Diabolero

3 out of 5

Created by: Pablo Tébar and José Manuel Cravioto

covers seasons 1 and 2

Demons, unbeknownst to the general public, are all around us: infecting us, making someone have that “one bad day” that pushes them over the edge. And there are people trying to stem this tide of evil: diaboleros, male magic users, working an underground circuit which trades captured demons for cash.

This general formula – the supernatural, operating just beneath the surface, and the protagonists battling it episode by episode – has been used time and again; there’s not much surprise to be milked from it. But just like most TV formulas, if you have some core elements down pat, like quality characters and a well-paced story, those of us who like spooks mixed in with our procedurals are more likely to watch.

Diabolero does the former – characters – really well, or at least with 3 out of 4 of its leads, to the extent that their humanity transcends the confines of the show. Watching Elvis (Horacio García Rojas), upstart diabolero, and his sister, Keta (Fátima Molina), and their possessed-by-demons friend Nancy (Gisselle Kuri) navigate their push-and-pull bond with one another across the two seasons is quite a joy, and quite emotional at points, grounded by some great performances that flesh out what, early on, were more one-note Han Solo / straight-laced / wildcard archetypes. Diabolero also sorta / kinda does the story well… except “well” here means that it distracts well: both seasons are very vague in their treatment of what’s going on, to the extent that we sometimes wait until the last episode for someone to sum it up in one simple sentence. It’s not exactly that what precedes those season-ending conclusions is relegated to filler, it’s more just that we deal with subtasks on each outing (procure a demon; procure some information) without a clear picture of what those subtasks are accomplishing.

This might be due to sort of retooling the tone and focus as we go along: the show opens with our POV character, priest Ramiro (Christopher von Uckermann), finding out that a fling from his past, subsequently covered up, has resulted in a child, and that child has been taken by dem demons, thus necessitating connecting with Elvis and crew… Elvis and Nancy are introduced with a lot of blood and fury and swearing: Elvis captures a demon in a comically overwrought and crass battle; Nancy gets possessed by a demon and, an episode later, goes and slaughters other demons in a strip club / gambling arena run by local crime boss-type Isaac (Humberto Busto). Ramiro’s emotional struggle between his beliefs and his dawning awareness of grander forces gets some screen time; Elvis working off a debt to Isaac gets screen time. But Ramiro is an incredibly milquetoast character, and Diabolero doesn’t want to be a heavy drama digging in to faith; and it turns out that Elvis and Nancy are a lot more interesting when talking to each other as humans and not action heroes. So the show keeps trying to sort of push back on its initial tone, while also trying to resolve its missing child / inevitable church-involved conspiracy, and then needing to find a reason for the powerless Ramiro to still be involved in any of this. Which is how we get to a season ender without really understanding the overall point. The second season follows a similar trend – still unsure how to use Ramiro, still unfocused – but by that point, Elvis, Nancy, and Keta have been given much more time to become more than just one-liners, and they’re a joy to watch interacting with one another.

The show, throughout, is also shot very well, giving it a visual focus versus its plotty looseness, and really smartly applying its budget to give us demon glimpses when full-on shots might not be affordable. It should also be said that the demons tend to have better and more original designs than the Lovecraft tributes we’re used to seeing for such things.

With its confident central performances and visual swagger, Diabolero steps forward boldly enough to earn it notice amongst its supernaturally-themed peers. While its story ends up being rather scattershot, a lot of its peripheral elements are strong, and the deeper we go in to the series, the better and better its characters become, leaving us in a desirable point to continue forward, shedding its original tonal limitations as we go on.