A week in the lives of a group of rich, privileged guests and the stressed-out staff at a luxury hotel resort in Hawaii. In-between spa treatments and scuba diving lessons for the holiday-makers, relationships falter and families fracture while the hotel manager (Murray Bartlett) plunges himself into a full-on crisis.
Available on: Sky Atlantic / NOW
Episodes viewed: 6 of 6
Writer/director Mike White begins this series with the hoary old narrative device of establishing that Someone In This Story has died, before flashing back to a week earlier, when a group of hotel guests arrive at The White Lotus Hawaiian resort, greeted by the staff sporting rictus grins. One of these guests will indeed be killed, but White (the equally acerbic Chuck & Buck, Enlightened) is barely concerned with the mystery element of who dies and why. Instead, he uses the impending threat of violence to underline the dark danger of his characters’ self-absorption and complacency. Sure, their egotistical antics make for highly amusing comedy, but we’re always aware this is likely to end very badly indeed.
With its gaggle of selfish characters living in a bubble of privilege, The White Lotus initially feels like the latest in a long line of HBO series about entitled white people behaving thoroughly obnoxiously — Succession, The Undoing and Big Little Lies come to mind. As giddily entertaining as those shows are, do we really need to spend six hours in the company of more super-rich a-holes? Improbably, yes. It soon becomes clear this is a much edgier, more gleefully transgressive show. Its withering tone and fluid visual style is more reminiscent of multi-stranded movie narratives like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
The MVP is Jennifer Coolidge, superb as a self-identifying “crazy” woman who seems on the verge of a meltdown at all times.
This is a series which suddenly cuts to a close-up of a character’s cock and balls to illustrate his anxiety about a bulbous testicle, where teenagers make “bukkake” jokes to their parents, and where a drug-fuelled sex session climaxes with a sex act rarely seen on TV. Even on HBO. It’s magnificently messy stuff, and White handles the slowly mounting chaos brilliantly. It helps that every single cast member is on exceptional form. Standouts are Jake Lacy’s whiny man-child newlywed Shane, and Alexandra Daddario as his wife Rachel, who perfectly captures the realisation she’s made a horrendous mistake. Connie Britton is magnificent as famous tech company bigwig Nicole, wafting around with an air of total smugness, and Murray Bartlett as hotel manager Armond is the personification of a service industry veteran who just can’t take his customers’ bullshit anymore. But the MVP is Jennifer Coolidge, superb as a self-identifying “crazy” woman who seems on the verge of a meltdown at all times. Sure, she’s as entitled as the rest of the White Lotus guests, but Coolidge imbues Tanya with a raw vulnerability, turning what could have been a caricature into a startlingly sympathetic figure.
“They get everything they want but they don’t even know what they want,” observes Armond of his VIP guests. It’s a spot-on description of their entire existence, but as the series peels away the layers of liberal entitlement to expose the emptiness within, there are surprising moments of intense sincerity, too. As hard as The White Lotus is to pin down, it’s undoubtedly a subversive triumph.
A mercilessly sharp satire of toxic wealth, entitlement and class exploitation with a truly radical, subversive tone that separates it from the crowd. Luxury holidays will never be the same again.