Los Simuladores (The Pretenders) is an Argentine black comedy television series directed by Damián Szifron. It is about four men who pool together their intelligence and various skills to solve people’s problems via operativos simulacros (simulations). What types of problems, you ask? They solve all types of problems of all types of people in the most riveting fashion. There are no small or big cases for them for they help manual laborers and leaders of the community, including Argentina’s president, with the same degree of fervor and attention to details. The simuladores do not shirk from pressure but revel in it like kids playing noisily in the mud. The leader of Los Simuladores says it best in the premier of this episodic series, “Supongas que está enfermo Galván, y si tienen que operar, la operación puede fallar pero usted va a buscar al mejor cirujano disponible. Bueno, en este caso, nosotros no solamente somos el mejor cirujano disponible, también, somos el único.” (Imagine that you are sick Galván, and they have to operate you, the operation can fail but you will find the best surgeon available. Well, in this case, we are not only the best surgeons, also, we are the only ones. – Translation is mine.)
Two seasons of Los Simuladores were shown in Argentina in 2002 and in 2003, respectively. I have not heard of it until three weeks ago, but I have watched the deliciously evil Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) by Szifron and enjoyed it immensely. No movie has made me laughed so hard (and cringe at the same time) as much as Relatos Salvajes. For my review of Relatos Salvajes, please proceed here.
Right from the start, with the grainy images of four men walking side by side in the rain in the opening scene coupled with its last-song-syndrome inducing theme, Cité Tango, Los Simuladores is addicting. With enchanting characters, ingenious script and superb acting by the four main actors, I can say that this is the best Spanish-language series I have watched.
Personal Note: In the first week of our ten-week class, our Spanish professor required the class to watch one episode of Los Simuladores per week, so we can discuss it in class. We finished discussing the second episode, Diagnóstico Rectoscópico (Rectoscopic Diagnosis), four days ago, but I decided to watch all 13 episodes (without subtitle) in two weeks. Now, I may have an inkling where the name “Pasternak” came from.
Here are 10 reasons why I Love Los Simuladores (I had to delete the numbers because my blog wants to indent them):
The simuladores take spots one to four because they are the heart and soul of the show. Normally, I like one or two characters more than most in shows I watch (I especially like evil fictional characters). Los Simuladores makes it impossible to have favorites because the men are endearing in their own ways.
Mario Santos (Federico D’Elía) – Mario Santos is the leader of Los Simuladores and is responsible for logistics and planning. He makes first contact with the clients and decides whether the group will accept the challenge or not. In 13 episodes of the first season, Mario (yes, we are on first name basis here) declines only one man because the guy is smarmy. Mario is 39 years old (he celebrates his birthday in the first season) and a widower. Mario is wickedly smart, confident, observant, a good dresser, cultured, and well-read. He is the kind of guy a girl wishes to introduce to her parents as the future husband, but his wedding ring is an obvious obstacle. 🙂
He is particular about the food he eats, or the tea (Earl Grey), coffee (cortado) or water he drinks. He applies the same particularity with the way he works, from the type of table, chair, lamp, and music that inhabit the room he is in while he thinks of ways to solve other people’s predicaments.
The most important thing about him is he neither gives nor takes any bullshit. And, he lights his Cubano after every successful simulation, usually with the help of the unsuspecting victims.
Gabriel Medina (Martín Seefeld) – Medina is in charge of investigation. Like a stalker, he follows and photographs the subjects and taps phones and listens to their most intimate conversations, among other things. Despite his overwhelming masculinity and brooding personality, he is romantic and listens to songs I would like to listen to. How cool is he when he sips his mate? 🙂 He has the most beautiful jawline in the entire first season, and that is more than enough to earn him the second spot. Hahaha. I cannot blame that businessman for kissing him on the lips; Medina is oozing with sensuality, especially when he clenches his jaw. He is the guy the woman married to Mario Santos wishes to have an affair with.
Emilio Ravenna (Diego Peretti) – Ravenna is liable for characterization. His role is perfect for him because he is well-rounded, charming, and friendly. Sometimes, he is overfriendly, especially with the women who take part in their operations, and that flirtatiousness gives him more sexual encounters than his peers. He is toeing the line between playboy and pervert. Throughout first season, Ravenna plays all kinds of inspector and representative, a lawyer, a scientist, a military colonel, a TV show producer, and a transvestite prostitute, and he acts every part with aplomb! 🙂 His skills at the billiard table rival that of Efren “Bata” Reyes. Not really, but he knows how to use his stick properly (no pun intended).
If Mario is the husband material and Medina, the brooding lover, Ravenna is surely the overly hormonal younger brother everybody likes to pick on.
Pablo Lamponne (Alejandro Fiore) – Lamponne is in charge of technology and transportation. His job also involves finding the right props for all simulations. His notebook is a veritable laundry list of things no man in his proper mind should be thinking getting, every page containing the word conseguir (procure) on it, with conseguir un tigre (procure a tiger) as one of them. In Los Impresentables (The Unpresentables), where he has to get a tiger, he realizes that he has psychological problems but is too worried to let his colleagues know about it. Awww.
One of the more memorable roles of Lamponne is a transvestite prostitute where he has to wear a skirt showing his shapely legs and be in bed with a half-naked man. I have never seen a prostitute turn redder than his red lipstick.
To complete the comparisons, Lamponne is the older brother who envies the younger brother Ravenna for being confident and carefree.
The Simulations – The simulations of Los Simuladores are diverse, which ranges from helping a high school boy cheat on his final exams in El Joven Simulador (The Young Pretender) to helping the president of Argentina who is experiencing erectile dysfunction in El Pequeño Problema del Gran Hombre (The Big Man’s Small Problem). El Joven Simulador shows the gamut of operations of Los Simuladores for the first time by introducing new characters like the chemistry, physics and math geniuses they helped in the past, and who collaborate with them in this particular simulation. El Pequeño Problema del Gran Hombre shows the power of Los Simuladores for they have conquered the highest office in the land.
What I like about Los Simuladores is the fact that all simulations do not involve extreme violence and murder, they only trick their subjects into gaining newfound confidence to live happy and fulfilled existence or bring their arrogant victims down a peg or two to come face to face with humility. Okay, so they act like Juan of La Isla Mínima or Javier Peña of Narcos in circumventing the laws to help their clients, but as I said before, I like my fictional characters to be (a little) evil.
Two Rules – At the end of each episode of Los Simuladores, Mario tells their clients of two stipulations they need to fulfill: pay twice the cost of simulation to cover the fees of the simuladores and to be willing participants in the group’s future operations. The conditions seem reasonable and quite simple. They have no signed agreements, just straightforward handshakes and unwavering trust.
Now you see ‘em, now you don’t – The second stipulation warrants that previous clients help the simuladores in future operations, which gives a sense of continuity in an episodic series. This enables characters in past episodes to appear in succeeding ones as middlemen between new clients and Mario or as parts of the operations. Three of the more visible ones are Bernardo Galván (Claudio Rissi), the down-on-his-luck painter whose wife wanted divorce in Tarjeta de Navidad (Christmas Card), Martin Vanegas (Pasta Dioguardi), the business owner who borrowed money from a loan shark in Diagnóstico Rectoscópico (Rectoscopic Diagnosis), and José Fehler (Jorge D’Elía), the employee who was unceremoniously fired from his job due to his advanced age in Seguro de Desempleo (Unemployment Insurance). Watching them transform from their day jobs to a supermarket promoter, a military officer, and a lover, respectively, is fun.
What is in a name? – During simulations, the characters use fake names for obvious reasons. Most of the names used belong to their previous clients and victims. Ravenna is fond of using Maximo Cozzetti, whose origin is unknown to me as of this writing (maybe it will be explained in Season 2. Or not.).
Fake it ‘til you make it – Mario and his group are the kings of deceptions. One of their more difficult simulations is faking the landing of an extraterrestrial object in El Colaborador Foráneo (The Foreign Collaborator). It involves a jellyfish or something that looks like it, and my-love Medina and Lamponne taking turns in blowing air into a hose attached to the creature to feign breathing and motion. Of course, my-love Medina does it with a bored expression on his face. It was TV gold.
Songs – Los Simuladores features songs that I did not know I like. 🙂 The first episode alone is a virtual jukebox with Greg O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again”, Frank Sinatra’s “The World We Knew”, and Cher’s “Bang Bang”. In Marcela & Paul, Beatles songs lorded over the series like “Rocky Raccoon”. The songs make watching the credits roll enjoyable.