The White Lotus is back, baby. Just like last time, a group of guests have arrived at the resort with a lot of baggage—affairs, sex addiction, unhappy marriages and, of course, a mystery dead body. This time, the show is set in Sicily, with no-nonsense hotel manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) and her subordinate Rocco (Federico Ferrante) trying (and failing) to avoid disaster at every turn.
Who is the real star of The White Lotus? With the exception of Jennifer Coolidge, who has returned as neurotic millionaire Tanya McQuoid, the cast of the show changes each season. So far, we’ve seen cameos from Theo James’s (probably prosthetic) penis, Laura Dern’s voice screaming down the phone and Will Sharpe’s so-ripped-they-look-photoshopped abs. But the most important of them all is The White Lotus hotel itself. No matter the location, it’s a place where wealth, beauty, and misery go hand-in-hand, where there is the lingering feeling that all is not what it seems and that something terrible is waiting right around the corner—maybe even in the next room.
Hotels are having a moment on the small screen. In July, The Resort—a dark comedy mystery series exploring an unsolved crime with the backdrop of a fancy resort in the Mayan Riviera—dropped on Peacock. In 2021, Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers—starring yoga retreat leader-turned-drug-pusher Nicole Kidman and a very questionable Russian accent—received mixed reviews. Previously, Lady Gaga made her TV debut in American Horror Story: Hotel, where she played “The Countess” (no, not Countess Luann de Lesseps), featuring another barely placeable accent. And who could forget about Schitt’s Creek? The sitcom followed a formerly rich family living in a rundown hotel in a forgotten town, capturing hearts and minds in the process.
American Horror Story: Hotel
The White Lotus brings the obvious narrative benefits of the hotel to the fore. It might look pretty, but the hotel is a “pressure cooker” environment where different characters are thrown together, with all their personal issues colliding and intertwining. They might be attempting to leave their drama at home, but that’s why they call it “emotional baggage.”
Hotels are often the setting for dramatic moments and epiphanies. In the finale episode of Sex and the City, Carrie is in an opulent hotel room when she realizes that Aleksandr Petrovsky is not the man for her. “I’m someone who is looking for love. Real love! Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love,” she tells him. “And I don’t think that love is here in this expensive suite in this lovely hotel in Paris.”
On Friends, Monica and Chandler first had sex in a London hotel room while attending Ross’s doomed wedding to Emily. And Rachel and Joey’s brief foray into romance—one of the most hated plotlines in TV history—also began in a Barbados hotel room. Clearly, taking characters out of their surroundings, to a place with a free bar, room service and time to contemplate their life choices, allows screenwriters to be bolder.
The White Lotus is the latest in a long line of TV shows which have attempted to skewer the wealthy. From Succession to Billions, The Undoing and the HBO Gossip Girl reboot—which follows upper East Side rich kids who are versed in the language of “checking their privilege”—U.S. television is more critical of wealth than ever. (While still celebrating it—this is America, after all).
Jennifer Coolidge Didn’t Think She’d Live to Hear Your Raves About ‘The White Lotus’
The White Lotus’ hotel is central to the show’s exploration of wealth and power. The characters all seem different, but are bonded by the fact they can afford to fork out for a luxury vacation. In the confines of the fancy resort, we see specific class dynamics playing out between the staff and the guests: the brutality of how rich people use money to shield themselves from consequences and, often, the obligation to act with basic decency. In Season 1, Belinda’s heartbreaking storyline—which ended with her dream of owning her own spa being crushed—had viewers screaming “eat the rich!” en masse. And this year, Coolidge’s character is inflicting similar misery on her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson).
The idea of “trouble in paradise” is part of what makes The White Lotus’ hotel such an appealing location—as far as entertainment value goes. The first two seasons both start off with the reveal of a dead body, a mystery which lingers throughout the episodes as we try to work out whose trip will be their last.
The idea that luxury may not be as enviable as it seems has dominated reality TV lately too. There’s the increasingly bizarre dating shows set on desert islands, Bravo’s super-yacht reality franchise Below Deck, and the infamous cast trips on Real Housewives, where the women jet off to drink martinis and ruin one another’s lives. We also see this idea in films set in hotels, from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining to Wes Anderson’s whodunnit The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s to the point where if you introduce a hotel setting to audiences, they immediately expect something bad to happen.
But The White Lotus thrives on a sense of escapism too. Staying in a five-star hotel is an experience many people will never have, and it doesn’t feel coincidental that the first season became hugely popular in a pandemic when most people (except the Kardashians, of course) couldn’t travel. Similarly to TV shows like Selling Sunset or Succession, The White Lotus gives us a satisfying juxtaposition of beautiful, decadent surroundings and unhappy, flawed people. Because if we’re going to watch these rich people with perfect bodies prancing around a beautiful cliffside resort in Sicily, experiencing the trip of our dreams, we want to immerse ourselves in the illusion that we would be having a much better time if we were them.
The White Lotus hotel throws up familiar dilemmas from one year to the next. Last season, we saw spoilt MAGA-adjacent honeymooner Shane (Jake Lacy) develop an obsession with his room. He became locked in battle with hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) after repeatedly demanding to be moved to one with even more ornate, garish decor. This year, Dominic (Michael Imperioli) found himself in a similarly tense moment with Valentina, after requesting for two local sex workers to be given access to his room.
‘The White Lotus’ Star Haley Lu Richardson Got to Live Her Italian Dream
As a space, The White Lotus hotel has its own language, like a shorthand that is easy for its viewers to understand. The front desk is where the duels between staff and guests go down, while, outside, the communal breakfast has become a recognizable part of both seasons. Over eggs and fruit, in front of a stunning backdrop, the guests gossip about (and judge) one another. The pool and sun loungers provide a place for guests to mix and mingle—often with truly excruciating results, like when struggling journalist Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) tried to have a poolside heart-to-heart with Nicole (Connie Britton), a GirlBoss tech CFO she had once accidentally maligned in an article.
The boat ride to the hotel has become another custom of the show. In the opening moments of Season 2, Coolidge’s Tanya disembarks from the boat in Sicily wearing huge sunglasses that look like they cost more than the average monthly rent. She is the de facto star of the show’s rotating cast, but The White Lotus hotel brings a vibe that feels constant, drawing on influences from pop culture that feel both classic and current. Like so many of television’s most iconic leads, The White Lotus’ hotel is beautiful, mysterious and a little bit scandalous—and that’s why it’s the best character on TV right now.
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