Sunday, May 19, 2024

Ratings: HBO’s Season 2 “White Lotus” Opened Lower Than It Ended Last Time, But Hang On, It Improves


The first season of “White Lotus” on HBO was a novelty hit. It began with about 400,000 viewers and by the end of the six episodes, they doubled their numbers.

The new season began last Sunday and continues tomorrow night. There are 7 episodes this time. The opener finished 10% up from the previous premiere, but down a total of 25% in the key age demo.

I’ve watched five episodes. Season 2 is not Season 1, so it takes a little to adjust. The only carry-overs are Jennifer Coolidge as eccentric, wealthy Tanya and her new husband. Greg, who she met at White Lotus Maui.

Now we’re in Taormina, Sicily. Where Maui was just pretty. Taormina is lavish, over the top, baroque, It reeks of money. And sex. Lots of both. Everyone — except for blessed Tanya — is anatomically correct. They’ve all been to the gym. The men wear abs like sheriff’s badges. The women are beauties.

Season 1 had a mix of incomes among the guests. Season 2 concentrates on being rich, rich, rich. It also take a long time to find a character to root for in Season 2. That would be Aubrey Plaza’s Harper, the serious and practical minded wife of Ethan. a young entrepreneur — like he’s the founder of Zappos, or Reddit, they don’t say — played by half-Asian actor Will Sharpe. They’ve come to the hotel with Ethan’s conscience-less player college roommate Cameron (Theo James) and his blonde trophy wife (Meghann Fahy). The former couple is unsympathetic, the latter is accessible, and Plaza’s Harper gets it right away.

There other people here. MIchael Imperioli’s wife has tossed him out for cheating and sex addiction, so he’s come to the White Lotus with his father (F. Murray Abraham) and college grad son (Adam DiMarco). Coolidge — wacky as ever– has brought her assistant, the show’s delightful ingenue (Haley Lu Richardson). Plus there’s an Italian hotel staff that so far is not nearly as interesting as their counterparts in Maui.

The real stars of the show? A pair of young women, very ingratiating escorts, aka hookers or prostitutes. They are maybe the nicest, cutest local girls who don’t mind taking money from visiting rich people. They are Simona Tabasco as Lucia, and Beatrice GrannĂ² as Mia. It’s as if a younger Penelope Cruz and Amy Adams are working the hotel. You will love them. (I am all in for Tabasco and must restrain myself making a Tabasco sauce pun.) By episode 5, the girls have joyously worked their way through most of the male cast.

The sets and locales are magnificent. We all be booking trips to Taormina, although maybe not to the Four Season Hotel where this thing is shot. Rooms in real life cover over $1000. Maybe there’s an Airbnb. Anyway, the palazzos, the cliffs, the village are to die for. They make Maui look like Hartford.

But the story is not as focused as Season 1. The characters are not as original nor as sharply drawn. Maybe it’s a sophomore jinx, but show seems more impressed with itself than in peeling away layers of these people.

When the story begins a prologue tells us that at least one body — a woman — has been found floating in the sea. So we know there’s been a murder and there’s been a suggestion of more. In Season 1 we could see Murray Bartlett’s Armond, the hotel manager, unraveling before our eyes, becoming more and more desperate. Season 2 is a little more unclear about who’s going to snap, although my money is on Theo James’s Cameron. He’s too good looking not to be punished.

But hang in there. A lot of weird stuff happens, sometimes too slowly, and not always as glib as it could be. Coolidge, however, gets some great lines. And Tom Hollander, as a mysterious wealthy gay Brit, starts to steal the show in Episode 5.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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