White Lotus: The couch-potato equivalent of a rainy staycation

TV: The hyped resort-set satire about privileged Americans is a strictly three-star affair

White Lotus: welcome to the prestige-TV second coming of Basil Fawlty.  Photograph: Sky/HBO

White Lotus: welcome to the prestige-TV second coming of Basil Fawlty. Photograph: Sky/HBO

 

White Lotus crosses the Atlantic preceded by a storm of hype. So much so that the first episode (Sky Atlantic, Monday) inevitably lands with a slightly muffled thud. The HBO satire of privileged Americans fetching up at an exclusive Hawaiian resort is sharply observed, and there are hints it may swerve into a gripping murder mystery.

But it certainly isn’t mind-blowing in its observation that wealthy people are spoiled and shallow. And given that it has been essentially hailed a genius mash-up of Mad Men, Lost and Succession, it’s impossible not feel delicately underwhelmed. White Lotus is spectacularly average, the couch-potato equivalent of a rainy staycation rather than the holiday of a lifetime.

As a comedy it is mostly about the cringes. We are introduced to its cast of One Percenter idiots – including an overbearing former hippy, Nicole (Connie Britton), and her resentful husband, Mark (Steve Zahn), with their son, daughter and her daughter’s eye-rolling pal in tow.

Then there is bratty twerp Shane (Jack Lacey) and his seemingly naive new wife, Rachel (Alexandra Daddario). They are joined by Legally Blonde’s Jennifer Coolidge, who plays dotty Tanya McQuoid (leading to a drawn-out gag about whether her hard-to-pronounce second name is “Gaelic”) .

The only indication that White Lotus is more than a join-the-dots satire of rich people – newsflash: they’re the worst – is in the first scene, which at least suggests the series has the potential to become something intriguing

The staff at the White Lotus resort are more sympathetically rendered than the guests – but only just. There is the manager, Armond (Murray Bartlett), dedicated to his job of tending to the punters’ every need even as he appears to secretly loathe them. Welcome, in other words, to the prestige-TV second coming of Basil Fawlty.

New recruit Lani (Jolene Purdy), meanwhile, has a secret: she is pregnant. Very heavy pregnant, in fact – and goes into labour before the final credits.

The only indication that White Lotus is more than a join-the-dots satire of rich people – newsflash: they’re the worst – is in the first scene. We meet the man-child Shane at the airport, returning from his honeymoon at the eponymous spa and resort. His wife is not with him, and a body is about to be loaded on to the plane. Someone has died – but who? We’ll have to wait to find out, as the rest of the episode flashes back to the arrival of the guests.

White Lotus has the potential to become something intriguing – the sooner that body turns up the better – but for now it’s strictly a three-star affair.

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