Review/Emmy Preview: ‘White Lotus’

Dark Humor and Murder on the Beach

White Lotus | Credit: Warner Media, LLC

HBO’s dark comedy miniseries White Lotus, created by Mike White, provides a brilliant view of wealth and inequality through the employees and guests at the exclusive White Lotus Resort in Hawaii. Nominated for 20 Emmy Awards, White Lotus’ star-studded cast delivers a frustrating and hilarious array of characters, from uptight resort manager Armond (Murray Bartlett), who demands inhuman levels of hospitality from his staff while treating his guests like spaced-out “sensitive children,” to grieving alcoholic Tanya McQuiod — played to perfection by Jennifer Coolidge with her trademark self-assured, ditzy energy — who has come on vacation to scatter her mother’s ashes.

Credit: Warner Media, LLC

The series opens by giving us a glimpse of forlorn newlywed Shane Patton (Jake Lacy) waiting alone for a plane. Annoyed by a nosy couple’s questions about an apparent murder at the resort he mentioned he had stayed, he gazes out the window at the airline workers loading a box of human remains onto the plane. We’re then transported back in time a week to the moment all of the resort guests arrive by boat. The dark mood set by the opening scene is quickly forgotten, as judgemental college students Olivia Mossbacher (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady), on vacation with Olivia’s family, discuss their scathing first impressions of each of the guests on the boat. Sweeney and O’Grady play satisfyingly funny mean girls, instantly distracting viewers from the fatality. This sets the tone for the rest of the show, which weaves through the various superficial problems the guests concern themselves with, leaving little room to ponder the mysterious murder at the center of the plot.

The writing in White Lotus is effortlessly poignant, making the viewer an uneasy witness to the casual cruelties caused by wealth disparity. Natasha Rothwell’s stellar performance as ambitious spa manager Belinda Lindsey creates an empathetic view towards the issues working class people often have to put aside in order to provide service for wealthier people. This series is creative, clever, thought-provoking, funny, and empathetic — even the thoughtlessness of the wealthy characters is laced with levels of understanding. While this is by no means a feel-good show, it’s rare to find a piece of social commentary that makes you laugh as much as it makes you think. 

The second season is set in Sicily (scheduled to begin in October), with Coolidge as the only star set to return.  Her co-stars include: F. Murray Abraham, Adam DiMarco, Meghann Fahy, Tom Hollander, Michael Imperioli, Theo James, Aubrey Plaza, Haley Lu Richardson, Will Sharpe and Leo Woodall. 

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