The White Lotus Miniseries Premiere Review – “Arrivals” – IGN
The White Lotus premieres Sunday, July 11 at 9pm ET/CT on HBO.
Mike White, the writer/actor behind School of Rock and HBO’s smart-but-small Enlightened, is back with a new satirical look at privilege and dysfunction in The White Lotus. This series is a deeply unsettling but quietly hilarious look at wealthy guests attempting to unwind, as a posh Hawaiian resort (the titular White Lotus) and the staff whose job it is to pamper them and treat them like “special chosen baby” children.
In a wise bit of mentoring by White Lotus manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) to a first-day trainee played by Jolene Purdy, he explains that guests of the White Lotus are inclined to make a fuss about things to feel seen. Complaints are rarely about the money and more about feeling important and acknowledged. Immediately, this likens the main characters we follow — played by the likes of Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Jennifer Coolidge, and Jake Lacy — to infants, and in turn allows the viewer to watch them through an entirely different, and funnier, lens. This character-building approach helps because these are all sublimely frustrating and unnerving characters to behold.
The more we watch how Armond caters to them, while also manipulating them and playing off their insecurities and peculiarities, the more The White Lotus can blossom into something more than just a parade of mostly awful people. Kind of like how HBO’s Succession can transcend beyond the fact that it’s showcasing fundamentally rotten people and transcend into a new form of engrossing hilarity. Also, Armond still has to frantically put out fires in a fun Basil Fawlty manner, so there’s farce thrown in to liven up some of the dryer, more cynical humor involving fundamentally miserable folks with untreated and unaddressed emotional issues.
In “Arrival,” the premiere episode of this six-episode limited series, we meet the central players while also finding ourselves within “TV-trope of the past few decades,” the in media res opening, in which the story kicks off one week after the events of the series, revealing that someone has died during their stay at the White Lotus. Someone perhaps connected to Jake Lacy’s “his family’s rich” Shane, with the top suspect being Shane’s new bride Rachel, played by Alexandra Daddario. As we meet them both minutes later, diving into the main story, we learn that the two don’t know each other very well despite having just gotten married. Though she ostensibly married him for his money, she’s kind, while he is a profoundly bitter and disquieted soul who exemplifies the aforementioned need to feel important.
It feels clunky to embed this tale with, almost, a murder mystery narrative, but it’s also as if Mike White realized that to get viewers to sit with a selection of needy and empty rich people the story required one of them to die. And for us to know this from the start. Most every trial, or issue, that befalls these guests is, at the root of it about something else. Whether it’s Shane complaining about his room or Steve Zahn’s Mark frantically waiting to hear important medical test results from the mainland — or even Steve’s wife, Nicole (Connie Britton), not seeming too concerned about said test — the actual problem facing these folks is exacerbated by some other underlying unhappiness in their life.
Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya, for example, who freely admits to becoming toxically attached to people, starts to become unhealthily fixated on spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) after receiving a completely impromptu and half-hearted scalp massage from her. What was just part of a job for Belinda, in which she had to improvise as someone in the hospitality field, is seen as a direct and special connection by Tanya, who has no social or spatial awareness whatsoever. A resort like The White Lotus is designed to make people feel like they’re the center of the universe, which is ultimately the only sensation ultra-wealthy people can chase. When you can buy anything, all that’s left is reshaping your own reality to the best of your ability. It makes for some truly awkward, but also rewarding, comedy.