When guests arrive at “The White Lotus," you can almost smell the jasmine.
A luxury resort in Hawaii, the Lotus has a tranquil beige-ness that promises rest. One day in, however, and you see it’s anything but.
As soon as three parties arrive and realize what they do – or don’t – have, the manager, Armond, has to shift into damage control.
Comedy comes from his desire to give them a “Fantasy Island” experience; drama comes from their determination to have it.
Written by Mike White, the six-part series doesn’t reveal its overriding theme until everyone is settled into their rooms. Then, it becomes clear: This is a look at the ultra-rich and how they’re really not like us at all.
For starters, there’s a honeymooning couple, Shane and Rachel Patton (Jake Lacey and Alexandra Daddario), who are dissatisfied with the suite they’ve been given. It’s not the one pictured online and it doesn’t have a plunge pool. Since his mom booked the reservation, he’s determined to make it sting.
Then, there’s the Mossbacher family. Nicole (Connie Britton) is a successful executive; her husband, Mark (Steve Zahn), is a wreck because he thinks he has cancer. To add to the problem: two bored children and their college-age daughter’s friend.
Toss in Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge), a lonely single who wants to scatter her mother’s ashes, and you see these are people with emotional issues money can’t resolve.
The fun, though, is in Armond’s effort. As played by Murray Bartlett, he’s an ever-smiling wreck, exuding confidence while hiding contempt.
Unfolding over the course of a week, the limited series shows just how miserable life can be no matter what the setting. Shane harps on the accommodations; Nicole questions her husband’s fidelity; Tanya gives a spa worker false hope.
Even though much of the action takes place in restaurants and rooms, there’s plenty to savor. The Mossbachers’ daughter, Olivia (Sydney Sweeney), is about as obnoxious as college sophomores get. She toys with her friend (Brittany O’Grady), who doesn’t share her lifestyle, and thwarts her oh-so-successful mom every time she tries to pretend life is great. She scores with simple looks and makes you feel sorry for her brother, Quinn (Fred Hechinger), who’s enjoying the stay more than anyone.
White uses sly humor throughout the series and gets his best results from Bartlett, who unravels in unusual ways. He captures the manager’s approach beautifully and has plenty of fun getting even.
“White Lotus” benefits from the one percenters’ desire to be inclusive. Coolidge gets the best shot at this but Britton has her moment following an evening luau.
When her world falls apart, you can see why Olivia isn’t afraid to call her out on anything.
Because the six episodes have strong twists, it’s not unreasonable to want an extended stay. Nightly restaurant visits aside, this is a place with plenty to explore. Outside the Lotus, a whole world beckons – even if it doesn’t come with a plunge pool.
"The White Lotus" airs on HBO and, later, on HBO max.