This Fool Is the Bad-Dude Representation TV Needs

Photo: Gilles Mingasson/Hulu

Looking for some quality comedy entertainment to check out? Who better to turn to for under-the-radar comedy recommendations than comedians? In our recurring series “Underrated,” we chat with writers and performers from the comedy world about an unsung comedy moment of their choosing that they think deserves more praise.

Even though it gained near universal critical praise (including at Vulture) when it premiered in August 2022, This Fool didn’t land the widespread audience that comedian Marcella Arguello thinks it deserved. Starring Chris Estrada and Frankie Quiñones as two cousins trying to navigate post-prison life as a case worker and former convict, the series finds humor and tension in their personal relationships with family, friends, and the other members of their gang-rehabilitation center (including a hike with an ex-girlfriend, an unwanted bowling party, and a mission to recruit old friends for a gang fight). It’s more than just a run-of-the-mill sitcom: Both Estrada and Quiñones’s characters struggle with their mental health as they confront their past decisions and try to make better ones moving forward.

“Watching them heal heals you,” says Arguello about the show, which she thinks should have been a bigger hit. Her consistent proselytizing for This Fool led to some awkward conversations: “People think that I’m involved with this show, I talk about it so much.” Her appreciation for the series is rooted in both how rich the comedy is and how well the characters are developed in a 30-minute series, which tracks with her own comedy: Her first stand-up special on HBO, Bitch, Grow Up, weaves together jokes and deep personal stories in a tight 33 minutes. Arguello broke down why she thinks This Fool works so well, along with how a great comedy sometimes needs a few episodes before it pulls you in.

What about This Fool really drew you in and made you think, This is not only good but something that people should know about?
It’s funny because when my friends do projects, I always get a little bit scared; if I don’t like the project, I’m not a dishonest person. But I’m also good at identifying when something is not for me as opposed to it not being good. I was so scared that that was gonna happen with this show, because I love these dudes, but you get the networks involved, anything can happen to your idea. So I think it took me four or five episodes to be like, Wait, this is actually really, objectively good. This is not me just laughing at my friends’ jokes. I think it took me until that fucking Austin Powers episode for me to be like, Okay, this is great. This is a perfect show. I love it so much. Everybody needs to watch it.

What was it about that episode that made the show click for you?
I just love when there’s richness in a character, when there’s something that almost doesn’t even make sense — when you get to know your co-workers, and there’s the day when they finally share something with you that you’re like, Oh, that’s what you do. You fucking take the bus up to Reno, and you gamble with your girls on the weekend and you’re like a 50-year-old woman. And that just explodes your intrigue in the sense that this person is, in fact, super interesting, super complex. Like that barbershop episode on Atlanta, that Bibby character — this reminded me of that, because we’re really getting to know somebody in a way that we just aren’t used to seeing. And the fact that it was this strange episode, but it was so rich in comedy — I love that.

There’s so much in the show I would be laughing at because I didn’t know how to respond to a situation more than a traditional setup and a punch line. Like during therapy where Luis starts crying in the dinosaur costume, and then he starts crying about crying on his costume.
Yeah, and now he can’t return it. It’s funny.

The other reason I think I really have enjoyed that show and the different layers of comedy is because they have comedians in the writers’ room. A lot of comedy shows don’t utilize enough stand-up comedians in the writers’ room. They have comedy writers, and that’s one thing, but comedians find stupid shit, and we can place it in any situation, in any element, in any vibe.

That’s interesting, because I think people would assume that a comedian in the writers’ room is going to be looking for setup-punch-line jokes.
Honestly, I feel like that’s a big part of why Abbott Elementary works so well. They have a lot of comedians in the writers’ room, and Quinta is a comedian. She has that rhythm, that editing button. I think comedians can edit a little faster in terms of comedy, and also, comedians are able to just find some stupid shit to say at any given point. There’s even certain lines in This Fool that I feel like I could guess which comedian wrote it.

When did you realize that this show was underrated?
I would tweet about it, I would talk about it, and nobody was watching it. And I was pissed because I would expect the Latinos to watch it. I would be like, No-brainer. All the Latinos are gonna watch it. But then I found out a lot of Latinos were saying, “This is tapping into stereotypes,” but they were looking at the visuals and they were making assumptions. That’s what was bumming me out, because people who are interested in comedy are gonna watch it, but people who it’s about, who it’s for, it’s disappointing when they go in with these preconceived notions. Also, their disappointment in the industry. That’s what that is a reflection of: their own individual disappointment of an industry that hasn’t always done them right. And I think this show is such a great show made for Latinos.

I think my problem was because these people were my friends, I wasn’t sure if I was being sincere in my laughter or if I was excited for my friends. Which is true, I think, for fans too — when they watch someone like Mike Epps, I’m always like, Are you really laughing at this dialogue, or are you just laughing because you love Mike Epps? Once I caught myself laughing without actually caring who was saying the line, that’s what got me. But I liked all of it from the beginning.

That first episode is predominantly in Spanish, which I appreciated. Because it doesn’t even register to me when that’s happening; I’m just watching it, and then I was like, Oh, wait a minute. That’s not how everybody’s watching it. Maybe that’s what put people off on that first episode. But I also think it’s fine — I mean, people read subtitles all the time. I don’t understand why we can’t do it in comedies, you know?

Chris Estrada also plays a character that we don’t really get to see that often on TV: an aging punk dealing with the contrast of being pushed and pulled in a ton of different directions. But he’s also just a completely shitty person at the same time.
And that’s what’s great about it, because with Latino culture, the boys are very much allowed to be irresponsible for a very long time, and it’s okay. No one’s questioning it, no one looks down on it — certainly not the mothers. They’re like, “Oh, he lives at home forever. I’m fine with that.” I love seeing that dynamic, because it’s so true to Latino multigenerational households with the son that ain’t shit. It’s so common. I hate that every show always tries to show how everyone’s in a pretty decent spot even though people aren’t doing well. Julio is such a piece of shit, and he’s such a bad dude in so many ways, but he is also trying his best, and his best isn’t great. I love that. That’s so important for that to be shown.

It’s telling in the episode where he helps the man steal all the recycling because he says, “You’re a good guy,” and it ends with him smoking meth with his ex-brother-in-law because he also says, “You’re such a good guy for spending time with me.”
All that shit is so good. We need to see that. I think maybe because I was raised in the Central Valley of California, that shit is so common. It was great to see all the different types of bad dudes represented in such a great way. They’re trying their best, and for some of them, their best is just not enough. And for some of them, their best is enough because they’re just happy.

A lot of people don’t interact with these types of characters in their real day-to-day life. These people are so fucking everywhere, and they are trying their best and they don’t always nail it, and they don’t always say the right thing. But I’m a big proponent of giving people grace, meeting them where they’re at. That’s what a big part of This Fool is: these dudes who are just trying their best to do the right thing, because it’s almost impossible considering their history.

There’s a really lovely dynamic of getting to see how every character has their own unique version of fucking up. And it doesn’t have to be good or bad as much as it is just, This is how people are. The finale has a full-circle moment where just as everyone is about to move forward in their lives, they all get kicked back. What is your main takeaway of the series as a whole that you would want people to get out of this show?
I think people should take away that change is possible for everyone no matter where they’re at, but we have to be patient; we have to be there for each other. I think that’s a big missing element for a lot of people, in a lot of friendships, and a lot of relationships. It’s like everybody wants the best version of their life with none of the bumps and bruises, and that’s what life is. I think that’s why I like that show so much, because that is what life is like when you’re not in a great spot. You’re trying your fucking best. It’s never enough, but as long as you have your people with you, you will be okay.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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This Fool Is the Bad-Dude Representation TV Needs