Cuba’s Panfilo and Other Sitcoms

Irina Pino

Luis Silva is Panfilo.
Luis Silva is Panfilo.

HAVANA TIMES — “Aren’t you going to watch Panfilo?” This is what someone in my family always says to get us together to watch the sitcom Vivir del cuento, the only Cuban comedy show aired by Cubavision these days. Everyone settles into their armchairs to get a glimpse at Cuban reality, or at least feel that they are seeing a social critique that touches issues very close to home.

The show deals with the lives of two elderly men in precarious financial conditions who must resort to “living by their wits” in order to make ends meet. The show addresses current issues and two or three episodes were never aired (such as one dealing with a traditional New Year’s sweet that Panfilo hopes to sell to make a little extra money, now going around as part of the “weekly package”), but I don’t believe they’re actually that scathing, what with the many things one could be critical of today.

Some scripts are not that humorous and rely on improvisations by the actors far too much. Though they address a broad range of issues, they tend to stretch out the joke too much as well. They also rely on hackneyed formulas and there are many uninteresting characters that do not add anything to the story and serve only to fill up gaps in the scenes. Some of the actors who portray these secondary characters aren’t very good.

Aida, a Spanish sitcom, has solid scripts that address such thorny issues as racism, sexism, politics and social problems. These are expertly embedded in the sub-plots, where the secondary characters play an essential role, to the point that the story would fall apart without them. People speak colloquially and even curse. It’s almost like seeing real life reflected in a mirror: full of anti-heroes and losers, and both the main and sub-plots have creative endings.

The IT Crowd is a 2006 English comedy series that only had six seasons, but struck me as one of the most original I’ve enjoyed in recent times. Its picturesque and ridiculous characters interact in a workplace where abuses of power and sexism abound. I recall one episode in particular, full of clever dark humor, which takes place during a religious ceremony in honor of the former president of the company who committed suicide. The deceased boss gives his employees instructions from a TV screen. When writers give their all and actors unfold their skills, everything tends to work well.


8 thoughts on “Cuba’s Panfilo and Other Sitcoms

  • February 3, 2015 at 9:36 pm
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    Its called sarcasm. Didn’t your handlers teach you how to recognize that as you troll anti-Castro blogs.

  • February 3, 2015 at 7:25 pm
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    Moses, when I describe my Cuban novia to friends and family, I describe her many character attributes but find the fact that she is communist is no more important than her racial heritage or other insignificant factors.

    I think she and I both hope if the time ever comes when we spend our limited time together discussing politics that we can part friends.

    There is a time and place for everything. I do not question that you are a “regular guy” and a fun person. But you do seem to focus on interjecting politics into every discussion.

  • February 3, 2015 at 5:32 pm
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    Because any one who says that on a message board is a total creep.

  • February 3, 2015 at 6:50 am
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    I REALLY can be a lot of fun. Why don’t you believe me?

  • February 2, 2015 at 2:33 pm
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    Moses, awwwwww we will all just pretend that we actually believe you.

  • February 2, 2015 at 12:04 pm
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    Bob, I have a good friend in Texas who happens to be white. He said to me last week that he was glad that he and I don’t have to talk about race relations. He said that to him “I am just a ‘regular’ guy”. I totally understand how talking about uncomfortable subjects can make friendships uncomfortable as well. However, your NOT talking politics with your communist friend does not make that subject go away. When you and your friend DO address politics, the real test of your friendship will take place. By the way, I can be a lot of fun. Your loss that I will not be there.

  • January 28, 2015 at 8:48 pm
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    Moses, I scrolled down to thank Irina for another post about a topic that I thought could not be politicized.

    I am hopping down to Cuba in 2 days to spend a long weekend in a great little fishing village with a Cuban friend . She is a devout communist and I am the epitome of a democratic free market guy. We simply respect each other political views. We will spend the weekend conversing about art, culture, and other non political things. I am so thankful you will not be there.

  • January 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm
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    Frickin’ socialists. In my own lifetime, from Johnny Carson to Saturday Night Live to South Park, US late night TV has always had at least one comedy program that intentionally and effectively skewered politicians and policy. You aren’t really famous until SNL or South Park has made fun of you. Why are the Castros so thin-skinned? There has always been a court jester and no one has ever died from a joke made about them.

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