Reviews · TV

Genre-Bending Mystery ‘The Resort’ Thrives on Cast Charisma

Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper star in The Resort, Peacock’s existential mystery-comedy series from the writer of Palm Springs and the creator of Mr. Robot.
The Resort Peacock
By  · Published on July 28th, 2022

If there’s a title for the existential comedy equivalent of a scream queen, Cristin Milioti deserves it by now. From Black Mirror to Palm Springs to Made For Love, the actress has embodied characters who have gamely tackled weird, mind-bending scenarios in some of the best speculative fiction in recent years. Now, she’s starring in The Resort, a mysterious new series from Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail and Palm Springs writer Andy Siara. A soulful and strange genre-bender set in the Mayan Riviera, Peacock’s The Resort is an entertaining series with some undeniable pacing problems.

Milioti plays Emma, a woman who begins a tenth-anniversary vacation with her husband Noah (William Jackson Harper) seemingly dissatisfied. Noah is loving and at peace with their relationship, while Emma seems to crave momentum – even the dangerous kind. When Emma takes a spill in the jungle and finds a phone belonging to a college student named Sam (Skyler Gisondo), who went missing fifteen years earlier, the pair end up plunging face-first into a sprawling, dangerous mystery.

The Resort’s greatest strength is its casting: Harper, Milioti, and Gisondo all play to their well-established strengths, from Harper’s perplexed supportiveness to Milioti’s borderline manic determination to Gisondo’s sweetly geeky charm. Newcomer Nina Bloomgarden is great as Violet, a young woman who went missing the same day as Sam, while Nick Offerman gives a surprisingly powerful performance as Violet’s grieving single dad.

Harper and Milioti, in particular, are a surprising grounding force for a series that often seems wanderingly contemplative. Emma and Noah carry a lot of love, but a lot of pain, too, and the series unpacks it in fits and starts amidst their wild amateur detective adventures. In fact, the pair is so watchable that it’s easy to let their propulsive performances and knack for witty, dark comedy carry you away to the season’s conclusion.

When one looks away from the couple at the series’ center, though, some aspects of the series don’t quite sustain the weight of their ambition. The show positions itself as a potential sci-fi story from the start, opening with two seemingly contradictory quotes about time travel. Plus, both Emma’s and Sam’s sagas begin with intriguingly timed head injuries, setting them up to be, perhaps, cosmically linked. From the outset, The Resort appears to be more than a run-of-the-mill mystery, yet it takes viewers on a sometimes meandering tour to its final, shaggily-defined destination.

Like all of the Milioti projects listed above, The Resort is really all about connection. As the fuse to Noah and Emma’s relationship threatens to fizzle out (they are, as Gabriela Cartol’s resort concierge Luna puts it, in “the puberty of marriage”), Violet and Sam burn bright with newfound possibility. Yet the parallel narratives have an ache of sadness to them from the start since the younger couple’s disappearance is what fuel’s the more settled pair’s new lease on life. These comparisons are obvious, but along with the rest of the series’ resonant themes, they sometimes feel as if they’re handled with too light a narrative touch to really hit home.

The Resort isn’t bad: far from it. Yet the show attempts to weave together several philosophical threads, embracing both ambivalence and ambiguity in a way that’s often tough to relay on screen. It also feels like it could’ve been a movie. Over its four hours, the story sometimes sags, especially when focused on scenes of Sam and Violet that, while endearing, don’t shed much light on their disappearance. Its more challenging points, including an ending that fulfills some expectations and side-steps others, also seem more suited to something besides an eight-episode format.

Still, it’s a testament to the understated star power of its two lead actors that The Resort ends up as enjoyable as it does despite its flaws. As they descend further into the Yucutan and the mysteries of the resort-goers who came before them, Noah and Emma go far beyond their comfort zones, all in the name of following through on something together. They’re equal parts funny and tragic and real, and Milioti and Harper sell every part of the characters with ease. As a series, The Resort is good enough. As evidence that its effortlessly talented leads should be handed whatever projects they want, it’s undeniable.

The Resort debuts on Peacock on July 28th. Watch the series trailer here.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)