- Creator: Mike White
- Starring: Jennifer Coolidge, Aubrey Plaza, Michael Imperioli, F. Murray Abraham, Haley Lu Richardson, Meghann Fahy, Theo James, Will Sharpe, Beatrice Grannò, Tom Hollander, Simona Tabasco
Warning: Reviews of The White Lotus season 2 will contain spoilers.
Second acts in entertainment are hard to follow. Especially when your first act is a critical and popular success and, curiously, especially when you’re a limited series on HBO. Big Little Lies and True Detective were both massive hits when they debuted and were given second seasons, both to lesser effect. I have no idea how long creator/writer/director Mike White has had a second season gestating (it likely was ready to go, given the expedited premiere date), but the first “installment” of The White Lotus quickly garnered plenty of buzz, which it rode all the way to 10 Emmy wins earlier this year, including one for returning star Jennifer Coolidge.
So the biggest question mark for this season will be how much White deviates from what obviously worked so well the first time around. And based on the events of Ciao, it seems we’ll be in for more of the same, which would be a bigger disappointment if the first helping wasn’t so good to begin with. The season actually opens and closes with virtually identical scenes from the first season’s premiere, Arrivals. It begins with Daphne (Meghann Fahy) enjoying one last dip in the sea before the end of her vacation and finding a dead body in the water (it’s later revealed that there are multiple bodies, though they crucially don’t state the exact number). Flash back to one week earlier when all of this season’s characters arrive at the titular resort – this time in Sicily – via boat and are greeted by this seasons’ resort manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), a much more uptight and less fleshed-out character than her counterpart in season one.
The joy in season one was less in its drama and more in its characters, and this season looks to be equally enjoyable with the potential for all of the parties to cross paths. First up, there’s Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe); she’s an employment lawyer who’s incredibly particular, and he finds himself suddenly wealthy after selling an unspecified tech company. A character like Harper could easily come off as abrasive, but Plaza, who’s been on a real hot streak in the last few years, automatically gives her a warm underbelly. Ethan is more of a mystery, but his friendship with Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne is sure to bear fruit. Cameron and Daphne are essentially polar opposites of Harper and Ethan, and Mike White’s impeccable dialogue, already on display in Ciao, has me excited to see them butt heads in the coming weeks.
Rounding things out is the trio of Bert (F. Murray Abraham), Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and Albie (Adam DiMarco), who are traveling to Sicily to visit the ancestral home of Bert’s grandmother. Of these three I’m most intrigued by Dom, whose phone call with his obviously bitter wife is a curious set-up for how he’ll be affected going forward. Though Albie gets some cute moments with Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), Tanya’s assistant who gets shoved off to the side quickly upon her arrival.
And then there’s Coolidge’s Tanya, who continues to have the time of her life in the role. It’s not clear how much time has passed since the end of the first season, but her wilting marriage to Greg (Jon Gries) is one indicator that it’s been a little too long in his mind. I have no doubt that more Emmy clips are coming down the pike, but Coolidge’s mouthing of “go home” to Portia was easily a highlight. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tanya and Bert come together sooner or later, as his characterization in most of Ciao can simply be boiled down to “horny.”
The White Lotus has never been a high-stakes show, and it’s encouraging to see White stick to what worked so well, while still trying a few new tricks. The white privilege satire is less in-your-face so far, but I have no doubt White will continue to explore that theme on this side of the world. These characters that we’ll come to know intimately (in more than one sense of the word, no doubt) are already so well defined, and it’ll be a treat to see them be twisted further and further from their comfortable, privileged bubbles.