The White Lotus
- Brian Donaldson
- 21 August 2021
Beginning at a blistering pace, Mike White's drama series about rich Americans on holiday runs swiftly out of steam
There are people out there who absolutely loathe the 'one week earlier' technique that often follows an opening scene in a TV drama series. But frankly, in a programme such as The White Lotus which is largely a guessing game about who dies at the end, how else are you going to portray this? Simply have five episodes of white people behaving shabbily at a hotel resort in Hawaii before someone is killed in the final ten minutes? That's not really how whodunnits work.
But sure, in this six-parter written and directed solely by Mike White (Enlightened, School Of Rock), a bunch of privileged Caucasians really do act in an annoying and/or appalling fashion at a fairly consistent rate while vacationing in an achingly gorgeous Pacific island. As the opening-sequence intrigue allows itself to sink into our bones, a trail of rich deplorables are greeted by their ever-smiling hosts, led by the resort's manager Armond in a peach of a performance from Murray Bartlett out of whom tiny traits of Basil Fawlty slowly emerge (though the Torquay hotelier isn't quite a match for this pills and coke fiend with an unhealthy horn for buff staff).
Among them is Shane (Jake Lacy) honeymooning with his wide-eyed bride Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) who looks fairly shell-shocked by her new life especially when he becomes utterly fixated on righting perceived wrongs that the resort (and especially Armond) have inflicted upon him. Then there's the Mossbacher family of wife and husband (Connie Britton and Steve Zahn), their socially awkward son Quinn (Fred Hechinger) his stroppy sister Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and her best friend Paula (Brittany O'Grady) who later sees beneath this façade of wealth albeit through a rash act that has serious repercussions for almost everyone. And finally, there's Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge) who seems pretty much out of it most of the time and is chiefly there to scatter her mother's ashes in the ocean.
After a blistering opening two episodes during which the battle lines are firmly drawn between guests and their temporary keepers, it does rather get bogged down in repetition as petty bitterness and squalid behaviour go on a loop. This feeling is not helped by a recurring musical motif that sounds a little like cackling hyenas, scoffing at the ludicrously entitled attitudes of the guests. But also perhaps mocking the local workforce who allow themselves to be trampled underfoot by their colonial history and the ritualistic charades they play into for the customers' entertainment.
And while the writing largely sidesteps easy caricaturing, it does sadly lapse into a by now thoroughly exhausted trope with woozy point-of-view shots as characters over-indulge with various substances. As for the whodunnit (and to whom was it done?), you might have guessed early on or it could come as a bolt from the blue. Either way, the fatal moment is preceded with a spicy scene that will be scratched onto your mind for a very long time to come.
The White Lotus, Sky Atlantic, Mondays, 9pm; all episodes available now on NOW TV.