In the early 2000s, “The Brothers Garcia” was a hit on Nickelodeon; that show depicted a loving Latino family in San Antonio, and was anchored by the dynamic between squabbling brothers.
In keeping with the current vogue for reviving recognizable IP on a roughly two-decade cycle, six of that show’s principal cast members are back for a sequel series on HBO Max. “The Brothers Garcia” is created (as was its Nick ancestor) by Jeff Valdez, and depicts an extended family enjoying an extended-stay vacation on a Mexican beach.
Notionally, “The Garcias” is pitched at a broad audience: Its humor is broad, its plotlines are heartfelt. But the great frustration of “The Garcias” lies in the way that, seeking to reach just about anyone, it lacks texture and specificity. Indeed, it seems to have ported from kiddie network Nickelodeon not merely a set of characters but a sensibility, tending toward first-thought punchlines, an utter indifference to visuals, and too-easy appeals to sentimentality. The show, following its now-adult characters and their families, is in large part about what it means to grow up. But it feels stuck in the Nickelodeon of decades ago.
To wit: The cast seems indifferently directed, coached toward a sort of camp exaggeration familiar from child acting. This is discomfiting enough when kids do it (and the children playing the new generation on the cast of “The Garcias” are not well served by the show), but it’s outright strange when applied to storylines about, say, coming to terms with a distant family member or growing apart from a sibling. And these stories take place within the context of endless antic activity: Characters getting locked together in rooms and tents, scheming to keep utterly benign secrets, colliding in misunderstandings.
Part of the issue may be Valdez reaching for story points that the framework of Nick-style zany sitcom cannot accommodate. There is, within “The Garcias,” a nugget of something potentially interesting: The family patriarch (Carlos Lacámara) is a scholar of Mayan history, and being in Mexico is clearly doubly significant to him. But this, when addressed, gets subsumed in a goofball plotline about his engaging with a more successful historian with whom he trades Chichen Itza puns. There’s an uncertainty about how to take on anything more serious than a small disagreement that holds back “The Garcias” from saying something meaningful about its characters or their setting.
The format of “The Garcias,” alternating stretches of slack, uncomfortable looseness with a sort of tight, fizzy mania when it’s been too long since a punchline, threatens to come apart when the show takes on anything more serious than a board-game rivalry between the kids. The series takes on topics in which kids won’t be interested in a style adults will find off-puttingly juvenile.
“The Garcias” premieres on HBO Max Thursday, April 14.