Review: “The White Lotus” Season One

Familial Problems within the One-Percent


Owen Mayer, Staff Writer

What is the one thing that people look for when they go on vacation? 

Relaxation? Probably. 

Fun? Definitely. 

And, quite often, a miracle.

People want one week out of the year, that somehow rectifies the other 51. To pick up the pieces of a shattered bond; to provide closure; to find love in an unfamiliar place. 

Now take all of that, and combine it with a high-price destination and a cast of characters who undermine their own happiness like it’s their job, and you’re left with Mike White’s satirical-soap comedy “The White Lotus.”

“The White Lotus” takes place over the course of a week at a luxury Hawaiian resort, where wealthy guests expect nothing but the best, and employees who brace themselves for the worst. Despite the gorgeous locales and glistening ocean surrounding The White Lotus hotel, an anxious claustrophobia sets in. Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s unsettling score and White’s sweeping camera movements plunge in and out of the crashing waves. In those moments, it’s hard not to feel a wave of emotions waft over you.

The show focuses on multiple guests and staff members at The White Lotus, telling multiple focused storylines that all intersect in one way or another. There’s the Mossbacher family: Nicole (Connie Britton) the CFO of a major search engine company; her husband Mark (Steve Zahn), who seems to feel emasculated by her success (he has a health scare literally involving his testicles); their son, Quinn (Fred Hechinger), alienated and living inside his phone; and their oddly terrifying daughter, Olivia (Sydney Sweeney), whose friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady), is bound by the unwritten rule, that she must never have anything that Olivia does not.

By the pool are newlyweds Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), on a honeymoon that his wealthy family paid for. While she wonders if she rushed into a marriage where she feels like a second-class citizen, he becomes obsessed with the suspicion that resort-manager Armond (Murray Bartlett), has put them in a slightly less premium room than the one they paid for. 

Everyone in the cast pulls their weight, but “The White Lotus” kicks it into another gear when centering on its central character. Jennifer Coolidge’s grieving guest Tanya. From the moment Tanya steps off the V.I.P boat to the resort in a depressive haze, with a plan to scatter her dead mother’s ashes at the resort. She could have easily been played full tilt into the ditzy-rich-lady caricature, but instead Coolidge portrays her with a damaged authenticity, with a splash of self-awareness. You can relate with Tanya, however this doesn’t excuse the vampire-like emotional bond she creates with the spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell). 

The other star of the show is resort-manager Armond, who descends into a web of madness, as he clashes with Shane throughout the season. Just like Tanya, Armond teeters on the edge of complete nervous breakdowns, before diving headfirst into them with dramatic effect. 

The only place where “The White Lotus” falls flat is in the lack of attention to the staff. It gives us little glimpses into the lives of the native Hawaiian staff busing tables, and entertaining guests with dinnertime rituals. And it sometimes yearns to be topical, with its random culture-war like references thrown into the script to add a little spice. 

Overall, “The White Lotus” is a sharp, on-the-nose comedy that knows what it wants to do with its characters, and knows exactly how to get them there. The show is as vicious as it is sneakily-uplifting.