tv review

Let Primo Fill the Feel-Good Comedy Void in Your Life

Photo: Jeff Neumann/Amazon Freevee

If it feels to you like there are simply too many streaming services, and especially if what you want out of a streaming comedy is no longer being fulfilled by some of the baggier or darker options that have gotten a foothold in the last few years, Primo is what you’re looking for. It’s available for free (with ads, but that just makes it feel like even more of a throwback), and it embraces the lean, high-density model of a 30-minute episode. More importantly, it’s exactly the kind of TV comedy that appears beautifully effortless by dint of a great deal of meticulous, exacting, careful work. The premise, the structure, the overall tone, and the consistency of Primo will all feel familiar and comforting, and this is a fervent, appreciative recommendation.

The new Amazon Freevee series, from comedy legend Mike Schur and writing vet but TV newcomer Shea Serrano, has its TV comedy fundamentals down. It is paced well. It is cast beautifully. It is exactly the right balance of stupid and sweet and realist and heightened. It’s the kind of show that makes you think, See?! Broad-appeal comedies with a sitcom structure can thrive on streaming platforms! This Fool did it last year; Primo’s even more in that zone now. Streaming TV doesn’t have to be boggy and generic! Maybe we can have nice things!

The premise reads like the logline of a beautiful, warm-hearted multi-cam from a bygone era. The titular Primo is 16-year-old protagonist Rafa, called Primo by his family. Played by Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, Primo lives with his single mother Drea (Christina Vidal) and a passel of uncles. Some of the uncles live in the house; some of them are just around all the time. But all of them are delightful bizarro-world comedy characters. Jay (Jonathan Medina) is the eldest, a humorless hardass who has no self-awareness of his own strange quirks. Mondo (Efrain Villa) is the high-even-when-he’s-not uncle who sells statues of dicks at the local flea market. Rollie (Johnny Rey Diaz) is the uncle perpetually getting into trouble. Mike (Henri Esteve) is a military-knucklehead type. Ryan (Carlos Santos) is an ambitious bank teller who yearns to be taken seriously. They all hang around together and get into scrapes. That’s it. That’s the show.

And it’s great! Primo isn’t actually a multi-cam sitcom, although it’s not hard to imagine the version of this that would’ve been made in 1989. (It’d be called Funcles, and instead of Mexican American, they’d be a white family living outside of Chicago.) The single-cam feel is useful here, though — it keeps Primo from the mannered staginess that can take a while for young comedies to shake, and it allows the show to be looser with its settings and premises. There’s a carnival episode, and one with an arc inside Ryan’s bank-branch location, and a backdoor barbecue episode that gets plenty of mileage out of the single-cam comedy device of quickly cutting between various character points of view.

The uncles are all impeccably cast, and Christina Vidal’s Drea is an ideal comedy mom, able to switch-hit between sincerity and her own collection of quirks. As Primo, Ignacio Diaz-Silverio generally has the trickier role of being a central straight man, but a low-key teen romance and lots of terrible advice from the many uncles also give him plenty of room to play around in the show’s wackier corners. The show’s Mexican American family dynamics have a specificity that signals deep care and experience, and Serrano has spoken about it as an autobiographical project. To its benefit, Primo is more than happy to make that element the show’s bedrock rather than its ornamentation: It’s an element of Primo’s life that’s so unsurprising and assumed that sometimes it’s not even worth remarking upon, even as it informs so much of his family life and the show’s identity.

The result is a show that looks pleasantly current while also feeling a bit like a throwback, and it has the added benefit of being entirely itself from the pilot’s first minutes. No waffling or training wheels; no weak spots. It means Primo can avoid the situation of Hulu’s late-lamented Reboot, for instance, which tussled with a couple of different potential directions in its first several episodes before settling into a warm, wry rhythm midway through its one season. This is not to say that Reboot shouldn’t have gotten another season — it really should’ve! But it feels notable that while Reboot begins with a highly self-conscious ouroboros of a premise and then eventually ditches it, Primo makes no effort to jazz itself up with either lurking tragedy or snide cleverness. It’s a show about a teenager, his mom, and his weird collection of uncles. They love one another and they’re annoyed by one another, and all the conflict and humor starts from there.

All eight episodes of Primo season one are available now on Amazon Freevee.

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Let Primo Fill the Feel-Good Comedy Void in Your Life