Those who were charmed and a little shocked by the intrigues of the first series of HBO’s The White Lotus, might come to series two with the wrong expectations. This series, set in a sumptuous Sicilian hotel in the eponymous chain, has little charm, but plenty of shocks.
It looks beautiful, some of the clothes are beautiful – although we’d like to know what Hayley Lu Richardson did to upset the the wardrobe, hair and makeup departments so much. Sadly, Murray Bartlett’s marvellous manager character did not survive series one, but the manager of this White Lotus, lovelorn, man-hating Valentina (the lovely Sabrina Impacciatore) provides what little humour and compassion there is in this sequel to date.
Most of the performances are fine. Jennifer Coolidge reappears as Tanya, left behind with her assistant when her gold-digging, philandering husband flees the hotel and their marriage. She is even larger, clumsier, more sleepy-eyed and vulnerable than in the first series. At the end of episode six we are worried about her future. We think that her friendship with the sophisticated Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his louche entourage might not be a good idea. Her miserable, lazy and rude assistant, Portia (the aforementioned Hayley Lu Richardson) might be able to help her, but she’s busy with a hideous English lout Jack (Leo Woodall – again, a sterling appearance in a thankless role).
Harper (Aubrey Plaza, a slightly less sneering plank than the one she perfected in Parks and Recreation) rivals Portia for Miserable Character of the series. Harper and her moping husband Ethan (Will Sharpe) play out the irritating plot device of a misunderstanding which could be cleared up in a minute if the protagonists spoke to each other like real people do. But no, each must keep a pointless secret and glare at the other behind his or her back. Ethan and Harper are on holiday with Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy), both of whom Harper hates, even more than she despises her husband. Ethan has just sold his company for a lot of money and Cameron wants to give him financial advice.
Cameron cheats on Daphne, who pretends to cheat on him. As almost everyone in this series watches porn and cheats on their partner with whomever is around there are many curiously unerotic sex scenes, although the nude Freddie Mercury lookalike is interesting. There’s also much orange fake tan on display. Grubby-looking prostitutes Lucia (Simona Tabasco in a fright wig), and Mia (Beatrice Granno) swagger about the hotel in the ugliest skimpy clothes seen this side of Rihanna’s wardrobe. Their presence seems entirely gratuitous, other than to provide yet more tedious sex scenes and to enable Mia to tinkle the ivories and whisper ballads at the hotel’s bar. Granno must be related to the producers. Bert (F Murray Abraham) and Dominic (Michael Imperioli) are a sleazy father and son, who have come to Sicily together with Dominic’s son Albie (Adam DiMarco) (who has even less gorm than Tanya) to find distant relatives. Along the way of course the three get tangled-up with Lucia and Mia, and it couldn’t be uglier.
On the good side of the ledger – the opening credits and main theme (Renaissance (Main Title Theme) are eerie. An angry peasant woman uses an artichoke as a weapon. We do know from the first episode that some guests turn up dead, which creates suspense and interest in the final episode, but ultimately we don’t really care, because the production and its people are nasty and soulless.