The hook that reeled me in on “Primo” was the uncles. All five of them. Latino uncles are magic, plain and simple. If you have one, you already know. If you have more than one, then you have the stories to prove it. Latino uncles are like a combination of “Rambo” and “La Rosa de Guadalupe” and everything in between. Latino uncles are living life lessons, protectors, comedians, chefs, offensive coordinators, givers of advice on love — do as they say, not as they do — Jedi masters of wearing a chain just right and explainers of the mystic art of cologne.
Serrano’s involvement guaranteed that I would stream this show. He’s always been one of my favorite Latino writers, with his ability to swing between the worlds of sports and pop culture and write about both with sazón (seasoning). Serrano’s cool tweets and cooler books are what initially got me to the “Primo” title page on Amazon Freevee. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) That’s when I noticed actress Christina Vidal, a.k.a. the Puerto Rican television princess from the Nickelodeon sitcom “Taina,” on the cast list. It was one more reason to watch. “Taina” was a rare opportunity to see a Puerto Rican girl my age who wasn’t one of my sisters (D.C. is not New York when it comes to Boricuas). Now it was a matter of Puerto Rican solidarity, too.
Because no Mexican drama is complete without a Puerto Rican performer. This axiom was most memorably demonstrated in “Selena.” You know, the 1997 movie about one of the most legendary Latina singing voices ever, which starred two actors of Puerto Rican descent — Jennifer Lopez and John Seda — as Selena and her husband, Chris Pérez. And don’t forget Bad Bunny in “Narcos: Mexico.” I shook my head at Hollywood and dived in.
Within one episode, I realized I was probably going to binge “Primo’s” entire eight-episode first season in a day. I instantly connected with Rafa (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), the young protagonist given a “chosen one” label for displaying early signs of college potential while in high school. Then there was Rafa’s crush, Mya (Stakiah Lynn Washington), a talented Howard University-bound military brat. Forgive me, but I get a little misty-eyed when I see young love in the form of a Latino boy and the pretty Black girl. It reminds me of my Puerto Rican father and African American mother, who became my parents when they were sophomores in high school. Now I finally have better on-screen representation of my parents than that “Hawthorne” show with Marc Anthony and Jada Pinkett Smith.
While watching “Primo” I initially thought … this is too many uncles (or tíos, in Spanish). I can’t keep up. But I quickly realized there are never enough uncles. “Primo” isn’t just a show. It’s the Tío Cinematic Universe. Well, maybe TCU isn’t the best abbreviation since this show takes place in Texas. But the tíoverse is very real. And imagine my shock when I did the math and realized I, too, had five Latino uncles who had been guiding me my entire life.
Butch. Feo. Georgie. Benji. Rick. This is my tíoverse.
There were my grandfather’s brothers Rafael “Feo” Betancourt and Julio “Butch” Betancourt. Butch was such an incredible athlete, legend has it he was drafted by a professional baseball team, but never reported to camp because spring training was in the Deep South and he just wasn’t going to make that trip as a man of color. Butch liked his racism moderate and tolerable. Not flaming. When I went to driving school, my instructor looked at my last name, which is rare in the States, and asked whether I was related to Butch. When I said yes, the instructor told me my uncle was the fastest man in Fairfax County, Va., and basically gave me my license because I shared a bloodline with him. Thanks Butch. You should see how good I am at parallel parking in the city.
My father, despite only being 16 years my senior, is pretty handy around the house. When I asked him where he learned so much do-it-yourself magic, he said one word. “Feo.” The same Uncle Feo who took me to baseball games and tried to teach me about politics as a kid by saying things like “there’s a reason they called him Tricky Dick.”
My uncle Georgie Cruz was my abuela’s oldest brother. He was my introduction to the Latino family gatherings that never have an official wrap-up time and just keep going until the next day. He was a legendary cook and threw the biggest summer cookouts the D.C. area had ever seen. If you were going to Georgie’s house, a good time — with good music and better food — was about to be had.
My uncle Benji Robles was my abuela’s youngest brother. He lived with her in his later years, and when I stayed at my grandparents for the summer he’d bring me a bag of breakfast sandwiches from his job after finishing his night shift. And he always came with the jokes. He also always hilariously argued with my grandfather if my abuelo was talking too much when a beautiful woman came on screen while they were watching Charles Bronson movies together.
And then there was my father’s younger brother, Rick Betancourt, who got stuck being my babysitter before he even finished high school. Rick taught me how to punt a football like Reggie Roby, kick a field goal like Chip Lohmiller and mix humor with Puerto Rican swag. His forever nickname for me? “College Boy.” There was also no one who took me to the comic book shop more. So whenever Rick reads an article on a superhero movie or a comic book that I’ve written, guess who takes a lot of the credit. And rightfully so.
Between my fab five of uncles there were pro-sports ambitions, a love child no one knew about showing up at their funeral, the third time being the charm for marriage, military adventures and even more high jinks that will just remain between us. These men molded me and wanted and expected the best out of me. Letting them down was never an option.
One of the many things “Primo” gets right is first-generation American Latino uncles expecting their nieces and nephews to get an even bigger piece of the American Dream than they did, and then beaming with pride when they see it happening. Will that pride mostly come off in the form of teasing and jokes? Sure. But you always know its genuine.
“Primo” was such a delight for me because of its core lesson: Uncles are superheroes. And watching this show made me want to call the one tío I’ve still got left to let him know that.
Primo (eight episodes) debuted on May 19. All episodes are streaming on Amazon Freevee.