Lotus Operandi

In a week that was filled yet again with a lot of bad news in media and tech, one particularly positive story was the renewal of HBO’s smart comedy WHITE LOTUS for a third season.  The fact that it was even renewed for a second season was a surprise given its initial premise and raison d’etre.   As DEN OF GEEK’s Erin Qualey penned last summer after the initial six episodes ran their course, WHITE LOTUS was both a practical and emotional response to the dearth of and the challenges in producing new original content during the challenging early days of COVID-19 lockdown:

(Showrunner Mike) White was approached by HBO in August of 2020 to helm the series, and the show filmed in a COVID bubble at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui from October until mid-December. The resort was closed at the start of the shoot, but as things began to wrap up, guests began arriving again, treating the cast to a first hand account of the very bad behaviors they were depicting on camera. Fred Hechinger, who plays technology-obsessed teen Quinn Mossbacher, was recently quoted in W Magazine as saying, “Every single day, I would see a group of people who were the characters”. 

Even though it’s not explicitly stated, The White Lotus clearly takes place during COVID times. Passing mentions are made to updated cleaning protocols and Zoom meetings, but anyone who has lived through the pandemic (aka: everyone) gets it. Yet, instead of handling the situation with grace and understanding, the guests are all abhorrent to the staff. While the series is making many statements on white privilege, entitlement, and even colonialism, it also serves as a referendum on how very terribly service workers have been treated throughout the pandemic.  

HBO was one of many media and tech companies that sought to capitalize on the unique opportunities presented to a world that was essentially forced into isolation and far more reliant upon a virtual existence than ever.  As we’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, daytime and overnight usage of anything relating to media spiked dramatically, and those that could deliver these services responded with aggressive expansion of staffing and extremely aggressive projections to its investors.

But WHITE LOTUS–initially conceived as a one-season stopgap– didn’t run until the Biden-proclaimed “summer of love”, when we were all (well, most of us?) were joyously rediscovering in-person dining, showing the lower half of our faces again and even hugging people we actually care about.  At the time, it was clear that a significant number of people, confident that vaccines would allow us to live lives despite the ominpresence of a virus in a manner like the planet has dealt with other potentially deadly impediments–get a shot, and treat your body like a temple–were moving on from a world that allowed shut-ins and those who chose to overindulge in bad food, drink and drug choices to have social (or anti-social) equity with those who believe life should be lived in three dimensions.

So the second season, which launched four weeks ago to a signiicantly larger audience, is now set in Sicily, and features many new cast members, save for the impeccable Jennifer Coolidge, who continues as the irrepressible Tanya McQuoid and, much to my happiness, added the likes of stunning and hilarious Aubrey Plaza, the talented F. Murray Abraham and the wily Michael Imperioli to the wine and pasta-laden frivolity.  And, by the way, this season’s episodes have an awful lot of non-socially distanced contact.  And as Joe Otterson worte in VARIETY! earlier this week, its next season will move to yet another location because most of the world has begun to move on as well:

Reflecting on ‘The White Lotus’’ humble, run-and-gun origin as a contained pandemic production, it’s impossible not to be awestruck by how Mike orchestrated one of the buzziest and most critically acclaimed shows,” said Francesca Orsi, executive vice president of HBO Programming and head of HBO drama series and films. “And yet, he’s only continued to reach new heights in season 2, which is the ultimate testament to Mike’s raw, unparalleled vision. His courage to explore the uncharted waters of the human psyche, paired with his signature irreverent humor and buoyant directing style, have us all dreaming of more vacation days at the resort we’ve come to adore. We couldn’t be more thrilled to get the chance to collaborate on a third season together.”

Sadly, some of the “visionaires” who ran companies that banked their fortunes on a world that would have preferred we continue to shelter in place were nowhere near as precient as White, Orsi or anyone else involved in WHITE LOTUS.  And as Alex Kantrowitz thoughtfully opined yesterday in THE WRAP, their reality checks, amidst tens of thousands of holiday season layoffs of many of the workers they ran out and hired to work from home and ride Pelatons while they wrote code can only be seen as, well, below expectations:

One by one, the tech CEOs apologized. They had failed to anticipate people’s behavior would return to normal once COVID restrictions lifted. So their projections for growth — in streaming, ecommerce and the like — were way off. With expenses mounting and growth stagnating, they’d need to cut costs dramatically. Mass layoffs were coming.

“This did not play out the way I expected,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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