A Trip To Paradise That’s Anything But
The White Lotus And The Rare Comedy Limited Series
For much of the 21st Century writer-director Mike White has been one of the leading lights of independent films, from the dark comedy Chuck & Buck, the wistful The Good Girl and the impressive Beatriz at Dinner, he as also balanced them with some unlikely blockbusters — honestly, it’s kind of hard to imagine he’s the same man who wrote School of Rock and Nacho Libre.
He’s also been one of the more intriguing TV writers, going back to his years in the first seasons of Dawson’s Creek. He worked on Freaks and Geeks and Pasadena, two of the more fascinating failures in TV history. But by far his most intriguing series was Enlightened, a very dark comedy for HBO. Featuring Laura Dern in one of her first truly great roles for television, she played a self-destructive woman who became determined to lead a better life, even if that meant destroying the company she worked for and the family she was a part of. A series that was unlike even those that HBO was capable of; it was critically worshipped and basically rejected for mass consumption. Dern earned an Emmy nod and her second Golden Globe, but the series was cancelled after two seasons.
Nearly a decade after the series premiere, White has returned to HBO with a comical look at the limited series. The White Lotus deals with a tropical resort in Hawaii where the guests received the best in luxury. Unfortunately for the staff, if these are the kinds of guests that the resort has to deal with on a regular basis, you wonder why they haven’t all had some kind of collapse before.
For the guests this week are the people you wouldn’t want to spent five minutes on an elevator with but are exactly the kind of people who end up talking to you nonstop on an eleven hour flight from New York to Berlin. There’s Shane and Rachel (Jake Lacy and Alexandra Daddario) a couple who are on their honeymoon, but Shane seems far more concerned about not getting the room he wanted then having sex with his wife. Rachel, who is trying to build a career in journalism, can’t understand why her husband cares so much about this and is even less sympathetic to her career.
Then there’s Tanya, a woman who has come to scatter her mom’s ashes arrives with a terrible backache, can’t see a masseuse, goes through some kind of therapy with the staff, and leaves the experience with a tremendous crush on her and demands every moment of her time. Jennifer Coolidge steals every scene she’s in.
Then there are the Mossbachers. Nicole (Connie Britton) is a CEO of a major tech company who seems determined to control every aspect of her family’s vacation. Mark (Steve Zahn) starts the show thinking he has testicular cancer and then tries to use every element of having, and then not having it on his son and daughter, who really don’t seem to care and honestly don’t seem to appreciate anything. Quinn is stuck in the closet and always looking at his screen and college-age Olivia and her bestie Paula seem utterly oblivious to anything except getting high and not even caring if they get caught by their parents.
You really feel enormous sympathy for the staff, especially Armond the concierge (Murray Bartlett). He is so focused on getting everybody what they need he doesn’t notice his newest trainee is in active labor in the first episode. (“I just thought she was chunky!” is his response.)We learn that he has been five years sober, but considering the pressure everybody (especially Shane and his family) are putting on him, we can hardly blame him when he finds a bag the girls’ stash of drugs and starts snorting. If I had to deal with people like Shane and Tanya, I’d really need a drink.
And unlike so many of the limited series that we’re used to from HBO, The White Lotus is blissfully funny in showing how these people (who despite their apparent liberalism, are clearly part of the one percent) are as spoiled, entitled and utterly detached from their surroundings as they can be. And they don’t seem to care how they come off; when Olivia tells her mother if she’s root for a company that destroys the social construct because the CEO’s a woman, Nicole says: “No, you should root for the company because the CEO’s your mom.” This after she gives a lecture to Rachel about how she supports women, then she learns about a piece she wrote and says she thought it was a hatchet job. Given everything we’re coming to learn about Nicole, I think the article was accurate.
The series is so delightful; you almost wish the opening scene — where we learn that someone at the resort will be killed — didn’t have to be central to the story. It seems a weight that The White Lotus. Then again, it might work for this show, because this might be the first whodunit where you’re actually rooting for most of these unpleasant people to get killed. (We also know that Shane is in the airport alone and doesn’t want to say where his wife is. She may be the only guest I hope isn’t in the coffin.)
I’ll actually go further. White has announced that The White Lotus will be a one-shot. I hope he can be convinced otherwise. You could actually see this as an anthology series, each new season with a different and equally unpleasant bunch of guests that poor Armond and the staff have to deal with. Maybe there wouldn’t be a murder, but at least bad publicity. Hey, it’s better than a second season of Mare of Easttown.
My score: 4.5 stars.