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Palm Royale Review: Kristen Wiig's Soapy Comedy Is a Pleasant Getaway

The colorful, well-cast Apple TV+ series creates a fun world in 1960s Florida

Keith Phipps
Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin, Palm Royale

Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin, Palm Royale

Apple TV+

It's hard to get into the Palm Royale, the Palm Beach club that gives this series its name, but not that hard. For Maxine Simmons (Kristen Wiig), it simply means scaling a wall while no one's looking, then taking her place by the pool. It's staying within the Palm Royale, and, by extension, Palm Beach society, that's difficult. Not only is Maxine a new face, but she has a hard time passing as someone who belongs there. Her clothes aren't quite au courant, her accent marks her as a new arrival, and her drink of choice, the grasshopper, is so out of fashion the club has to send out for creme de cacao. What's more, she's not wanted there. It's 1969 and the world is starting to turn upside down. "Palm Beach is the last American sanctuary," Evelyn (Allison Janney), the club's queen bee (at least as the series begins), declares. But that won't last unless they keep the wrong element from slipping in.

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But is Maxine the wrong element? Beyond having a past that allows her to make a claim to belonging in Palm Royale circles, she knows the place and all who live there, having studied the Shiny Sheet, a (real) newspaper that follows the comings and goings of Palm Beach's upper crust, her entire life. And though she might not know all the rules of the game when she first arrives, Maxine is a fast learner who becomes a determined player. Evelyn, and everyone else in her way, should not underestimate her.

Inspired by Juliet McDaniel's novel Mr. & Mrs. American Pie, this Abe Sylvia-created series at first appears to be a send-up filled with broad characters, colorful costumes, and soapy twists. And while it certainly has all the above elements in abundance (in addition to musical numbers and, in a couple of episodes, a soulful beached whale), Palm Royale's scope stretches beyond the orbit of the Palm Royale social circle, and it frequently has more than laughs and acidic bon mots to offer, even if those remain the main dish. Wiig's performance sets a tone for the rest of the series to follow. Maxine's ambitions might be shallow and the steps she takes to achieve them extreme, but they're grounded in a real, human desire to belong. A gifted performer able to convey depths of emotion with the slightest gesture, she plays Maxine as silly but understandable, and capable of growing as she attempts her ascent.


Palm Royale


  • Fun characters
  • Colorful settings
  • Inspired performances


  • A lack of momentum

There's much standing in her way. Evelyn is surrounded by friends/rivals like Dinah (Leslie Bibb), whose affair with the club's tennis pro might be the only thing keeping her from besting Evelyn, and Ann (Julia Duffy), who undergoes a radical political awakening over the course of this season's 10 episodes. (Duffy is one of two veterans of '80s sitcoms to deliver fun supporting turns. As the Shiny Sheet's tenacious new editor, Mindy Cohn is the other.)

That political awakening is just one aspect reflecting the changing times. When Dinah (after some maneuvering) confesses to Maxine that she's carrying her lover's baby, Maxine brings her to Our Bodies, Our Shelves, a feminist bookstore run by Virginia (Amber Chardae Robinson) and Linda (Laura Dern), rightly suspecting they know how to circumvent the laws of pre-Roe America. (Palm Royale doesn't underscore its connections to our own era, but they're not hard to find.) It's at Our Bodies, Our Shelves that Robert (Ricky Martin), a Palm Royale bartender who becomes first Maxine's antagonist and then her ally, finds a section filled with books dedicated to gay studies, and a way to understand the desires he usually keeps hidden.

That combination of earnest concern for its characters and interest in the era and self-aware melodrama makes Palm Royale hard to classify. It mostly keeps camp at a simmer until turning it up to boil in later episodes. That choice allows more room for sensitive grace notes from Wiig, Martin (who's quite good), Dern, and Janney and to explore its Palm Beach world. Also good: Laura Dern's father, Bruce Dern, as Linda's dad, a kind of late-to-the-party hippie. At times, though, it hinders the series' momentum. Palm Royale creates a fun world, but also one that moves at its own pace most of the time.

It also, however, allows for some inspired comedy. Josh Lucas is fun as Maxine's (mostly) well-meaning but dimwitted pilot husband, and Kaia Gerber has some fun moments as Mitzi, Maxine's manicurist, who also finds herself drawn into Palm Beach intrigue. But the standout here is, perhaps predictably, Carol Burnett as Norma, the true head of Palm Beach society, who's been sidelined by an ailment that's left her bedridden and seemingly comatose — at least at first. Norma's slow awakening is reason enough to watch the series, allowing Burnett to draw on physical comedy skills undimmed from the days of The Carol Burnett Show.

It's truly inspired work in a frequently inspired series, albeit one that never quite finds a way to bring all its terrific elements together. But even if it never quite gels (and the finale leaves open the possibility of future seasons that strike a better balance), that doesn't make Palm Royale unsatisfying. It's a pleasant visit, even if few watching would be allowed to live there.

Premieres: The first three episodes premiere on Apple TV+ on Wednesday, March 20, with subsequent episodes airing weekly
Who's in it: Kristen Wiig, Allison Janney, Ricky Martin, Carol Burnett
Who's behind it: Abe Sylvia
For fans of: Soapy comedy with heart, the 1960s
How many episodes we watched: 10 of 10