Friday, August 26, 2022

A Short Stay at “The White Lotus”

The pandemic has taught me that there’s something to be said for committing to a limited TV series. Over the course of a relatively small number of hour-long episodes, you can get absorbed in a complicated story, featuring many provocative characters, and assume that you’re heading for a quick but engrossing wrap-up (or, of course, a dramatic cliff-hanger that makes you eager to see what the next season will bring).

 For the last six nights, I have been caught up in The White Lotus, I know this HBO series, set in a tropical resort frequented by the rich and the entitled, has been around for months, but I’m a bit slow to explore TV trends. Lots of buzz and 20 primetime Emmy nominations (eight of them in acting categories) made me curious, and so I hopped aboard for a series of episodes that balance the life-crises of a number of wealthy vacationers and the woes of the ever-smiling folk who serve them. If you enjoy the overblown Jennifer Coolidge, she’s very much here, larger than life, as an addled heiress who feels the need to scatter her dead mother’s ashes in the surf. There’s also a newlywed couple discovering that perhaps they weren’t meant for each other (the groom’s imperious mother, played by Molly Shannon, pops up to check on things). And there’s a complicated story involving a business-tycoon mom, an insecure dad, a confused son, a rebellious college-age daughter, and the daughter’s mixed-race pal whose complex social resentments lead toward a tragedy for a young busboy but also a burst of family feelings that had previously seemed most unlikely.

 Then there’s the White Lotus staff, as represented by two of the show’s most memorable characters. Natasha Rothwell (one of the show’s many acting nominees) is the resort’s wellness coordinator, a soothing presence not quite resigned to the fact that she’s taken for granted by one and all. And it will be hard for me (or anyone else, I should think) to forget Murray Bartlett as the resort’s manager. He starts out as a glad-hander determined to make all the guests feel the joys of Hawaiian hospitality, while simultaneously fighting for his own recovery from addiction. Yes, he’s five years clean and sober, but the shenanigans of this particular set of guests erase all of that hard work in one fell swoop. When he goes off the wagon, his is a spectacular plummet. Let’s just say that the revenge he ultimately takes on his most obnoxious guest is both disgusting and hilarious.

 What makes it all work is an opening scene in the first episode, set at the local airport after the events the series recounts, which establishes that there’s just been a death at the White Lotus resort. The scene contains a strong hint of the victim’s identity, and so we go through each episode waiting for the axe to fall. In fact, the writers have indulged in a bit of misdirection here, as a way of ratcheting up suspense and keeping us invested in all the goings-on the series contains. This proved effective for me, at the same time that I was irked by some serious flaws in plot logic and a too-tidy sign-off.

 The word is that we have not seen the last of The White Lotus, although that beautiful Hawaiian resort (played by an actual resort on Maui) will be replaced in the new season by an equally fabulous locale in Sicily. It will feature an international cast, the return of Jennifer Coolidge, and (doubtless) some additional icky delights. 




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