Jul 08, 2021
By by Kyle Mullin
Photography by Mario Perez/HBo
Wipe your tears. Simmer your temper. Force a smile. And serve the guests.
So goes the toughest of all protocols for the demoralized employees of the Hawaiian paradise resort, the White Lotus, the new HBO six-episode limited series named after its seemingly flowery setting from writer, creator and director Mike White (Enlightened).
Spa coordinator Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) is professionally unfulfilled, brimming with entrepreneurial potential, and mired in a “friendship” with dysfunctional guest Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge). White gives Rothwell especially superb material and her and Coolidge’s nuanced, tangled arc is a testament to his writing. Belinda and that quintessential “rich white lady” patron are so ensnared by the end of The White Lotus that it becomes difficult to tell who is exploiting who, though it’s not hard to guess which of these characters winds up more slighted. Given Rothwell’s hilariously scene stealing, but too frequently cartoonish material on fellow HBO series Insecure, this layered role on The White Lotus is all the more satisfying.
General manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) is never less than captivating while straining to remain unflappable during one entitled front desk demand after the next. Better still are his shiv-sharp barbs about those pampered guests while behind closed doors. When his private aggravation turns into a topple off the wagon — partially due to a purse bursting with pharmaceuticals in the lost and found — he is thoroughly convincing. His Bedlam-with-abandon-embrace of office orgies and nose candy also make The White Lotus unforgettable on a viscerally aesthetic level.
The writing falters when Armond makes a #MeToo transgression knotted enough to be worthy of weaving into the series main narrative. Instead, it’s resolved with shreds of tacked on dialogue. Copious screen time is wasted on Coolidge’s one-note whining, or the inert class struggle between Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy’s newlywedded respective trophy wife and meatheaded aristocrat. It is, however, fun to laugh at Lacy’s caricature of privilege butting heads with Armond as he becomes the resort’s most demanding guest.
White’s plots find far more traction with the Mossbacher family. Connie Britton (Nashville, Friday Night Lights) will ruthlessly split your sides as a Lean In satirizing CEO on vacation with her oafish hubby, the equally hilarious Steve Zahn (Treme). Tagging along are her gaming engulfed son (Fred Hechinger) and her Mean Girls-esque daughter (Sydney Sweeney), who invited her equally snooty friend (Brittany O’Grady). Britton’s OCD setup of a work Zoom (“Mom, you look deranged!” “It’s okay, I have a filter for that”), Zahn’s oblivious oversharing with his son, and the girls’ hushed mocking of other guests while pretending to read pretentiously dense books are all chum in the water for White’s satire.
There is the rushed introduction of O’Grady’s Indigenous lover, who is degraded by his entertainer gig at the resort that pushed his family off their rightful land. We’re brought up to speed on his backstory with technically impressive efficiency. Clearly the series is about skewering privileged white guests. Still, a show purporting to take the 1% to task with midnight dark humor from one of peak TV’s most gifted auteurs should far more nimbly balance screen time between such a fascinatingly conflicted and disenfranchised character, and Coolidge’s broken-record neediness or Daddario and Lacy’s bland lovers’ quarrels.
Even when the most thinly drawn uppity guests are gnashed by White’s satire, you’ll savor every delectable shred of schadenfreude. Unlike most peak TV series that drag on like a rained-out vacation, The White Lotus could use more episodes to explore its underused characters’ arcs, or at least let these rich nitwits twist in the wind a little longer. (www.hbo.com/the-white-lotus)
Author rating: 7/10
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