Review by C.J. Bunce
If you can’t enjoy an all-included, exclusive Caribbean resort vacation, then vacations are probably not for you. Ninety-minutes in and Peacock’s new half-hour series The Resort doesn’t reveal much of what it’s trying to be. Alternately billed as mystery and comedy, it’s not much of either, but it does seem like a rejected episode of Fantasy Island. That series, a Fox reboot starring the fantastic Roselyn Sanchez as a great niece of Ricardo Montalban’s famous host, was far more coherent–and fun. The Resort focuses on a couple with zero chemistry taking a Sandals-esque resort vacation for an anniversary. It’s like a cringeworthy watch-party of a friend’s slides from a vacation gone wrong.
The Resort stars Cristin Milioti (Black Mirror, How I Met Your Mother) as Emma, on vacation with husband Noah, played by William Jackson Harper (Dogs in Space, The Electric Company), who seems to want to be anyplace else. That’s until she finds an old cell phone after an accident while four-wheeling through the jungle. She becomes laser focused on finding the owner of the phone, who she learns is dead, and devotes all her attention to learning what happened to him, and a girl he had just met. The details of the missing couple come about via the young man’s text history. Noah goes along with Emma’s pursuit of information, up to a point.
More interesting is the interwoven backstory of the missing couple from the past: Skyler Gisondo (Vacation, The Amazing Spider-Man, Psych) plays Sam, a skateboarder on vacation with his parents and a girlfriend he learns is cheating on him (by snooping in her texts) just as they are about to land. He near-misses crashing into Violet, played by Nina Bloomgarden (Good Girl Jane, Fatherhood) who is on vacation with her father on the anniversary of her mother’s death. Instead he hits a tree, and they fall for each other as she bandages his head injury.
Emma is disturbing, downing the alcohol, obsessive-compulsive, taking non-stop risks clearly to escape everything she can about her normal life, including climbing up an abandoned elevator shaft and striking a stranger with a golf club. After 15 years together she and Noah don’t seem to know much about each other. The couple from the past is only slightly more sympathetic–Sam won’t confront his girlfriend and instead ops to cheat, too, and Violet ignores her father’s obvious desire for company after his wife’s death. Why are we supposed to care about either couple? It really feels like we’re waiting for Team Roarke to appear and wave a magic wand to explain what is going on. Or give viewers anything at all to laugh about.
The series seems to bend over backward to earn its TV-MA rating. Extraneous tangents offer too many gross bits just for the sake of being gross. Because Andy Siara is attached to the project as writer, you might expect something like his brilliant Lodge 49, but the show is missing all the humor and fun that was woven into that series along with the bizarre situational drama. It shares Mr. ROBOT writer Sam Esmail as executive producer, which could explain the bizarre choices. And its level of intrigue doesn’t match that of genre-bending shows like Archive 81 and Disappearance at Clifton Hill.
Appearances by genre familiars Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation, The Founder) and Dylan Baker (I’m Charlie Walker, Spider-Man 2, Law & Order), as the fathers of the couple in the past, and Becky Ann Baker (Star Trek Voyager, Spider-Man 3, Men in Black) as Sam’s mother don’t make up for a story led by off-putting characters making stupid choices.
Is it possible this could be whittled down into an actual Fantasy Island episode? The Resort′s first season has five episodes remaining, with the next episode arriving August 4 on Peacock. You may find enough in the first three episodes to return for more, but it may be with that same curiosity as limping through the similarly odd Dispatches from Elsewhere. If you’re just after a glimpse at a sunny resort each week, you may want to hold out for the second season of Fantasy Island, which is apparently in production.