“The White Lotus” hasn’t lost any of its intoxicating allure, shifting its mix of rich-people problems and staff struggles to a new island (Sicily), with Jennifer Coolidge as the one holdover from the Emmy-winning original. It’s an impressive exercise in reloading by writer-director Mike White, who based on this encore should have plenty of frequent-flyer miles in his future if he chooses.
There is a subtle shift in the balance – not just with the Italian flavor – although the series again opens with a moment of foreshadowing, with an unidentified body washing ashore at the idyllic seaside resort, before jumping back to the latest boat full of new arrivals.
Specifically, the hotel staff plays a less pivotal role this time, although the harried manager (Sabrina Impacciatore) does have to deal with the challenges of her demanding clientele. Instead of just hotel employees, the local contingent is represented by a prostitute, Lucia (Simona Tabasco, in what feels like a breakout role), who finds the latest guests to be a needy and thus lucrative group; and her less-worldly friend Gia (Beatrice Grannò), an aspiring singer who Lucia is trying to show the ropes.
As for those guests, in addition to Coolidge’s Tanya – who brings along and mistreats a new assistant (Haley Lu Richardson) – the register includes a mismatched couple that consists of two college roommates (Theo James, Will Sharpe) and their respective wives (Meghann Fahy, Aubrey Plaza); and three generations of men – father (F. Murray Abraham), son (Michael Imperioli) and grandson (Adam DiMarco) – on a trip to see the old man’s ancestral home, toting plenty of family baggage along with them.
Tensions gradually arise on various fronts. Plaza’s Harper chafes about her traveling companions’ performative displays of affection and stated indifference to what’s happening in the world (they don’t bother to watch news), while Imperioli’s Dominic – a high-powered Hollywood executive – is estranged from his wife, placing his son Adam, a shy Stanford graduate, in an uncomfortable position.
Once again, White meticulously applies layers on each of these stories, which begin as parallel lines before gradually starting to intersect and collide in unexpected, hazardous ways. When a character utters a line like, “Please don’t make me regret this,” in the environs of “The White Lotus,” it immediately feels like a warning that he eventually will.
If the situations are darkly comic, the dialogue also remains exceptionally sharp, such as Abraham’s aging lion – who insists on flirting with much-younger women – musing to the socially conscious and frequently embarrassed Adam that instead of respecting the elderly, “Now we’re just reminders of an offensive past everybody wants to forget.” That includes a family debate about the merits of “The Godfather” as the trio takes a bucket-list tour of the Sicilian locations where the movie was filmed.
Five of this season’s seven episodes were made available, so it remains to be seen whether the payoff is again worthy of the buildup, and obviously, there’s not quite the same sense of discovery.
For now, though, White has accomplished one of the most daunting feats in Hollywood: Conjuring a follow-up to a rightly admired project with no clear blueprint how to do so, and barring a complete collapse at checkout time, delivering another five-star TV experience.
“The White Lotus” premieres October 30 at 9 p.m. on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.