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Shea Serrano and Michael Schur’s Primo Hilariously Explores Masculinity

Amazon Freevee’s new sitcom “Primo” is loosely based on Shea Serrano’s life. The Ringer alum, two-time New York Times bestselling author, and Twitter-famous writer who often describes himself as “just a Mexican with an internet connection,” created the show, bringing in a group of Hollywood heavyweights to support him, including executive producer Mike Schur (“The Good Place,” “Parks and Recreation”) and director Melissa Fumero (star of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Blockbuster”).

“Primo” takes place when our protagonist, Rafa Gonzales (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), is just a high school kid and the show’s primary question is just what type of man Rafa will be. He certainly has plenty of examples, growing up with his single mom Drea (Christina Vidal) and five uncles in a close-knit family of goofballs.

You see, each of the tios has a different take on being a man. There’s the grumpy responsible one, Jay (Jonathan Medina), the only uncle who’s married and who believes in physical labor and providing for his family. He may have the most gravel in his voice, but he’s regularly reduced to tears when thinking about how much he loves his wife. Then there’s Mondo (Efrain Villa), a conflict-adverse hippy who sells phallic statues at the farmers market and spouts new-aged wisdom. The other three brothers are in the middle, loosely occupying and problematizing their respective banker, veteran, and petty-criminal identities.

“Primo” gets a lot of laughs off these characters, their silliness, contradictions, and bombast. But the show’s success is in the clear tenderness it extends to the Gonzales family, allowing each member to be more than a type and rejoicing in their bonds.

At the center is Rafa, who, at 16, is trying on different identities to figure out who he is. He desperately wants to impress Mya (Stakiah Lynn Washington) and goes to a different uncle for advice depending on what he needs: help to make a good impression on her military dad, access to a sweet car, or getting (in and) out of trouble. 

Where a lesser show might start to feel icky with a male character working so hard to impress a girl, “Primo” avoids those pitfalls. Partly, that’s thanks to Rafa’s innocence. This is not the sexed-up version of high school that we see in shows ranging from “Riverdale” to “Friday Night Lights” but rather a sweet coming-of-age tale. Also, Mya is not an object but her own interesting person. She’s a wholesome and kind military brat who loves death metal. She contains multitudes.

Likewise, Rafa’s mom Drea is a full human being and the person he knows to go to when he needs real guidance. She doles out punishment when needed, and while she’s clearly everyone’s rock, she’s just as silly, physical, and over-the-top as the rest.

The result is a well-balanced show that delivers real laughs while portraying a true TV rarity: the Chicano family. There’s been lots of noise about the lack of Latinx representation on screen but not a lot of progress. All of which puts undue pressure on each Latinx show that comes out.

Thankfully, “Primo” feels true, specific to its perspective, while accessible for all. Watching it, I felt like I’d had some of those conversations with my Mexican-American family and friends, although, of course, some of the specifics differ. And while gringos may not totally grasp what a big deal it is for Drea to be accused of being a terrible cook, everyone can get the humor of secretly swapping out her ingredients, not to mention the potty jokes about what happens if you actually eat her Mexican food.

It’s the old adage that what is specific is also universal. And “Primo” has fun with it, speaking in a voice familiar to Serrano’s Twitter followers—one that is proud to be Chicano, is quick to laugh, and functions with a fundamental kindness. Serrano was a high school teacher before he became a writer, and it’s easy to see that mentality in “Primo” too—it’s a show that wants everyone to succeed and knows that it can’t take itself too seriously if it’s going to help make that happen. 

And succeed it does, delivering a warm, funny show that never loses sight of its next joke or the reason all of its madcap characters are together—here, the familial bonds of love. And what makes for a better show than that?

Whole season was screened for review. Premieres on Amazon Freevee on May 19th.

Cristina Escobar

Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of LatinaMedia.Co, a digital publication uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media.

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