‘The White Lotus’ on HBO: Season 2 is slowed down, sexed up

Mike White’s ‘Ruff of the Rich’ comedy The White Lotus returns to HBO Sunday with a second season set in Sicily. The first won several Emmys, for limited or anthology series, for White as writer and director, and for actors Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett. The fabric that connects this year and this is the eponymous White Lotus, a global luxury hotel chain, and the presence of Coolidge, back as Tanya.

Like the first season, the second begins with an unidentified corpse before jumping back a week. Here, in a scene that plays like a fin tip to Jaws, a guest of the hotel is found drowned right on the beach. (It is implied that there might have been “a few” more.) This lends a sense of mystery to the story – not necessarily a whodunnit as we don’t know if it’s murder or, for that matter, the corpse or Bodies belong to everyone in the main cast. With only five episodes out of seven offered for review, I have no idea – but probably murder, and probably someone we know.

It’s easy enough to forget about that future death once you’re in the flesh of the tangentially connected stories, especially since nothing in those first five episodes prepares you for a death. None of the main characters seem to be a danger to others or themselves, no matter how badly they get along, or whatever darkness they may harbor, or how much the viewer might want to get rid of one or the other themselves.

As before, the guests arrive by boat – a bit like a classic mystery trope – which allows us to meet almost everyone at once. Michael Imperioli is Dominic, a Hollywood so-or-so who visits the village where his grandparents were born with his father, Bert (F. Murray Abraham) and son, Albie (Adam DiMarco). Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe are Harper and Ethan, a married couple traveling at the invitation of their old college roommate, Cameron (Theo James) and Cameron’s wife, Daphne (Meghann Fahy). And there’s Coolidge’s Tanya, now with an assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) in tow; Husband Greg (Jon Gries), whom she met in season 1, arrived before her. Greg, claiming Portia’s presence would disrupt a romantic vacation, demands that Tanya send her away; Tanya insists she stays close: “Because I might need you. But keep a low profile and don’t leave your room.”

Awaiting them at the dock is the martinet of a hotel manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), and her staff, who pose with practiced friendliness. (“Greet them together with the same right hand,” she commands as they wave in unison). Watching from afar are Lucia (Simona Tabasco), a sex worker who has a date with one of the guests – she doesn’t know him by sight, but you’ll easily guess – and her friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò), who wants to be a singer. Later in the series we meet Tom Hollander as Quentin (named after Crisp, I’d bet), an Englishman who owns a yacht and lives in an inherited villa in Palermo with his nephew Jack (Leo Woodall). .

The new season feels busier yet less crazy than its predecessor; The plot does not stick hermetically to the hotel, the larger screen increases the tourist appeal of the series. Where the Hawaiian story got us humans to relax and make a hell out of paradise, the characters have come here for fun and adventure, not to find themselves but possibly to find others. (Except for Harper, who doesn’t find any of it appealing.) The new setting adds a certain intensity and speed to the action. There are jet skis. To feel like Monica Vitti, Tanya orders a Vespa.

Two young couples toast on a boat.

Aubrey Plaza, from left, Will Sharpe, Theo James and Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus.

(Fabio Lovino / HBO)

As in the Italian comedies of the Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren era, sex is on the menu, but so is sex in relation to love or not. Some characters have it; everyone talks about it. (You could call this a dark romp.) Bert will flirt with any attractive young woman who is close enough to hear him, much to the dismay of Albie, who can’t even imagine people having sex after 50. Albie, who grew up in a sensitive time, doesn’t want to become like his illegitimate father, whose marriage is about to end, or his grandfather; yet being respectful never worked for him. He develops a crush on Portia, who was hoping to “get thrown around by a hot Italian guy.” Cameron recalls her college days and calls Ethan “the original Incel”.

Harper and Ethan, unable to sync their sex drives, read in bed while Cameron tickles Daphne next door (no euphemism). But is the outwardly happy couple troubled on the inside? Is the apparently less happy couple basically satisfied? (“They seem happy,” Ethan says, to which Harper replies, “No way. It’s a front.”) Temperamental opposites, the two couples are suspicious of each other (Harper, the most suspicious of them all), as if in one satirical millennial.” Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

People who have nothing else to talk about often talk about television. (It’s the new weather.) “I love it,” Daphne says of the true-crime show Dateline, which might announce impending death or just serve up a diversion over Prosecco. “Husbands murder their wives. A lot happens on vacation. Scuba diving. He’ll just deprive her of oxygen while she’s underwater. Happens more often than you think.”

For all the trimmings, the first five episodes don’t exactly build up any narrative steam. It’s hard to say where these stories are going or if they’re going anywhere. This isn’t exactly a criticism; It’s easy enough to hang out with the cast and set here, and the series isn’t without a subtle sort of movement. Characters that seem as easy to classify as Col. Mustard and Miss Scarlet become more rounded as layers are peeled off and small risks are taken. For at least some of them, change seems possible; they turn into people. As seemingly shallow Daphne, uptight Harper and single-minded Lucia, Fahy, Plaza and Tabasco benefit greatly from this strategy; They are must-see performances among a plethora of must-see performances. (The women are far more compelling than the men.) Still, one would expect the final two episodes to bring the revelations and acceleration necessary to bring the series to the end it is just beginning. And entire films take place in the remaining time.

Then there’s Coolidge in another big, complicated performance. Tanya is a needy, middle-aged child who remains oddly lovable because, while oblivious to the feelings of others—she tends to be polite even when demanding—she’s something of a victim herself, unable to overlook her own pain. which she masks from herself with illusions of contentment. Her contradictions – and what Coolidge does with them – make her funny, albeit in a frightening way. It’s not hard to see why the presumably happy ending she found with Greg at the end of Season 1 (then terminally ill, not over now) seems to have gone sour.

In reviewing the first season, set in Hawaii, my colleague Lorraine Ali pointed out that while White was probably interested in issues of colonialism and capitalism, little real attention was paid to the local staff. Except for Valentina and Lucia and Portia, exploiters or each exploited in their own way, the workers here are mostly available, as anonymous and invisible as I would expect the staff in a place like this to be. Money is definitely an issue; there are characters for whom it is not an object and characters who, relatively speaking, have no object. (“It’s a good feeling when you realize someone has money,” says Tanya, “because then you don’t have to worry about them wanting yours.”) Referring to the glittery Cameron and Daphne, who are the global Faced with emergencies keeping Harper from sleeping, she asks Ethan, “Is that what happens when you’ve been rich too long, your brain atrophies?” (Ethan’s fortune from selling a business is new and not yet toxic.)

But in other ways wealth is secondary. These people are just as rich as Fred and Ginger in Soundstage Venice or Bertie Wooster in PG Wodehouse or the suspicious guests in an Agatha Christie cottage novel; It’s the price of being characters in this series. Money can’t buy happiness and so what? A thriving neighborhood of television is dedicated to what it can buy – what the rich eat and wear, where they live and party and relax. As negative as I react to anything associated with the word “luxury” – “exclusive” only makes it worse – I can’t deny that the sets of “The White Lotus” are pretty to behold. Still, I was more than a little happy when Valentina stopped for an espresso at a run-of-the-mill local coffee shop. This is my vacation dream.

“The White Lotus”

Where: HBO

When: Sunday, 9 p.m

Stream: HBO Max, anytime starting Sunday

Valuation: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17)

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-28/the-white-lotus-hbo-season-2-review ‘The White Lotus’ on HBO: Season 2 is slowed down, sexed up

Sarah Ridley

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