It’s funny to see two similar TV programs come out simultaneously because of the contrasts, even though there are some similarities. Last month, The White Lotus, a new drama from HBO, debuted. The show follows a group of strangers who receive more than they bargained for on vacation in The White Lotus. This month, Hulu released a new drama, Nine Perfect Strangers, that follows the same format as The White Lotus.
But the difference between The White Lotus’ more delicate, character-based approach and Nine Perfect Strangers‘ clumpy, all-over-the-place approach is very evident. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was over the top but entertaining nevertheless. Similarly, Nine Perfect Strangers is “over the top” like Studio 60 but is watchable in its own odd way.
It has a notable background since it is from the authors of Big Little Lies (Nicole Kidman, David E. Kelley, and Liane Moriarty), and it is being developed by the showrunner (David E. Kelley). (It has even intro credits as BLL does.) And in addition, it gathered a big-name ensemble, which includes stars like Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Regina Hall, and Bobby Cannavale — and any one of them would be an actor people would tune in to see. They are excellent performers, but their roles in this movie don’t provide much substance. It is a painful clash of characters and tones that never gel; the performers are in several shows, like various characters in one.
The plot follows visitors in a picturesque California resort named Tranquillum (Latin for tranquility). They all want to come here to recover from the many emotional struggles they’ve had, but it’s hard for most of them to leave their phones behind when they arrive. Most of them arrive optimistic and receptive to the resort’s oddities. (Tranquillum leans hard towards that line between the sense of calm provided by Zen and the cultish loyalty of its own membership.) In short, the party soon devolves into angry quarreling and paranoia, which is not at all ideal. People have their concerns about this hotel, especially why they take so much blood from the visitors. And is it really okay to consume such smoothies?
After that, we’re introduced to Masha, the Russian guru running the resort, who Kidman plays in a performance that’s as weird as it is memorable. A combative attitude to treatment and an accent that jumps from Moscow to Sydney and back again defines Masha, a blond wisp with an ethereal appearance. I found myself wanting to see the program shift to an over-the-top, farcical tone when in her sequences. (Kidman seems to be ready.) The audience is also given cheesy, undeserved epiphanies through many self-improvement clichés, all while the Tranquillum guests and ourselves are fed. The tone of Nine Perfect Strangers is inconsistent, at times trying to make fun of the New Age community while sometimes trying to glorify it.
Even if you have a distaste for K-pop, seeing Manny Jacinto’s monastic performance in The Good Place is really enjoyable! His name is Jianyu, after all, which is disappointing to see, given that they were working so hard. McCarthy embodies Frances, a romance writer who suffers from self-loathing and, therefore, often blows out. Even though she takes up a lot of screen time, she never comes into clear focus. “Chronically loquacious” dad Napoleon is made more memorable by Shannon. At the same time, the family’s conflict gets a significant boost thanks to Hall’s emotional performance as a woman who has pent up years of anger. Cannavale also has his typical foul-mouthed hothead act here. However, because the characters aren’t detailed enough to identify with, there are just too many characters in this place to delve into any of them.
I had to see the episode when Nicole Kidman operates a wellness spa with sinister motives while being in a total state of madness. However, to our chagrin, we found other shows packed in here, and they don’t function nearly as well (or are at least not as entertaining). Kelley and Moriarty so sharply satirized wealthy people’s concerns in Big Little Lies that it’s shocking to see them fail to pull off the same excellence here. Nevertheless, they do. A second season of The White Lotus is already in the works is really excellent news. Even though I’m only going to be staying with Nine Perfect Strangers for a little while longer, I believe I will still cut my time there short.