The White Lotus
All these streaming services – and sometimes you wonder, still, what to watch. Or the big drama is actually finding the time, right? These are weird, lazy privileges. Strange worries. But TV has always been about escape – and sometimes the temporary escape we need is a crucial component to a happy life. What better way to feel happy temporarily escaping than by basking in the misery and awkwardness of others, right?
Enter The White Lotus.
Currently the greatest show on all of television, across any of the formats and platforms.
The White Lotus is an American TV comedy-drama, a satire, a dark night of the soul that just happens to have a bottomless mojito and very comforting neck massage attached to it. It’s an HBO show that is screening through Neon in New Zealand. It’s an episodic limited-edition series. Meaning there are six one-hour parts in total but you must wait to catch a new one each week.
We are currently midway through its run. Tonight (NZ time) there’ll be the fourth of six shows available.
Set in Hawaii – and filmed on location in Maui – The White Lotus is a (fictitious) luxury resort and rich white Americans are there. The strange tension and awkward dialogue palpable from the opening scenes. And from there it is ratcheted up. Almost continuously.
Created, directed, and written by Mike White (School of Rock, Nacho Libre, The Good Girl, Orange County) it is treacly black comedy with savage scenarios for loathsome characters. But most of these characters don’t know they’re awful – even though we can see that as soon as they come into frame.
It’s also an incredible ensemble. Filled with hard workers who have never been better – Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Steve Zahn, Murray Bartlett – and newer blood too. Some of the younger players here are absolutely amazing. Sydney Sweeney as a bright but bored college kid, into ugly judging and not even proud of her own sardonic swipes, just brutally aware of them of course. Alexandra Daddario as a honey-eyed honeymooner only just coming to terms with the trade-off for marrying into money, she has partnered with a vile jerk, basically the sports-jock, college-frat version of Patrick Bateman. He’s played brilliantly by Jake Lacy – who arrived to try injecting some energy into the final season of The Office. And he has some other decent credits.
Utterly awful characters. Intriguing though. Captivating.
And another key component is the music – which feels like the perfect collaboration between Danny Elfman and John Lurie but is the work of Chillean composer, Cristobal Tapia de Veer. (I’m playing that through the week to cope with the long delays between episodes, it’s like an ad-run plugging the show into my brain).
The White Lotus is many things – including being a reminder that travel is over. That travel is a morally reprehensible luxury. That tourism is a ruse.
It’s also nice to be hanging on – week by week – like the old days with only the soundtrack album to soothe.
You work the week, and that’s its own reward. You get to the weekend. You binge watch what you can and fit in anything else that’s supposed to help with distraction and coping. And then the week starts and at the end of day one, a little treat. For the next few weeks anyway. A new episode of The White Lotus. Just the one. A bite. Which is more than enough to satiate. We have a collection of egos and privilege in this resort. We have addictions and trauma and entitlement and compensation. And week by week, episode by episode – or day by day in the show’s plot – the emotional architecture is crumbling. Oh, we’re also told in the opening moments of episode one that there’s at least one dead body. So, there’s that. My guess is from this week the body count might actually kick off, and of course from there the show will really get going…
If I had to pick one aspect though – it’s beautifully shot, perfectly cast and set, it hums along nicely etc – it is the dialogue. Mike White is an absolute master. Study this for the dialogue. Watch and cringe and laugh and love. It’s like Neil LaBute in overdrive.
It is my great pleasure to watch something this good.