We see you, glass of wine in hand, holding court on the latest Spanish-language television sensation; do you want to wax philosophical about La Casa de Papel? Hey, that’s pretty good. Want to flaunt your encyclopedic knowledge of Luismi’s storied career after watching Netflix’s Luis Miguel? More power to you. We all binged on those shows down here, and we all think it’s very impressive that a foreigner has taken such interest in Spanish-language media… Albeit, the recent, more *fashionable* Spanish-language shows.
But listen. If you really want to blow everyone away, you gotta pull out the big guns. Engage them at their level. We’re talking deep cuts. We’re talking a series that was a nationwide phenomenon in Argentina before spreading out to several other territories, but that somehow didn’t really infiltrate the English-speaking world.
We’re talking about a show that featured actors and creators who eventually went on to become household names, even Academy Award nominees. We’re talking about a show that burned brightly for two short years before disappearing from view, earned an incredibly dedicated cult following, spawned catchphrases that regularly make their way into daily conversation among locals and, thanks to streaming giant Netflix, is experiencing a resurgence in popular culture.
We’re talking about Damian Szifron’s Los Simuladores.
If Szifron’s name sounds familiar, you probably recognize it from such hits as Tiempo de Valientes and Relatos Salvajes, two films which are bound to come up in conversations about the best Argentine movies of the last few decades (the latter – dubbed Wild Tales in its English release – even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film). These films also share some of the cast of Los Simuladores, as well as a few sparks of its irreverent tone. This is to be expected; Szifron is very much what one would call an auteur, with his hands on every part of the creative process. He wrote, directed, and scored Los Simuladores himself, ensuring that the show is as pure a version of his vision and artistic voice as one could manage. Notoriously obsessive over scripts, his meticulous approach is very much reflected in the final product.
So what is Los Simuladores even about? The show was a case-of-the-week type procedural with running continuity in between each episode which conveyed an overarching story. In this format, we are introduced to a team of four operatives – the titular Simuladores – who each week take on a new case where they put their skills to the test in order to help a client solve their issue. How do they do that? Well, it’s actually pretty ingenious: their skills lie in setting up elaborate cons – simulations, if you will – where they employ actors, props, and surprisingly elaborate ruses to manipulate and deceive.
If you’re a fan of heist movies, you will get a huge kick out of watching these guys put together their convoluted schemes, which vary wildly in terms of both scope and stakes. Regardless of the size or severity of the issue at hand, these consummate professionals take each task incredibly seriously and apply the full extent of their skills and knowledge. With every new case they tackle, their network grows, which means they can rely on old clients to both collaborate on new cases and refer them to new ones.
The leader of the group is Santos (played by Federico D’Elía), a somewhat mysterious figure with a tragic backstory. A man of sophisticated taste and a brilliant mind, he is the person in charge of strategy and logistics. Though he is the head of the group, the team member the audience is more acquainted with is Ravenna (Diego Peretti), who is a more visible figure, often taking a central role in the scams they’re pulling, and also serving as the main point-of-view character for the audience. Lamponne (Alejandro Fiore) is a taciturn tough guy in charge of gear and transportation, and Medina (Martín Seefeld) is the sweet-hearted researcher who digs into each case to find any information the team can use. The interactions between team members, each with their own styles and (sometimes clashing) personalities, are almost as fun to watch as the operations themselves.
Tone-wise, one could most accurately describe Los Simuladores as a comedy; certainly much of the appeal has to do with the often ridiculous situations in which the group finds themselves, as well as the idiosyncratic nature of their client base. This is often a source of catchphrases, which – much like The Simpsons, though on a considerably smaller scale – often serve as a form of social signaling among fans of the show, and may leave people who are out of the loop feeling a bit confused.
On the Facebook group Asociación de Fanáticos de Los Simuladores – which has over 21,000 members – such quotes are thrown back and forth at a dizzying speed, and members share memes and commentary about the show. We asked them what their favorite Simuladores quote is, and the overwhelming consensus seems to be “¿no hay un piquito para mí?” (“do you have a little kiss for me?”), from an episode where a mustached Mexican takes a special liking to one of the team members.
That said, the show is not all pure wacky hijinks. There is a surprising amount of heart and genuinely poignant moments throughout the series’ 24 episodes, and some of the cases have a strong emotional core that provides a much-welcome layer of depth to the show’s mad-caper tone.
And this is a show that has inspired a devoted following. I don’t think I’ve ever met a “casual fan” of Los Simuladores – it has been my experience that if you’re into the show, then you love it with all of your heart, which is precisely what initially drew my attention to it. We asked the aforementioned Facebook group why they love the show. “It displays different facets of reality,” one commenter offered. “The fact that everybody has issues that they want to solve – from high-powered politicians to a simple bricklayer.” Another said: “It doesn’t have the excessive drama of other shows, as it focuses on story.” Yet another member called it “the best piece of fiction in Argentine history.” And, as I should have expected, the comment thread eventually evolved into a barrage of people posting quotes from the show.
In my opinion, the reason people react so strongly to the show has to do with the way it employs aspects of Argentine culture and turns them on their head. The show takes the much-maligned “viveza criolla” (that tendency which permeates the whole of Latin America but has become somewhat synonymous with Argentine culture: to ignore rules, identify moments that can be manipulated for maximum personal gain, and disregard any sense of responsibility and consideration for others) and puts a positive spin on it, as the team uses their cunning and wits to help others.
Sure, the very nature of what they do may be deceitful, but if the right people are deceived for the right reasons, it comes out to a net good. That ethical line of thinking – such as the fact that the team won’t take a case unless they believe there is a strong moral good in intervening – sets this team apart from most other groups of fictionalized con artists.
Los Simuladores ran on Telefé from 2002 to 2003. It was a hit, and since then, it has been adapted in countries such as Chile, Spain, Mexico and Russia. Many of its stars have since gone on to become household names in Argentine media. But, surprisingly, not a whole lot of English speakers are familiar with this show. So if you want to learn about this rag-tag group of con-men as they try, in their own special way, to make the world around them a better place, we heartily recommend that you check out the series. It is currently streaming in full on Netflix. You’re welcome.