Weekend Binge

Is ‘The White Lotus’ a queer, fevered dream? Or a nightmare?


The White Lotus

Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.

The Dreamscape: The White Lotus

Leave it to Mike White, the brilliant, hilarious mind behind Chuck & Buck to dream up a comedy set in paradise…which also might be Hell incarnate. The White Lotus follows the intersecting lives of a group of tourists at a Hawaiian luxury resort. In short order, they are: Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), the entitled son of a wealthy real estate agent and a journalist on their honeymoon; Tanya (national treasure Jennifer Coolidge) a woman mourning the death of her mother; Nicole and Mark (Connie Britton and Steve Zahn), CFO of a multinational company and her husband with swollen testicles; Mark and Nicole’s self-obsessed daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and her also self-obsessed best friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady); and Quinn (Fred Hechinger), Mark and Nicole’s teenage son with a chronic masturbation habit. The uptight, gay Armond (Murray Bartlett) oversees the resort, relying heavily on Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) the spa manager, and Dillon (Lukas Gage), a young handsome bellhop.

Got all that? Amid the idyllic vacation vistas, each one of the guests falls into a crisis. Tanya can’t stomach the idea of spreading her mother’s ashes. Rachel begins to question the loss of her career. Shane and Armond battle wits over a room description. Nicole can’t stop working. Mark worries that his swollen balls indicate cancer. Quinn loses his phone. Paula begins an affair with a handsome resort staffer, which Olivia plots to ruin. Armond battles substance abuse as well as his lust for Dillon, and Belinda plots to escape it all by accepting huge sums of money from Tanya.

Got all that?

Like all great satire, The White Lotus earns some very big laughs at the expense of its characters. These people have everything, but still manage to make themselves miserable. And, like all Mike White’s best work, the series also generates laughs through awkward human interaction while offering astute observations about American culture. For example: Mark learns his father died of AIDS and was secretly bisexual. He confesses this to Armond, who thinks Mark’s actually soliciting him for sex. It’s that kind of show.

The White Lotus indicts all its characters for their self-obsession on some level. Even the aspirational Belinda has her own share of cynical moves. By contrast, young Olivia comes off as downright sociopathic, torturing her brother, ignoring her parents and yearning to hurt her best friend in the name of her own ego. Mike White, who wrote and directed each episode, also displays enough artistic wisdom to realize he doesn’t know the causes of or solution to these personality defects, or the larger societal woes they indicate. Rather, he and his camera just observe them, taking in the absurdity of each situation for all its laughs, and all its horror. The performers all dive into their characters with total abandon, led by Daddario’s melancholic writer, Coolidge’s ditzy heiress and Bartlett’s horny boss. A sex scene between Bartlett and Gage became the talk of Twitter with very good reason.

Comedy doesn’t get more sophisticated or biting than The White Lotus, and streaming series seldom get any better. With HBO having just greenlit Season 2 and the finale about to air this weekend, we recommend taking a trip to this resort. It will not be one anyone soon forgets, no matter how hard they try.

Streams on HBO. Finale airs August 15.