The background music has a touch of jungle fever as beautiful visuals play out on a canvas to take the shape of a lotus, and Mike White’s name comes up along with the name of the HBO series, The White Lotus, which has taken the 2022 Emmy Awards by storm. 

A satire about the bourgeoisie and their very human problems plays out in a Hawaiian luxury resort, where there is a battle of the wills with the proletariat staff. An ensemble cast landed several nominations, and 2022 will always be the year that actors Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett won their career’s first Emmys at 61 and 51, respectively. 

The show had been tied with Ted Lasso, the sports comedy, each landing a whopping 20 nominations, the highest this year. The White Lotus’ Mike White also bagged two awards, Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series and Outstanding Writing for the same. 

The show also went on to beat Dopesick, The Dropout, Pam and Tommy, and Inventing Anna, to win Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series. 

So, what makes The White Lotus such an awards darling? It is the ambience the show creates. A dreary mood is set right at the start, when a departing traveller is asked about a death in the hotel he was staying at. It then cuts back, to show guests arriving at The White Lotus. The staff await to greet them, under the watchful eye of their manager Armond, played by Bartlett. 

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Therein begins the story, as The White Lotus peels away the layers of perfection the affluent often aspire to, showing a plethora of problems. There’s a family where the couple is trying to hold together a failing marriage, fuelled by the husband’s insecurity about the wife’s position, and the wife’s burden of having to deal with her spouse’s past instance of infidelity. On top of that, they’re parents to a teenage girl reeking of self-entitlement, played to perfection by Sydney Sweeney of Euphoria fame, and an incommunicative son who’s immersed in his phone. The girl has a friend who’d fit the neoliberal definition of “woke”, accompanying them on the trip. 

Their dinner table conversations are awkward and uncomfortable, a testament to White’s writing prowess. White doesn’t hesitate in taking on current cultural practices and criticizes them effortlessly, as evidenced in a scene where the mother asks her daughter and her friend whether their next step would be to cancel or dox their own father. Cancelling is the internet version of social ostracization while doxing is publishing someone’s personal information on the internet with malicious intent. White doesn’t even pause before taking on K-Pop fans, who have earned a bad reputation on the internet for being too aggressive in going after people with differing opinions. 

Even the daughter and her friend have their own teenage toxic jealousy angle going on, where the daughter can’t stand that her friend starts a brief affair with one of the workers at the hotel. Meanwhile, the father desperately tries to connect with his son, while facing some truths about himself. All this culminates in a robbery orchestrated by the daughter’s friend and her new lover. The family reconciles over the event. But this is just one of the guests.  

The other is a honeymooning couple, where the newlywed wife faces the blues as she realizes her husband is a self-absorbed man, who bends to his mother’s will and slowly grows to understand that her marriage might have been a mistake. All this while, the husband is just concerned about why they were not given the room his mother booked for them. 

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And then, there’s Coolidge’s Tanya McQuoid, the grieving heiress who wishes to scatter her mother’s ashes. The eccentric bunch of guests are enough to send Armond up the wall, or at least back to his life of indulgence. And the manager relapses, into drinks, drugs, and debauchery, eventually losing his job and pulling off a desperate stunt. Bartlett’s transformation from a smiling manager with a tight grip on the situation to a man who loses all control is as startling as it is award-worthy. Coolidge too amazes as an irritating, but equally endearing guest, who you almost forgive, even when she casually crushes the dream of her friend from the hotel spa, after having given her cause to dream in the first place. 

An ambience takes three things mainly, writing, directing, and action. Apologies to all technicians who strive to work on the light and sound to help create this very mood. The White Lotus gets it correct, remaining witty, relevant, and just a tad bit absurd. All too post-modern, all too real. It tackles broad and complex issues deftly, and never loses a chance to infuse comedy, which is largely helped by its fantastic cast. 

The Emmy wins have been ample proof of the show’s success in the first season, and The White Lotus will be looking to recreate this magic in Season 2, which is set in a White Lotus luxury resort in Italy and will see Coolidge return as a cast member.