One person being mistaken for another, more famous, person is always fun in a sketch, or maybe a feature film. But can it sustain an entire series? A new Brazilian comedy tries to find that out, adding an implausible time travel aspect into its main story.
Opening Shot: A delivery guy on a motorbike weaves his way through traffic in the streets of São Paulo.
The Gist: Virguley (Edmilson Filho) moved from the Northeast to São Paulo with hopes of striking it rich, but his life is chaos. He’s a terrible delivery guy who’s about to be fired, and he can’t even get it together to get to the designated spot on time to perform with his street performance troupe. Because of his resemblance to the famous 20th century bandit Lampião, Virguley is the lead in his troupe’s performance, which has music and lots of overacting.
When three thugs wielding guns come after the money the troupe collected on a particular day, Virguley has his troupe run. But the thugs catch up to him in an alley, and one of them slaps him so hard, Virguley feels like he’s flying. He’s so out of it, he imagines that Padre Cicero, a figurine in his pocket, has come to life. The padre (Frank Menezes) greets Virguley as he lands, naked, in the middle of nowhere.
He puts on clothes that he found, and starts finding that people are mistaking him for the actual Lampião. At first, he thinks he’s at some sort of theme park, but he then realizes that he’s somehow been transported to 1927, and Brazil’s most famous bandit is alive and well. He also happens to be nearby, which Virguley doesn’t know. In the meantime, he’s trying to figure out how to take advantage of this newfound power — while instantly falling in love with a local girl named Mariá (Chandelly Braz).
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? We really can’t think of a plot like this, one that could sustain a long-running comedic series. In goofiness factor, it resembles, Smother-In-Law, another recent Netflix comedy from Brazil.
Our Take: In reality, what Time Hustler (Original title: O Cangaceiro do Futuro) really feels like is a sketch extended to a full-length, 7-episode first season of a series. Outside of The Simpsons and Ted Lasso, sketches aren’t exactly strong source material for an ongoing series, and Time Hustler demonstrates why.
Virguley, especially as Filho plays him, has absolutely no nuance as a character. He talks loudly to himself as a means of exposition, pretty much has zero conscience, and is always looking out for himself. His most interesting quirk is that he looks like Lampião. In fact, we’re wondering if Filho’s performance as the ruthless bandit will be a whole lot better than his performance as Virguley.
There are people in the village that Virguley will rely on to get him what he wants, but to be honest, they all feel like stock sitcom characters from 40 years ago and nothing that merits mentioning here. The entire season rides on how long Viguley tricks this town into thinking he’s Lampião. We don’t even know if he actually still exists in the present day, but it doesn’t seem like that really matters when it comes to this show.
Sex and Skin: When Virguley lands naked in the village, he goes behind a tree to go to the bathroom, and wipes with some leaves that inflame him so badly that he walks into town like a bow-legged penguin.
Parting Shot: Coronel Tibúrcio (Fábio Lago), a landowner who wants a piece of Lampião, finds Virguley and of course confuses him for the famous bandit.
Sleeper Star: Perhaps Chandelly Braz as Mariá, because she’s the only one putting in a performance that resembles a human character in the real world and not a character from an over-the-top sketch.
Most Pilot-y Line: Virguley, still thinking he’s in a theme park, asks a man for a park map. “What flavor park map do you want?” the man asks.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Time Hustler is goofy, sure, but it’s also not funny. We can’t even say for sure that it would have worked as a sketch instead of a whole series, but at least as a sketch it would have been over a lot faster.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.