It's almost time to check in for another season of The White Lotus, if you dare.
Sure, it's a gorgeous chain of hotels located in some of the most beautiful locations in the world, but a vacation there might just turn your personal life all the way upside down.
Season 1 followed several groups of vacationers in Hawaii, while Season 2 takes Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and her new husband Greg (Jon Gries) to Sicily for what's supposed to be a romantic getaway, except Tanya's assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) is also there. All the other guests this season are new, and they've all got secrets to hide and/or some issues to work through as they take in the sights and sounds of Italy, with a little flair from creator Mike White.
There's Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe), a young and newly rich married couple vacationing with Ethan's much more seasoned friend Cameron (Theo James) and his wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy). They arrive at the same time as three generations of Di Grasso men — Bert (F. Murray Abraham), Bert's son Dominic (Michael Imperioli), and Dominic's son Albie (Adam DiMarco). Meanwhile, two young Italian women Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Grannò) finagle their way into the hotel to mingle with the Americans, much to the chagrin of the hotel manager, Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore). What results is a sort of tragic comedy of errors about what price people might be willing to pay for happiness, and that price is going to be pretty high for at least one of the guests at the White Lotus.
Before the vacation begins, Metacritic sat down with the cast to find out what's in store for each of them as the season unfolds.
Tanya was by far the breakout star of the first season (thanks to the brilliance of Coolidge), and it was thrilling to watch her recover from the death of her mother and find love with Greg at the same time. Unfortunately, things don't appear to be going so well for the couple, which you can tell both by Tanya bringing her assistant along and Greg being so angry about it that he makes Tanya send poor Portia away.
Coolidge confirms that things have gone a bit stale: "I've shown up and I have my assistant with me to help out, and Greg hasn't been very nice about that," she explains. "He's complaining about that, and he's giving me a hard time, and he's very reeled in and very aloof with me and this romantic thing that we've had going for a few months isn't happening. He's very punishing with his indifference, and I'm stuck on this trip with someone who is quite cold. There's nothing worse than being stuck."
"Especially since I called the place," adds Gries. "We were gonna go to Paris, and then Greg called an audible."
Gries says Greg just has "a lot on his plate, and doesn't like to share what's on his plate," but there is love there.
"The indifference comes from being wholly distracted, and one would assume it's a woman or something, but I don't think that's it," he says.
Meanwhile, there's Portia, banished to her room by Tanya and trying to stay out of the happy couple's way.
"I think you can tell by Portia's sandals right off the boat there that she's a little different," Richardson says. "She's not really dressed for this glamorous vacation."
Portia's wardrobe and appearance say a lot about her character throughout the show, probably more than any other wardrobe on screen. You can simply tell she's not a regular guest, thanks to Richardson's attention to detail, including zit stickers, ugly sandals, and some of her own personal pieces.
"I just love to bring as much specificity as I possibly can," she says. "Even the best scripts that I read, which these were up there, I was still like, 'How can I make her even more specific?'"
In this case, Portia specifically looks very out of place. But luckily, she quickly befriends another young person who is irritated by the adults he arrived with and doesn't really fit in.
Something has gone deeply wrong in the Di Grasso family recently, and it's left young Albie not exactly thrilled to be hanging out with his dad Dominic and his grandpa Bert. Both older men have some questionable ideas about sex and women and monogamy, and Albie's desperate to be a completely different kind of man. He and Portia quickly connect over the fact that they don't exactly fit in.
"It's fun getting to be the counter-balance to all the crazy, because you need that or otherwise it just flies off the handle," DiMarco explains. "We talk about our characters being kind of more reactionary, almost in a similar way that the audience would react to these kinds of situations."
Bert and Dominic seem to be a lot less concerned with being nice guys, and can't get Albie to see their point of view.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's wrong," Abraham says of Bert's opinion of his grandson. "'You spent all this money on Stanford, and he comes back brainwashed!' He really believes that, by the way. He believes in the old-fashioned way of things, and he thinks his way of life has been fine. How can you condemn the way he's lived his life considering what he's accomplished? He has this son who's very successful. He has this wonderful grandson who was going to a big university. That's partly reflective of him. You can't tell him he's wrong."
Imperioli says he thinks Dominic's situation is very real for many people: "Someone who's very successful, he's made a lot of money, he's done really well in his field. There is entitlement that comes with that," he explains. "You should have the fruits of all that, and in some ways, there's no end to it. That's never going to satisfy you. There's always going to be another conquest or another thing to get or another car to buy. I think this is his day of reckoning with all that."
For Plaza, the role of Harper is a bit of a new territory. She's best known for playing April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, and April, like most Pawnee residents and like most of the characters Plaza is used to playing, is most definitely not rich. Harper and Ethan have just come into some money, so they're living a brand new life and learning how to vacation like the fabulously wealthy.
"It's our first time going on a splurge vacation," Plaza says. "It feels like we're getting a bit of a glimpse into the other side, so it's like an existential crisis for us, because we're both kind of enjoying it, but it feels wrong."
"It's like an intense alien landscape to them," adds Sharpe. "And that, alongside being on vacation with a couple like Cameron and Daphne, who are so different from them, exposes the cracks in their relationship a little bit, I think, so they're forced to confront them as the series goes on."
Sharpe is actually English, and he says the "hardest thing" about playing Ethan was getting into the "American mindset," rather than just perfecting the accent.
"There were times when Mike would say to me, 'It feels like you're making fun of Americans, the way you're playing an American,'" he recalls. "It was a fun challenge to try and sell being from somewhere else."
Daphne and Cameron are hot, rich, and so very in love, or so it appears. They're also very used to being rich and very used to taking lavish vacations, leaving their two kids behind with grandparents so they can act like newlyweds. Harper is immediately suspicious of their apparent happiness, so are they as happy as they look? Yes and no.
"It's up for grabs, really," James says. "We fall down pretty dark rabbit holes, let's just say that. Mike wanted to make a distinction that they are in love; they love each other. They are a functioning couple, but they may have loved but they don't have trust and they don't have truth and how that affects the relationship. Also, you know, is Cameron a sociopath?"
"Yeah, it's like, if you find happiness, does it matter how you got there?" Fahy adds. "I think that's one of the themes for Cameron and Daphne this season."
Both James and Fahy agree that viewers will have both negative and positive reactions to the couple, which is "part of the point," Fahy says.
"I think Mike wants to present a scenario and let other people take from it what they'd like. He's not really making a statement. He's starting a conversation or he's asking a question, rather. So I think it will probably be pretty mixed."
The White Lotus airs 9 p.m. Sundays on HBO beginning Oct. 30 and also