“Whenever I stay at a White Lotus,” says Jennifer Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid early in the season two premiere, “I always have a memorable time.” Given everything that happened in the show’s sublime first season – murder, a hotel manager shitting in a guest’s suitcase, practically every character competing to win an Olympic gold for passive aggression – it’s not so much a teaser, as a threat. Writer-director Mike White’s offbeat but caustic satire of rich white people being messy and miserable on holiday was supposed to be a one-off limited series, but it became such a huge hit that it’s back for a return visit. And on the evidence of season two’s opening episode, it’s still one hell of a trip.
Tanya and her new husband Greg (Jon Gries) are the only characters back from season one, which is kind of a shame but probably a sensible decision creatively. Season two also has a new setting: a White Lotus resort in Sicily that’s just as preposterously opulent as the Hawaiian hotel from season one. Once again, the season begins with a guest finding a dead body – whose, we presumably won’t find out until the final episode – before White spools back to “one week earlier” when the latest batch of guests are arriving in (ahem) paradise.
Stanford grad Albie (Adam DiMarco), his movie producer dad Dominic (Michael Imperioli) and randy, flatulent grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham) are here to reconnect with their Sicilian roots. Hot rich couple Cameron and Daphne (Theo James and Meghann Fahy) are taking a break with Cameron’s college roomie Ethan (Will Sharpe) and his lawyer wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza). Politically aware and perhaps slightly uptight, Harper finds Cameron and Daphne basic because they like Ted Lasso (harsh!) and contemptibly entitled because they don’t vote, but she’s trying her best not to show it. So far. Oh, and Tanya has now acquired a hapless assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), who’s instructed to stay in her room all week so grumpy Greg doesn’t spot her.
White introduces this gruesome crew skilfully while also setting up an entertaining rivalry between Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), the resort’s oddly tactless manager, and enterprising local woman Mia (Beatrice Grannò), who’s been hired as an escort by one of the guests and has no intention of hiding it to maintain decorum. This isn’t a show you should second-guess too much, but White drops hints that future episodes could explore issues of sexual content and sexual experimentation as well as white (and white-passing) privilege. One thing that’s not in doubt: The White Lotus is still laugh-out-loud funny. When Albie expresses disgust that any young woman would want to look at “an old man’s junk”, his horny grandpa retorts: “It’s not like it was ever beautiful anyway. It’s a penis, not a sunset.”
There’s also a gasp-inducing sex scene and an almost tossed-off revelation that one character isn’t just wealthy, but grotesquely so. Over the subsequent six episodes, it’s going to be so much fun finding out which of these guests are really awful, which are only moderately awful, and which are awful but sort of worth rooting for. You’ll definitely be praying Tanya ditches her rubbish husband after he basically fat-shames her for eating too many macaroons. And what show but The White Lotus could make you feel that way?
‘The White Lotus’ season two premieres in the UK on Sky Atlantic and NOW on October 31