Shea Serrano's New Show Feels Like Home

Shea Serrano's New Show Feels Like HomeAmazon

Poets as varied as Robert Frost and Gil Scott-Heron have tackled the inherently bittersweet notion of home. The former deems it, "the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in." And the latter says it's "where the hatred is."

The latest writer to tackle the ever-evolving concept of home? Shea Serrano. His feelings come through in Primo, Amazon Freevee's homey new series, which, hilariously, epitomizes the saying, "I love you but don't particularly like you right now." Based on Serrano's childhood in San Antonio in the '90s, Primo—which is streaming today—acquaints us with 16-year-old Rafa (played winningly by Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), whose funny coming-of-age story centers around the small dramas unfolding in his rowdy Texas abode with his badass single mother and five doting uncles. Never mind that it's liable to induce hypertension. Home, Primo reminds us, is where the heart is.

If you've ever sat through dinner with an annoying, if well-meaning relative, Primo's eight zany episodes are right up your alley. You can empathize with Rafa, who searches for freedom amid his family's dizzying demands. The series opens with our boy, a high school junior on the cusp of college (and the first in his Mexican-American clan to seek higher learning), relishing some crucial moments of solace in his bedroom—which is probably his only oasis. While trolling a crush's Instagram, Rafa gets a text from a friend asking if he can drop by for supper. Notably, the friend adds, "Wait—who's over there? How many uncles?" It's buoyant bedlam when Rafa, after replying, "I'll check," departs his room.

Clutching a laundry basket, Rafa's mom tells him to eat before her brothers ransack everything in the house. After Uncle Rollie beats him to the bathroom ("Too slow!" Rollie hollers), Rafa has to sit through all manner of batshit dating advice, with Uncle Mondo's droll suggestion to stare into his crush's eyes and weep ("No words—just tears!"). Looking spent, Rafa finally answers his buddy's text, informing him that all five uncles are present. The friend types, "Oh. Nvm then."

Though this sitcom about working-class San Antonians implicates some heady issues, its premise is wonderfully basic, in a Tim Duncan sort of way. Primo is essentially The Wonder Years for people who hoard supermarket coupons. The idée fixe isn't nostalgia; it's nerve. And while Primo is all about the small moments of interfamilial joy, there's nary a treehouse in sight—its brown-skinned characters are far too busy prepping for the SATs or working behind the register to navel-gaze.

Having whizzed the standardized tests during sophomore year, Rafa is focused—on working for Uncle Jay. Full of untapped ambition, he blankly expresses his desire to become "the irrigation Scarface." Rafa's guidance counselor, however, says he scored in the 93rd percentile of last year's standardized tests. Rafa wants to go to college, even though he tells said counselor—potentially a stand-in for Serrano, himself an erstwhile educator—"college is for kids who do boat sports." The counselor calls bullshit, telling Rafa he'd be great for undergrad. Later, Rafa's crush, Mya (a spectacular Stakiah Washington), asks about his prospects. He says, "I have no idea what I want to do." It's clear Rafa's lying: he doesn't want to put on airs. Mom and the uncles might need him on the ground.

Rafa's gracious outlook matches Serrano's own. The Mexican-American writer, who stopped teaching to pursue journalism, has tweeted that educators should be paid at least $100,000 annually. He's also sympathetic to other nine-to-fivers. Serrano told The New York Times in 2020, "I'm acutely aware what it means if someone loses even one shift. If you're making $7 an hour and you're not going to get $56, that screws up a lot of stuff." This charitable spirit drives Primo. In one intoxicating scene, Rafa's mother, Drea (a plucky Christina Vidal), plays a round of confessions with her brothers. She admits to Ryan in a flashback bit where he primps in the mirror, dressed in a cheap leisure suit, "Oh my God! You look exactly like Nick Lachey!"

The single-camera format offers Primo an intimate ambiance, emphasizing its witty dialogue (minus a generic laugh track). In these brilliant featurettes, Rafa's narrative arc—wherein he bonds with Mya just as he's about to make the most significant decision of his teenage life—is imminently captivating.

In Episode Three, Rafa asks Uncle Ryan, who is talking dishwashing etiquette with Uncle Jay, if he can borrow Ryan's car. He wants to take Mya home. The moment turns into a gleeful competition between the uncles, who demonstrate their cringey affection for their nephew. Jay wonders aloud, "The 14-year-old BWM. The one that can't go in reverse anymore?" After claiming that his ride is "the epitome of sophistication," Ryan nags, "Primo, ask me her name." "I really don't want to," pleads Rafa, who promptly discovers that the car's named "Sigourney Beamer." Not to be outdone, Jay adds, "Primo, the best car in this family is my Econoline: 278 cubic feet of storage space. You could give fifteen Myas a ride home." Rafa says, Zen-like, "I just need to give one Mya a ride home.'

Mya, much like us, can't help but be charmed by this fascinating family, whose members might do jail time, sure, but still throw amazing Labor Day parties. When Mya asks Rafa for an ETA, he says, "Labor Day… starts around 2 and ends whenever any of the uncles get into a fistfight. So… I get there by 2:30."

Primo doesn't bluntly tackle racism. But it subtly implies all the obstacles Rafa's family endures by underscoring their relentless work ethic. It's a testament to the show's cleverness that there's still room to be messy and all too human. The characters don't obsessively work a zillion jobs, like Damon Wayan's omnibus immigrant role in the In Living Color sketch, Hey Mon!. Instead, Primo gives its characters the space to be as off-color as they wish while highlighting their innate resourcefulness. Jokes about the correlation between Queen Latifah's height and intelligence are as frequent as quibbles about the upsides of savings bonds.

That mutability, showing the unquestionable depth of this Hispanic family, makes Primo a positive representation of POCs in the mainstream, if not a reserved hint toward progress. In any case, all directions lead toward a charming experience. Primo instantly feels like home.

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