Creator-director Mike White’s social satire The White Lotus travels to Sicily for its second season. There are new guests, a new drama, a new location but the same starting point: murder, or murders, at the titular luxury resort. The second season will release weekly episodes on Disney+ Hotstar.
Season one, set in Hawaii, was strangely delectable, mysterious, hilarious and visually sumptuous while also being a social commentary on gender and class inequalities. The new season is set in Sicily. Rather than the upstairs-downstairs dynamics, the focus this time is on relationships.
The scrutiny of white privilege is still front and centre as guests check in to the resort with designer luggage and emotional baggage, a week before a dead body is discovered.
Three generations of an Italian-American family are on a boys’ trip to reconnect with their heritage. Widower Bert Di Grasso (F Murray Abraham), a flirty octogenarian, is accompanied by his philandering son Dominic (Michael Imperioli), whose shenanigans are threatening to splinter his family, and grandson Albie (Adam DiMarco), a well-meaning graduate trying to find his place in a woke world while dealing with his quarrelling parents.
Jennifer Coolidge is among the few returning cast members from season one. Coolidge’s super-rich and longing-for-love Tanya is now married to Greg (Jon Gries), whom she met in Hawaii. But is this her happily ever after? Greg doesn’t seem quite as besotted as he was when they first met, and Tanya is beginning to notice and unravel.
Accompanying Tanya is her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), who is dealing with her existential crisis. The potential for comedy that existed between Tanya and Portia is an area that remains under-explored. Their holiday looks like it’s headed to dullsville until Tanya and Portia meet a colourful group of gay men, including English expat Quentin (Tom Hollander) who is travelling in Italy with his nephew.
The most volatile guests are two thirty-something couples celebrating recent success and a financial windfall. Or do swaggering financier Cameron (Theo James) and his blonde trophy wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy) have a more selfish agenda behind inviting nerdy Ethan (Will Sharpe) and his guarded, judgmental wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza) to join them in Sicily? Cameron and Ethan were room-mates in college and couldn’t be more unlike each other. Their marriages too are wildly different.
Connecting to the world outside the sprawling beachside property are two escorts who hang around the resort waiting for the rich, lonely, and licentious. They do more to service the guests than the official liveried employees. The observations and interactions of Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Granno) with the staff, guests and life in general establishes the show’s broad themes – wealth and power, gender, sexual politics and patriarchal patterns.
Keeping a mindful eye on her colleagues at the front desk is Valentina. Though she is no match for Murray Bartlett’s Armond, Italian actor Sabrina Impacciatore is superb as the report manager whose own desires are masked by a hard, humourless exterior. Valentina is so blunt and unfiltered that she likens a plus-sized guest dressed in all pink to Peppa Pig and calls an 80-year-old guest “old”.
Italy’s heritage and culture are worked into the story, from mythology and urban legends to sexuality. The viewer’s curiosity and sympathy shift from character to character, even as you try to predict who may have died and why. This season’s effrontery lies in the power dynamics and mind games between the two upwardly mobile yet competing couples.
The rhythm and pace isn’t as jaunty, mischievous or stinging as the first season. Even the title music has lost its playful yet haunting quality. Yet, the new edition is intriguing and cleverly written, with notable performances by Fahy, Plaza, James, Impacciatore and Abraham.