Review: Another paradise lost in 'The White Lotus'

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

The waves that crash on the beach in front of The White Lotus Hotel in Hawaii are beautiful.   

The waves of neuroses, entitlement, racial privilege and confusion that roll in with the hotel’s guests are embarrassing, hilarious, revealing and often plain sad. It’s a classic contrast of corrupt civilization and natural paradise.   

Written and directed by Mike White (“School of Rock,” “Enlightened”), “The White Lotus” is a casual beach read of a show laid over a pit of snakes; it amiably hums along, skewering our modern foibles, and then suddenly something bites you. A shock of misery, a jolt of resignation, a dive into despair. But the pain doesn’t overwhelm the pleasure, it just adds depth.   

Sydney Sweeney, left, and Brittany O'Grady star in "The White Lotus."

The show takes place over a week at the resort and follows a small boatload of exceptionally well-cast new arrivals. There’s power businesswoman Nicole (Connie Britton) and hubby Mark (Steve Zahn), their snarky college-age daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and her equally snarky friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady), and phone-addicted teen son Quinn (Fred Hechinger).   

Also arriving is Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), honeymooning with rich, good-looking jerk Shane (Jake Lacy). And the neurotic whirlwind Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge, just soaring) looking to toss her late mother’s ashes out to sea.   

Waiting to serve them are fastidious hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) and spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell). Over a week’s time these characters will, both wittingly and unwittingly, set one another afire and bare their wilted souls.   

All while wielding serious satirical bite. The hard irony of rich white people being served and entertained by island natives hangs over everything here, as does the fact that most of the people at the resort often seem oblivious to the natural beauty surrounding them.   

Is it still paradise if you don’t notice it’s paradise? “The White Lotus” sneaks essential questions in between the laughs. It is certainly among the year’s best TV offerings. 

'The White Lotus' 
  
GRADE: A- 
  
9 p.m. Sunday 
  
HBO