This series feels fresh and ambitious but sorely lacks any likable characters or any consistent humor.
This review of the Hulu series This Fool season 1 does not contain any major spoilers.
Comedian and co-creator Chris Estrada leads this new Hulu original series as Julio Lopez, a cowardly man-child, who still lives at home with his mother and other close relatives. The 30-year-old works at a non-profit rehabilitation center called Hugs Not Thugs, where ex-gang members are given a second chance and can even have their face tattoos removed for free. In season one, Julio welcomes his immature cousin Luis into the program and his own home. The criminal is fresh out of prison after an eight year stint behind bars. This pairing of a righteous do-gooder in Julio and a mischievous lawbreaker in Luis should make for sitcom gold, but the series can’t seem to muster any likeable characters or any consistent comedy moments throughout its ten episode run.
The show relies heavily on these warring cousins, making them the main focus of the plot. Julio and Luis constantly squabble like school children, play fighting and calling each other names. This juvenile rivalry wears thin pretty quick, but the creators manage to cram in some endearing family values to even things out, with the cousins always having one another’s backs no matter how far the bickering goes. Luis and Julio get themselves into plenty of awkward scrapes along the way, as Luis struggles to adjust to civilian life, whilst his case manager Julio takes his authoritarian duties a little too far, going mad with power and revenge.
Julio really has his work cut out, tasked with keeping criminal Luis on the straight and narrow, whilst his ex-girlfriend Maggie (Michelle Ortiz) re-enters the picture causing no end of drama herself. Even his boss and Hugs Not Thugs founder Minister Payne (The Sopranos star Michael Imperioli) continually manipulates Julio at every possible opportunity, taking full advantage of his enduring kindness and shameless desperation to please.
And Julio is a real people-pleaser, who concentrates on fixing other people’s issues over his own to avoid any soul-searching or self-reflection on his part. The series attempts to address both Julio and Luis’ complex psychological quandaries in more depth over the episodes, but shirks any real, noticeable progression. When the characters look set to learn a lesson or grow in maturity, they suddenly revert back to their old ways and repeat past mistakes (for the most part). This frustrating trend is becoming a real problem within the modern TV landscape, as shows blatantly aim for a second season by leaving things unresolved and open-ended.
This Fool suffers in more wide ranging areas though, especially in the comedy department. The show tries to mine laughs by any means necessary. Resorting to shock and awe tactics or annoying caricatures. Luis beat boxes and Maggie puts on silly baby voices which just irritate, whilst a subplot involving a billionaire couple descends into some rather dark territory. The humor just doesn’t match up with the show’s tone and feels too eager to please at times. I have to admit there are some funny running gags to enjoy and certain jokes do land on the odd occasion, but for a newly-formed comedy series, it lacks any real laugh-out-loud moments.
It would be easier to accept this inconsistent humor if the cast were worth engaging with, yet this is one hell of an unlikeable line-up, led by our main culprit Julio, who comes across as a smug hypocrite. It’s hard to care or relate to these cast members when they continually ignore past mistakes or break out of character from time to time. Although, surprisingly, the show can still be quite heart-warming. The idea of criminals bettering themselves is primed for your stereotypical uplifting, feel-good moments and This Fool manages to elicit some thoughtful self-reflection. It can be quite heartening when it wants to be.
There’s clearly a desire to impress and the show has big ambitions, which only adds to my overall frustration here. The series looks great, with a cinematic edge and a distinct, unique voice, but it just falls short of the mark with lazy jokes and many unengaging characters.
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