Eugenio Derbez is surprisingly more subdued narrating this bilingual show
Although the title may seem a little generic, “Acapulco” is a surprisingly charming trip back in time to the Mexican resort town in the 1980s. It was then that the hotel Las Colinas reigned supreme in the eyes of Máximo (Enrique Arrizon), an ambitious young man who dreams of providing for his family and maybe one day running the famous resort with a storied past full of celebrities and glamour. It’s an older Máximo (Eugenio Derbez) who narrates the story of “Acapulco,” revisiting his memories for his inquisitive nephew, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro), on the boy’s birthday. Máximo says the trip down memory lane is to share some of his life’s hard-earned lessons on the way to his current success and fortune, like a private jet and a butler, but there’s something else on his mind as well.
“Acapulco” bounces between present-day Malibu, with its minimalist designs and white walls, and the Mexican resort back in 1984, plunging its audience into the day-glo fashions and decorations of yesteryear. The show is constructed like an episodic version of “The Princess Bride,” where a narrator can be interrupted, questioned or even corrected by its younger listener. It’s a lighthearted romantic comedy that spends most of its time in the past, following the younger Máximo as he tries to get the attention of Julia (Camila Perez), a receptionist at Las Colinas, without angering her boyfriend (and also Máximo’s boss), Chad (Chord Overstreet). Máximo is also trying to win over the owner of Las Colinas, Diane (Jessica Collins), a composite Susan Lucci-Jane Fonda-type star who’s retreated to Acapulco as a hotelier as her second career. She’s essentially the ’80s personified, one of many outlandish characters in the show.
In staying true to its location, the show is bilingual, switching seamlessly between Spanish and English. The latter dominates most of the spoken dialogue as the resort has a policy that Spanish is not to be spoken in front of guests, even if they are in Mexico. But the Spanish conversations happen anyway, away from the scolding tones of managers. The exchanges between workers and locals are subtitled.
For all the celebration of what Acapulco, the destination, once was as a Hollywood playground, the show balances that postcard image with some of the harsher realities of working in a tourism town. The only real way to get ahead financially for locals is to work in one of the resorts’ many jobs, but it’s much less glamorous than hobnobbing with celebrities. Often, it’s accommodating guests’ requests no matter how outrageous, working the necessary but tiring behind-the-scenes jobs like in the hotel’s laundry room, or solving crises like fending off paparazzi and cleaning smelly spills before guests notice.
Then there’s Don Pablo (Damián Alcázar), the refined elder statesman of Las Colinas. As one of the resort’s top employees, he sacrifices everything for his guests, becoming a sort of cautionary tale in the process. In service work, the job demands the employee to lose himself for the sake of the customer – but at what cost? It’s something Máximo must figure out for himself when he realizes the toll it’s taken on his mentor.
In a handful of scenes, the show explores the classist and sometimes racist tensions between wealthy tourists and the working class Mexicans who create the illusion of an exotic getaway for their customers. But for every unpleasantry, there is a comeuppance or punchline, letting our largely Mexican characters have the last laugh. It’s a subtle response to shows like “Fantasy Island” where the exoticism of a far-flung vacation was part of the appeal. It also runs counter to the service industry practice of forcing workers to endure customer insults or ignorance, letting the characters have a say in what’s happening to them. “Acapulco” is more interested in the lives of the resort workers, their failings, their personal triumphs, and their relationships than the impressions made for visiting tourists.
These down-to-earth moments don’t override the overall comedic spirit. The cast buoys the storylines with jokes and one-liners, never letting the tone of the show get too gloomy. As Máximo, Arrizon shows zealous energy to create an earnest character to root for at every opportunity. Derbez’s turn as the show’s narrator is a calmer performance than much of his previous work, but it’s no less emotional and effective. He plays a man reliving some of his favorite memories but admits his share of pain and regrets back then.
Fernando Carsa livens up each episode as Máximo’s best friend, Memo, a well-meaning but sometimes flawed character who’s even more enthusiastic and innocent than his compatriot. Memo’s always there to console Máximo, encourage him and, in a pinch, to help him out around the resort while working in the laundry room under the toughest boss on the property. Rounding out Máximo’s story are his religious mother, Nora (Vanessa Bauche), and younger activist sister Sara (Regina Reynoso). The tight-knit dynamic between the three of them are just as fun to watch as Máximo’s time with Memo or Julia.
Part of the appeal of “Acapulco,” is that no matter the visitor or problem of the week may be, there are some constants the show can always return to and it’s watching those storylines flower that deliver the greatest laughs and biggest smiles.
“Acapulco” debuts on Apple TV+ on October 8.
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