The White Lotus

New US drama ain't no Fantasy Island. But it could be the new Holiday Island.

When I saw the trailer for new HBO drama The White Lotus, I wondered if it might be a new-look Fantasy Island, but with a dark Black Mirror twist….

There was the hotel staff, standing on a beach waving to the incoming resort guests. Is Aussie Murray Bartlett the new Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban)?

The answer is nope. If anything, The White Lotus is the new Holiday Island. It’s a soap dressed up as a drama series. It looks glossy and inviting, but the storylines are too languid in this age of premium drama. A good cast is under-utilised with a plaintive script and direction which lacks pace.

Bartlett (Looking, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City) plays Armond, an Australian manager of a Hawaiian island resort.

His guests include newlyweds Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) who discover they were not booked into the honeymoon suite, leading to their first marital spat. More will come.

There’s successful corporate boss Nicole (Connie Britton), husband Mark (Steve Zahn) who worries he is getting cancer, teen gamer son Quinn (Fred Hechinger), teen daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and her friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady) who are tied to their phones, novels and each other.

Then there is the slightly-unhinged Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) who has come to spread her mother’s ashes on the waves.

Amongst the staff is trainee Lani (Jolene Purdy) who is keeping a pregnancy secret from her boss, an accommodating spa manager and the odd hottie for our teens.

Armond runs a tight ship, smiling at his guests and keeping his staff on a short leash.

“You have to treat those people like sensitive children,” he tells staff, “…the special chosen child of the hotel and we are their mean mommies.”

Our guests all arrive on the one boat (again this is Fantasy Island-esque), sometimes searching for nirvana. But conflict will emerge, notably between Rachel and Nicole when history becomes apparent.

If Murray Bartlett is pitching at a very suburban Aussie accent for effect, then he has this down pat. I found it pretty distracting. Jennifer Coolidge could have been fantastic but feels wasted. While resort life all looks lush and enticingly framed, I just found myself constantly waiting for the story to start. What’s the jeopardy? Where’s the tension? It’s all a bit hypnotic, a nice place to visit but it could do with a drama tsunami.

The series is created and directed by Mike White (School of Rock, Enlightened) and well known as a favourite Survivor /Amazing Race contestant. Most of the characters are unlikeable, which is fine were they a bit more interesting. His directing does capture some poetic moments, but not at the expense of momentum -and there is one scene which will create TV controversy…. did we really go there?

Ultimately, I suspect we may look back on this one and blame COVID. It was filmed in Maui in late 2020, presumably when holiday makers were not travelling, and I wonder if it was given adequate development time.

I’m checking out early. Think I’ll wait for that Fantasy Island reboot.

The White Lotus airs 11am Monday July 12 on FOX Showcase & Binge.

10 Responses

  1. I started watching this last night and was left feeling disappointed. So I came looking for your review. I agree that it’s a great cast looking for a good story, and after episode 2 I’m still waiting for the story to gain traction. The “open discussion” about one characters health concern seemed to include gratuitously confronting visual elements (if you’ve seen it you know what I mean). Your review is right on the money for this viewer.

  2. Watched this last night and found it very slow. Enjoyed Murray Bartlett’s performance as it added some levity to what was a tough 50 minutes viewing. Won’t be watching the remaining episodes.

  3. I’m not sure you are watching the same programme as me (or indeed pretty much every TV critic – it has an 82 Metascore on metacritic.com, with 27 positive reviews and no negative reviews).

      1. Clearly you haven’t seen the majority of reviews.
        And while I agree that a reader can make up their own mind, I think it is important that you disclose when your opinion is an outlier.

        1. So are you saying because the majority of American reviews love it, every other critic has to fall in line and say it’s good too? Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. I watched all six hours and thought David was generous in giving it two stars, it’s absolute rubbish from start to finish. And no, it’s not important to disclose that your “opinion is an outlier” when you are writing a review on your own website!

    1. It also has great reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as well as Metacritc, so I watched it. But when Vulture etc. thinks The White Lotus is brilliant must see statire it’s fairly clear that reviewers are reviewing things other than what is on the screen and Criticism is obviously a dead art. The IMDB now hides which viewers are rating shows and what ratings they are giving. But it averages out for 7.1, which is still way too generous.

      There are now 500+ scripted shows coming out of the US alone, with good reviewing and criticism there is no way anyone can hope to find the gems amongst the rubbish. The only rational response is “into the bin” with all of them.

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