco his entire life, he sees opportunities and riches he can’t get anywhere else in his town circa 1984. He sees a way out of poverty, a chance to dream, an escape from the mundane. When his mother (Vanessa Bauche) looks at Las Colinas, however, she sees not just a den of sin, but a nest of sirens that will lure her children away for the superficial glory of serving white tourists who will forget their waitstaff the moment they fall out of view.
In “Acapulco,” a new Apple TV Plus comedy from Austin Winsberg, Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman, the truth lies somewhere in between. As a Las Colinas pool boy, Maximo’s natural instincts and charm quickly make him a hotel staple, which helps him towards his goal of funding his mother’s eye surgery. But the series is also careful to point out how much every moment of indignity — and the hotel’s insistence that “what the guest wants, the guest gets” — costs him and every other employee, day in and day out. One of the most obvious examples of this is how the series bobs and weaves between English and Spanish, which is immediately one of its most realistic and smartest attributes. Whenever native Spanish speakers are together, they speak in Spanish as they obviously would in real life. Whenever they’re at the hotel in front of their white guests and bosses, however, they’re forbidden from speaking Spanish and must speak in English. This immediate drawing of lines between staff and guests, “us” and “them,” is a key distinction for the series overall.
Watching “Acapulco,” I ended up thinking about “White Lotus,” the recent HBO smash that takes place at a Hawaiian resort and splits its time between wealthy white guests and the staff who serve them. Both “Acapulco” and “White Lotus” are very good at slipping in moments of oblivious rich tourist privilege that cut like a knife, but unlike “White Lotus,” “Acapulco” is almost entirely unconcerned about who those tourists are. Aside from hotel owner Diane (Jessica Collins) and her himbo son Chad (Chord Overstreet), “Acapulco” is almost entirely about the local ecosystem the hotel dominates and the people caught in its wake, as few other shows are or would dare to be.
On paper, this might not sound like a whole lot of fun. But “Acapulco” boasts enough sharp characterizations to make its gentle screwball comedy ping pong around the hotel with effervescent ease. In addition to Maximo, his mother, and rebellious sister (Regina Reynoso), there’s his best friend Memo (Fernando Carsa), crush Julia (Camila Perez), and assorted hotel workers like his sleazy rival Hector (Rafael Cebrián) and the laundry room’s intimidating warden Lupe (Regina Orozco). The show’s ’80s setting is a factor (especially when it comes to wardrobe and music supervision), but not an oppressively wacky one as can often be the case in period comedies. (In this respect, it helps to have such a grounding influence as that of Damián Alcázar, who plays the long suffering general manager with a firm hand and flashes of vulnerability.) Arrizon has a sunny screen presence that keeps his storylines afloat even when Maximo is at his lowest, and the show’s writers get plenty of punchlines out of their unique workplace setting.
Taking a step back, the shakiest aspect of “Acapulco” may be its choice to structure the series as a story Maximo is telling from the present day as an apparently extraordinarily wealthy man (played here by a very winning Eugenio Derbez, also an executive producer). This conceit inevitably sucks some of the tension out of the story; clearly, Maximo does well enough for himself that he can share his life story “How I Met Your Mother” style with his nephew (Raphael Alejandro) from his beachside mansion as he tries to hit his annoying neighbor’s yacht with a golf ball. But even when these flashes to the present don’t quite work, they nonetheless share the rest of the show’s bittersweet streak (why is Maximo living in this enormous house all alone?) and persistent ebullience (isn’t it fun to be a Mexican millionaire with a devoted white butler?). Even as present day Maximo thinks he’s telling a tale about his past, it’s clear the story isn’t quite over — which, given the overall delights of “Acapulco,” is welcome news.
The first two episodes of “Acapulco” are now available to stream on Apple TV Plus.