We Need To Talk About… Why The White Lotus Is The Must-See TV Show Of Summer
Ms Alexandra Daddario and Mr Jake Lacy in The White Lotus (2021). Photograph by HBO
Shows about the private lives of the rich and successful have had a great time of it lately. The moment the dust settled on Big Little Lies, which laid bare the dramas of wealthy women on the California coast, Succession took us to the big smoke of New York and shone a light on media mogul Logan Roy and the bickering offspring who wanted to empty his pockets. No sooner had that finished than we were given The Undoing, about another rich Manhattan family torn apart. We love to peer through the windows of the one per cent and see what they get up to in the bedroom.
It would appear we have not yet had our fill of such shows. Next out of the gate, and scratching the itch before Succession returns for a third season, is The White Lotus, a comedy drama set on a luxury Hawaiian resort. Writer and director Mr Mike White uses the claustrophobia of the superficially idyllic location to burrow deep under the skin of the guests, as well as the staff expected to wait on them. It’s all deliciously filthy.
Sit back, have a piña colada and let us explain why this social satire may well become your new favourite show.
The White Lotus? Sounds exotic.
Yep. This is one of the most romantic hotels in Hawaii, a magnet for newlyweds and families with a lot of money. Think ocean views, massage rooms, whales surfacing in the distance – picture-postcard tranquillity.
Oh boy. I could do with a trip like that after the year I’ve had.
Amen. But things don’t stay serene for long, I’m afraid.
Oh no. Does it all go a bit Fawlty Towers?
A bit, yes. But it’s more sinister even than that. Did you like Big Little Lies?
Loved it. Big Ms Reese Witherspoon fan.
Well, this starts on similar ground. We know someone has died, but we don’t know who. The rest of the series will take us back in time and tease out the whos, whats, hows and whys.
Like a murder mystery?
Sort of, but that would be selling it short. Each 50-minute episode is fascinating enough without the death hook. What we see are the hotel guests’ insecurities and secrets being forced into the open in ways that are uncomfortable for everyone involved. In each room, there are layers of drama playing out every second of the day. It’s intensely well observed, but it’s also pretty damn funny.
What sort of people are we talking about here?
Armond (Mr Murray Bartlett) is the manager of the resort, a man so cheery things can only go downhill. Rachel (Ms Alexandra Daddario) is a bride on her honeymoon, increasingly of the opinion that her husband might be a horrible yuppie. Tanya (Ms Jennifer Coolidge) is an emotional woman struggling to let go of her mother’s ashes. Mark (Mr Steve Zahn) is a vulnerable father with verbal diarrhoea. All the characters feel like people you could meet, and perhaps have met, on any high-end holiday, except that they get involved in drugs, sex, burglary and, at one point, someone defecates into a suitcase.
Sounds like my kind of holiday. Have I missed the boat?
It starts next week in the UK and the final episode is about to air in the US.
OK, I’m on board. What are the reviews saying?
The Guardian gave it five stars and called it “2021’s best, and most uncomfortable, TV show”. The New Yorker called it “one of the best shows of the year”. The New York Times said it was “captivating” and Time called it “the must-see show of the summer”.
I get it. So, I’m not going to get holiday envy if I see all these attractive people having a holiday in Hawaii?
Absolutely – and I cannot stress this enough – not. This is, for a lot of people at the resort, the worst holiday of their lives. And, for one of them, it’s the last.
Sold. Now, please pass me another piña colada. I’m done with this one.
The White Lotus is on hbo.com now (US); starts on Sky Atlantic on 16 August (UK)