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HBO’s Hit Anthology Isn’t Worth The Trip This Time

Jan 12, 2023

Last summer “The White Lotus,” Mike White’s limited series skewering the lives of the elite while on vacation at the titular resort in Hawaii became a cultural phenomenon, snagging ten Emmy awards. Now an anthology, Season 2 finds a (mostly) new group of uber-wealthy vacationers, this time at a White Lotus in Sicily. Despite the first season’s impressive awards run, this new season finds little innovation in the formula, nor does it seem to have any new insights into this particular milieu. 
Fan-favorite Tanya (Emmy-winner Jennifer Coolidge) returns, meeting up with her new husband Greg (Jon Gries), and bringing with her a harried millennial assistant named Portia (Haley Lu Richardson, “After Yang”). While Greg and Tanya seemed primed for a fairy tale romance at the end of Season 1, from this season’s first episode, it’s clear that there is trouble in paradise. Considering the cruel way in which Tanya left healer and prospective business partner Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) at the end of the previous season, this could be seen as comeuppance, which is great. Not so great is the way the character is written. Part of the joy of watching Coolidge in the first season was the way she transcended her own star persona, subverting expectations and adding emotional depth to the dumb blonde roles she often portrays. In this season, the writing regresses Tanya to nothing but those very same clichés, treating her as if she were a joke. 
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This decline in the sharpness of the writing is apparent in most of the characters. While the Hawaiian resort’s manager Armond was given such a complex character, always teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, that Murray Bartlett walked away with the Emmy was a no-brainer. Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore, “The Passion of the Christ”), the manager of the Sicilian resort, is not given nearly as much screen time, and the interpersonal relationships with her staff, and even the guests, are often rushed, revealing very little about any of them. 
“The Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli stars as another of the guests, Dominic Di Grasso, who has brought his son Albie (Adam DiMarco) and father F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”) to the island in search of their Sicilian roots. Although they often speak of going to visit the village of their ancestors, they never seem to leave the resort. Preferring instead to spend most of their time with two local call girls — without each other’s knowledge. There isn’t anything particularly new to say about a philandering husband or a horny old man that hasn’t been seen a thousand times already. Perhaps White thinks that by having Albie, a recent Stanford graduate, constantly point out the misogyny of his father and grandfather he’s doing something radical, but it’s not. It’s just a smug pat on his own back. 
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The call girls, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò), who lurk around the hotel in search of rich men they can shakedown, mostly function as stereotypes or as a way to add kinks to the plots of the men. However, occasionally there are glimpses of their hopes and desires. Lucia wants to own a clothing store. Mia wants to be a singer. They see the guests of The White Lotus as a means to achieve these dreams. The two actresses are earnest and have palpable friend chemistry. If only they had more time to just be, rather than be used as plot mechanisms there could be something truly interesting on this show. 
The third group of vacationers includes financier dudebro Cameron (Theo James, ”The Time Traveler’s Wife”) and his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy, “The Bold Type”), as well as his roommate from college Ethan (Will Sharpe, “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain”) and his wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza, “Emily The Criminal”). Ethan has just sold his company for fortune, so Harper is convinced Cameron invited them on the holiday to pitch a sketchy investment. Cameron and Daphne have two kids and are still very physical; Ethan and Harper do not have kids, yet seem to have intimacy issues. As the couples spend more time with each other they all begin questioning their relationships with each other. 
Plaza is fine, playing the same kind of moody, caustic intellectual she’s built her career on, but she’s also not given much characterization to work with. What is Ethan’s company? What does Harper do? We learn more about what Cameron is like at work and how Daphne feels about being a mother than we ever do about Ethan and Harper, aside from them being the “white-passing diverse friends”. James is absolutely terrible. Yes, he is beefy and you buy him as a shallow, ethically murky rich guy. But what made Jake Lacy’s performance so good in the first season highlights exactly what doesn’t work for James. No matter how self-centered his character became, Lacy gives back to his scene partner. He elevates everyone in the scene with him. Here James sucks away all the oxygen, giving nothing back for the others to stretch. 
There are some tenuous overlaps between these groups, though not as seamless as those in the first season. Other than Lucia and Mia, who find themselves intertwined with just about every character, the other biggest overlap is between Portia and Albie. They spark a romance that is extinguished before it has a chance to flame because, as Portia puts it, he leans too far into always seeking consent. She, of course, falls for the bad boy nephew of a gay British ex-pat (Tom Hollander) who takes a liking to Tanya. Again, White seems to play right into misogynistic tropes, this time through Portia’s internalized misogyny. There’s also a very cringe-inducing line where Portia questions why she doesn’t just go for Albie, listing among his good qualities that he’s not “non-binary”. Was that thrown in just to show that everyone, even a working-class assistant, is a terrible person? I truly don’t know. 
By the end of five episodes screened for critics (the complete season will be seven episodes long), certain relationships have soured, and a few mysteries arise. Though, unlike the opening stinger suggests, no one has yet to die. But unlike the first season, I don’t really care who ends up biting the big one. No one is interesting enough to want to keep watching for another two hours. Nothing remotely insightful has been said about the rich other than they’re terrible to the planet and to each other. At this point, it seems the show is mostly just interested in reveling in the spoils of the rich (there’s a particularly gorgeous villa featured in one episode) and that’s it. I for one would rather stay home than be stuck with a bunch of miserable rich assholes on my Italian vacation.  [C-]
“The White Lotus” Season 2 debuts on HBO on October 30.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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