The first season of the hotel-themed parody The White Lotus didn’t ostensibly entice viewers to return. Not because it wasn’t interesting; the series, from Enlightened creator Mike White, was an alternately hilarious and disturbing satire of American elites on vacation that rightfully went viral after it premiered last summer. How frequently do you see a moustachioed man urinating in a suitcase in prestige dramas? Jennifer Coolidge was a sensation as the depressed Tanya; the show’s themes felt like a grenade thrown into the growing dialogue about the divides between the wealthy and the poor, and that’s a question that doesn’t come up very often.
A Grand Budapest for petty hedge fund managers, the Hawaiian resort at the centre of that tale quickly joined the pantheon of iconic hotels from movies and television. But that season’s narrative was neatly wrapped up, leaving few unanswered concerns about what the follow-up might include, such as which members of its stellar ensemble cast would return.
The White Lotus Season 2 is even more beautiful to look at and just as incisive in its societal critique. With an almost entirely new ensemble, White has sensibly shifted the programme away from the Hawaiian setting of Season 1. This time, we are in Sicily and staying at a different White Lotus resort with a view of Mount Etna, which is appropriate given that White’s scripts are continuously building up to the explosion.
As unaware as ever, Coolidge is married and has taken her personal assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), on vacation. However, when her husband objects to her presence, Coolidge orders Portia to remain in her room. Portia doesn’t follow this order, so she spends the first few episodes of the season sneaking around the resort, trying to avoid her boss while going in and out of the other guests.
These include three generations of American men, led by Michael Imperioli of the Sopranos, who are attempting to reconnect with their Italian background. Beatrice Grann and Simona Tabasco, two local sex workers who enter and exit the resort at night, are also involved in the conflict. As Harper, the partner of a workaholic with the world’s slimmest boss, Aubrey Plaza is intriguing. It’s a role that shows she’s more than just the snarky April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation and pushes her abilities into darker, more dramatic territory.
There are several sequences that resemble ones from Season 1: once again, the show opens with the revelation that a dead corpse has been found, and once more, the mystery surrounding it never seems to be White’s main preoccupation. However, there are enough distinctions between the writing and the setting for this second season to feel well deserved.
The disputes in the series are pushed into new territory by scenes in which Daphne (Meghann Fahy) and Cameron (Theo James) argue with Plaza’s Harper about anything from voting to Ted Lasso, and the scenery makes this episode feel even more cinematic than the last. Season 1 was shot during a lockdown, which made the visuals feel a little muted. This time, expect crowded beaches with yachts cruising the bay and crowds of people walking through crowded Sicilian streets.