‘The Resort’ Review: Peacock Comedy-Thriller Series Is Strong on Vibes, Weak on Story

At the heart of nearly every character and every action in The Resort is a variation on the same question: What is the point? Does an idle doodle have to have a point? What about a cryptic, vaguely sinister-looking mural? What’s the point of a mystery if there are no answers? What is the point of life, with all its attendant tragedies and disappointments — or is life itself the point of life, since every moment is the result of every moment that came before it?

Inevitably, this search for meaning circles around to what might be the biggest question of all, at least in this specific context: What is the point of The Resort?

The Bottom Line

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A journey that starts strong but gets lost in its own jungle.

Airdate: Thursday, July 28 (Peacock)
Cast: William Jackson Harper, Cristin Milioti, Luis Gerardo Méndez, Nina Bloomgarden, Skyler Gisondo, Nick Offerman, Gabriela Cartol
Executive producers: Andy Siaran, Sam Esmail, Chad Hamilton, Allison Miller

As a mystery, it’s no great shakes. Its serpentine plot starts strong before getting lost in the weeds, ultimately arriving at a destination that hardly feels worth the eight-episode trek it took to get there. But as a vibe, it’s a strangely compelling one — a little bit The White Lotus, a little bit Only Murders in the Building, a little bit Palm Springs (the latter of which was written by The Resort creator Andy Siara). Just don’t expect to come out the other end with any coherent answers to its central narrative questions, let alone to whatever existential malaise is ailing you.

In an echo of last summer’s mini-trend of tropical getaways turned sour, The Resort unfolds over a vacation that only looks pretty on the surface, while simmering with misery underneath. In 2022, Noah (William Jackson Harper) and Emma (Cristin Milioti) arrive at the Bahía del Paraíso resort in Mexico, ostensibly to mark their ten-year anniversary — though Emma’s sour expression makes clear it’s been some time since she’s felt their marriage was anything worth celebrating. And that’s before we catch her drinking alone in the pool at night, Googling “How do I know if I should leave my relationship?”

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Just as the trip starts to look unsalvageable, however, Emma discovers an ancient cell phone that turns out to have belonged to Sam (Skyler Gisondo) — one of two young American tourists, along with Violet (Nina Bloomgarden), who disappeared from the nearby, now-defunct Oceana Vista resort 15 years ago. Solving the case becomes Emma’s immediate, all-consuming obsession, with Noah along for the ride less because he too is hooked than because he can see this puzzle is the only thing that seems to bring Emma to life anymore. (He does have some fun with it, though — in one of the series’ funniest scenes, the pair are simultaneously titillated and horrified by what they initially assume to be extremely pervy texts between Sam and Violet.)

But as another character warns, in one of The Resort‘s overly meta lines, “What happened to Sam and Violet is just one thread in a tapestry of interconnected stories.” The series meanders between Noah and Emma’s timeline and Sam and Violet’s, with occasional detours through the backstories of still other characters like Baltasar (Luis Gerardo Méndez), the Oceana Vista’s wannabe-detective head of security, and Alex (Ben Sinclair, who also directed the first few episodes), the Oceana Vista’s oddball owner.

Some are straightforwardly tragic (Violet, we learn, had been mourning the death of her mother a year prior), others enjoyably goofy (Baltasar recounts his childhood feud with a famous author, played out over increasingly hostile letters). At best, the layered storytelling structure casts new light on each arc — the resentment festering between Noah and Emma is extra poignant when contrasted against the giddiness of Violet and Sam’s young courtship, for instance. But with each half-hour episode piling on more and more stuff, some of it less obviously relevant than others, The Resort eventually buckles under its weight.

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Noah and Emma’s search for answers uncovers that Sam and Violet were on their own quixotic quest in 2007, and expands to include a possibly mystical illness, a series of decapitated iguanas, a powerful fashion dynasty and a book that may contain the key to — well, it’s not clear what, exactly, just that a lot of the characters seem to believe it’ll liberate them from the crushing weight of a meaningless existence. The tone shifts between playful and despairing and lightly romantic, so that at times it’s difficult to tell whether we’re supposed to be sympathetic toward a character’s actions or uncomfortable with them. Shaggy-dog stories can have their appeal, but The Resort runs in circles in the jungle so long that it struggles to find its way back out.

Luckily, while its ideas threaten to spiral out of this world, The Resort is not without more grounded pleasures. Milioti and Harper share the appealing lived-in chemistry of people who really did know and love each other once, even if neither performer is straying all that far outside their wheelhouse; between Palm Springs, Made for Love and The Good Place, these two are basically the go-to names for love stories with a twist. Nick Offerman delivers perhaps the series’ most quietly heartbreaking performance as Violet’s grieving father. Gabriela Cartol, so fantastic in 2018’s film The Chambermaid, is underused here, but brings a much-needed pragmatism when she does appear.

The brightest gem of all is Méndez, who begins the series a menacing figure before gradually revealing stranger, sweeter levels. He sells the series’ iffiest lines (“I’m tired of being assaulted by symbols!” he yells at one point, which would be a real groaner if not for his hilariously exasperated delivery), and emerges as its most magnetic, dynamic character. The Resort never quite lives up to the full promise of its talent and concept, but the cast alone makes it easy to keep clicking ahead to the next episode.

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Though it all, the tragedies driving these people remain achingly ordinary ones: the loss of a loved one, the disappointment of aging, the oppressive weight of a family legacy. These are characters desperate for more time or less of it, eager to go back to happier days or skip ahead to find out what happens already. The one thing nearly all of them seem to agree on is that it’s the here and now that’s low-key unbearable. In that sense, the emotions of The Resort can be eminently relatable, depending on your mood. But when it comes to offering any clarity, the series is no more forthcoming than the messy big world it wishes to interrogate. It takes its time wandering into the unknown, its questions becoming less and less coherent as it goes. In the end, it finds only more questions still.

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