Review by Sean Boelman
Screenwriter Mike White has delivered some bonafide cult classics (School of Rock) and some commercial films that aren’t as good (The Emoji Movie), but even the latter films show potential. His newest work (which he also directs), the HBO miniseries The White Lotus, seems to be what his two-decade long career has been building to: a darkly funny and thoughtful satire with a great ensemble cast.
The series follows the employees and guests of a tropical resort over the span of a week as dream vacations begin to turn into nightmares. It’s a very sitcom-like set-up, but instead of the ridiculous antics that happen in that type of comedy, this series is firmly rooted in genuine emotion and thoughtful commentary on its issues.
One of the issues with the series is that it is just too short. One would think that a six-episode miniseries would be adequate, with one episode roughly following each day of the vacation. However, since there are so many moving parts in the series and so many backstories to develop, some more time could have been beneficial.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the series is how all of the characters feel fully developed. For there to be so many characters that are uptight and upper-class, White does a great job of humanizing them despite their ill-informed ways, and it makes the series really compelling as a result.
White’s primary intent here seems to be to satirize the mindset of the uber-wealthy, and he does an excellent job of that. Some of the best moments are small one-off jokes that simply poke fun at some of the misconceptions of the upper class, and they are generally hilarious. Some of the harder-hitting stuff doesn’t hit as hard as it should, but the satire is still mostly successful.
The series also features an absolutely phenomenal cast. Steve Zahn and Connie Britton are both at their best in years, giving performances that are very nuanced. Jake Lacy and Alexandra Daddario are at their best ever, absolutely hilarious in their roles. However, the biggest highlight is Murray Bartlett, who is exceptional as the resort manager with his hands in all of these stories.
On a technical level, the series is excellent thanks to its tropical setting. It’s gorgeous to look at, and the audience will feel transported into the world of this fictional resort. The overall visual style of the series captures the juxtaposition between the idyllic and the dark sense of humor quite well.
The White Lotus is an excellent work of satire that manages to pull off a lot of really ambitious things. Its ensemble is one of the best of the year so far, and Mike White’s writing is as sharp as it has ever been.
The White Lotus debuts on HBO on July 11 at 9pm ET/PT with subsequent episodes airing every Sunday. All six episodes reviewed.