The Joy of Playing: How Julio Torres Brought the Lessons He Learned on SNL to Fantasmas

Fantasmas doesn’t live or die by its plot: a guy meets a lot of people while looking for an earring he lost at the club. But it thrives because of creator/star Julio Torres’ compelling strangeness and comic inventiveness.

With the sad cancellation of Los Espookys—the American Spanish-language comedy Torres co-created with Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen—in 2022, after just two seasons, HBO has effectively given the comedian the green light to be even weirder. But Torres’ roots as a writer for Saturday Night Live are clearly on display in his new surrealist comedy.

In fact, Fantasmas feels a bit like a series of sketches that either wouldn’t have made the cut at the SNL table read or would have been relegated to the final slot of the night (a.k.a. the 10-to-1). Torres recently spoke with Collider about how his time at SNL inspired his new series.

“I learned how much I love collaborating and how hands-on I like to be with production design and wardrobe and hair and all those things,” Torres explained of how his years on Saturday Night Live informed his role as showrunner. “And I learned how much I love working with different kinds of actors and the joy that comes with working with people who are very playful.”

Though Torres began writing for SNL three years after Armisen left the show, he still feels a strong connection to the Portlandia co-creator’s brand of comedy.

“Sometimes my work is definitely in conversation with Fred Armisen’s sketch comedy, being very observant of the world around us,” Torres said of his Los Espookys co-creator. (Torres was a writer from 2016 to 2019; Armisen was a cast member from 2002 to 2013, though he hosted the show in 2016 and has made nearly two dozen cameos since his departure, most recently during Kristen Wiig’s Season 49 episode.)

SNL’s DNA is also clearly evident in the lineup of guest stars that abound in Fantasmas: Aidy Bryant shows up in one episode as a saleswoman for toilet dresses while Bowen Yang has a recurring role as an elf from Santa’s workshop named Dodo. Saturday Night Live Five-Timer Emma Stone plays a Real Housewives-style narcissist in one episode, while two-time host (and occasional cameo-maker) Steve Buscemi portrays Q, a bonkers musical act.

“Most projects really reinforce the importance of finding collaborators and finding people that you mesh with and that get you,” Torres said. “Doing the work doesn’t have to be so serious. It can actually be very joyful.”

New episodes of Fantasmas premiere each Friday at 11 pm ET/PT on HBO and are available for streaming on Max.

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