The basics of “This Fool” are straightforward and familiar enough. Hulu’s new comedy stars stand-up comedian Chris Estrada as Julio, a 30 year-old who lives with his strict mother (Laura Patalano) and not-so-secretly badass grandmother (Julia Vera). He’s restless in a job he likes just enough to keep; he pines for his wild card ex-girlfriend, Maggie (Michelle Ortiz), even though he knows they’re probably terrible for each other. He resents his cousin, Luis (Frankie Quinones), who represents his opposite in just about every way. He’s bored and confused about where he wants his life to go, but not so motivated that he’s making any moves towards fixing anything, really.
Needless to say, TV’s no stranger to such 30-year-old dilemmas. So “This Fool” — co-created by Estrada and “Corporate” producers Pat Bishop, Matt Ingrebretson, and Jake Weisman — is smart to lean in to what sets itself apart from the rest of that well-trod genre, making it feel much fresher a take than most.
For one: despite the many hundreds of shows now premiering each year, there are still, somehow, precious few that get to spotlight Latinos in the way that “This Fool” does with its main intergenerational Mexican American family. For another, the differences between Julio and Luis are further underlined by the fact that Julio works for a surprisingly chill minister (one very funny Michael Imperioli) as a case manager for former gang members and the recently incarcerated — including, as it turns out in the pilot, Luis. There are simply not many series that bother to include these experiences, let alone put them at the center of the action, making “This Fool” more of a distinct(ly refreshing) exception.
Another thing that can trip up “wayward thirtysomething lives at home” type comedies is, to be blunt, the fact that many of them rely on the same kind of setups and punchlines to get them from one scene to the next. “This Fool,” though, uses the combination of Estrada’s material, his “Corporate” co-producers’ honed off-kilter humor, and strong (and occasionally even surreal) directing, to make its more specific jokes land harder. Even when the characters run in circles — which is, to be frank, pretty much all the time — they usually end up at more unexpected payoffs, anyway.
The first 10-episode season — which drops Aug. 12 on Hulu in its entirety — sees the show working hard to find strong dynamics between all members of the cast, a good and correct instinct for a fledgling comedy finding its way. Still, its most compelling pairing remains that of Julio, a self-righteous square with “Edward James Olmos face” and Luis, a class clown whose eight years behind bars have left him in a state of arrested development (and the era in which his hero Austin Powers was last relevant).
With Estrada and (especially) Quinones more than comfortable in their characters’ skins, “This Fool” could have kept their relationship a simple odd couple and still been funny enough to get by. But the moments in which they swap figurative places make Julio and Luis feel that much more realistic. Even if they’re only crawling towards any meaningful self-realization, there are far less entertaining ways to spend a few hours than with these fools.
“This Fool” premieres Friday, Aug. 12 on Hulu.