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Max’s ‘Fantasmas’ is Undeniably Queer and Here for Pride Month

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During our Pride Month episode of The Cosmic Circle, I, along with fellow writers Izzy Friedman and Cameron Brook, broke down the state of Queer media and how it has grown since last year. It feels like representation across television, film, and all other forms of media continues to grow in a positive trajectory, with one of the noticeable differences being just the sheer amount of queer projects that are rolling out consistently. Now with it being Pride Month, it’s the perfect time to settle down with some of the LGBTQ+ films and shows that you may have missed out on. If you’re looking on the hunt for something new to watch, Max is hoping you’ll check out its newest series Fantasmas, which might just be the gayest, and strangest, show I’ve seen on television.

Created by Julio Torres, who also co-created and wrote fellow HBO series Los Espookys as well as Problemista, the series follows Torres on his search for a golden oyster earring, which might just solve all his problems. Fantasmas also features many well-known actors, such as Martine Gutierrez, Paul Dano, Steve Buscemi, Emma Stone (who also produces the series), and Dylan O’Brien, all in their own unique vignette. While widely disjointed between each individual story, the tapestry of Fantasmas looks to tie them together, as each individual looks for acceptance in a world set against them. 

[Warning: Spoilers from Fantasmas are below!]

Fear drives Julio Torres to find a missing earring

Living in New York City as a young adult can’t be easy, especially as one as isolated and alone as Julio. Living with his robotic assistant Bibo (voiced by Joe Rumrill) and hanging out frequently with his only friend Vanesja (Matine Gutierrez), Julio spends more time in his head than in actual reality. Daydreaming about scenarios that he has no control over, the creative is looking for an escape from a world that doesn’t accept him for a variety of reasons. However, a medical scare quickly brings him back to Earth and forces him to confront reality in a horridly sobering way. It turns out that Julio has a mole.

Discovering this mole completely upends his life, sending him into a tailspin that all Gay millennials are intimately familiar with. He’s rushing to doctors, looking for answers, but no one seems to believe him that the mole is concerning because he can’t prove that it’s grown significantly. Julio has a way to prove it, though. He just needs to find his missing golden oyster earring, which he wore when he first noticed the growth on the side of his face.

Julio Torres in Fantasmas
Julio Torres in Fantasmas (Max).

If he can find the earring, that will clear up the mess and prove to the doctors and naysayers that he’s not crazy. The only problem is that he can’t seem to remember where he lost it, meaning he has to find it quickly so that he can have it removed, alleviating his anxiety once and for all. 

Interspaced with Julio’s adventure to recover his missing jewelry are the stories of other people living in NYC at the same time. Their stories, which are ultimately wacky in nature, tend to reflect Julio’s, sometimes highlighting a negative or poking fun at the absurdity. Ultimately, each story is about finding that acceptance that our main character is looking for so badly. Proof of Existence, which is what they use in the series, is almost a currency or character of its own, and a major obstacle for every single person in Fantasmas. A metaphor for society, Torres looks to find acceptance and overwhelm his crippling anxiety, which begins by finding the lost earring and the hope that it brings to his life.

Fantasmas is the strangest show on television currently

I can’t say that I knew what I was getting myself into when I agreed to watch Fantasmas for The Cosmic Circus. Like many Gay men, I was entranced with the gifs of Dylan O’Brien in lace that quickly popped up on X and other social media accounts. I didn’t need to know anything else about the series, I was in. What I didn’t realize was how absurd the show was, as I can confidently say there is nothing else on television quite like it.

Does anyone remember Too Many Cooks, from Adult Swim? Or the even weirder Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared? Fantasmas has the same vibes as these two projects, vacillating between the ridiculously and borderline scary. I suppose that is the gist of surrealism, in which many of Julio Torres’ works are described, making the market for a series such as Fantasmas incredibly niche.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make series like this difficult to bring in a larger general population. I’ve been attempting to consume more Queer media over the last couple of years, but if I wasn’t watching Fantasmas for the website, I don’t know if I would ever have made it through the first episode. It’s weird… like seriously odd in every sense of the word. There are moments where I laughed along, or found myself relating to something a character says or does, but most of the time I found myself saying out loud “What am I watching?”, as much of it felt uncomfortable to see.

It was so strange to me, I couldn’t help but wonder how it attracted so many A-list actors to appear in it. Was there something I was missing? Is absurd comedy all the rave now? I’m not sure, but I’m interested in seeing what others think. The weirdest part though, is while it was so uncomfortable to watch, I didn’t hate it. 

I didn’t find myself wanting to turn it off or racing to the end, which has happened before with screeners. Instead, I was amused in a way that felt like I was seeing something I wasn’t supposed to, but couldn’t look away. Fantasmas feels almost impossible to describe, with so much strangeness, but equally enjoyable, perhaps the latter for one reason alone.

LGBTQ+ representation in this HBO Max series is unbound

The absolute best part was how overly Queer Fantasmas is from start to finish. Almost every character is some aspect of the proverbial rainbow, shining a lot on every population within the community. Gay, Bi, Trans, Non-binary; each one gets a highlighted moment in the series, without making it a big deal. These people are a part of the community; however, their personality isn’t that of only being a part of the community.

Fantasmas showcases the absurdity within our own community, such as circuit Gays and the lifestyle they lead, without making it feel wrong. Instead, they are encouraging other Queer individuals to join in on the laughs, using comedy as a form of healing. For many people in my community, isolation is common. We feel isolated in the wider society that we live in, as people hate what they don’t understand. There are also high levels of isolation within our own community, as each population is fighting to not be at the bottom of the totem pole. 

From a representation standpoint, as well as how it feels to be a part of this community, Fantasmas captures that beautifully. It feels celebratory in that everyone is seen and valid in the show without needing to explain who they are or justify why they deserve to exist, even though that second part is essential to the story. They don’t have to justify their gender or sexuality in that aspect, just why they need to live in general.

A cautionary yes for putting Fantasmas on your to-watch list

I would say those looking for some new Queer media should definitely check out Fantasmas, however, with a caveat. This isn’t an easily digestible show, it’s so weird and strange that it’s going to easily turn some people off. It almost was too much for me and if I had to watch it week to week, I would have stopped by the second episode. The ending is satisfying and makes the series worth watching, but the journey to get there is like watching Alice fall into Wonderland.

Fantasmas is released weekly on Max. If you plan on checking out this series, let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 368 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson