There's a moment that comes toward the tail end of The Resort's first season where, amid a flurry of inexplicable noise and movement, Noah (William Jackson Harper) exclaims, "This is getting dumber!" It's a line that functions as something of a meta commentary on the mystery-thriller-drama-comedy series as a whole, which gets off to a promising start before going utterly, irreparably off the rails halfway through.
The Resort, premiering Thursday on Peacock, has all the makings of a good summer show. The team behind it is exciting, from creator Andy Siara (Palm Springs) to executive producer Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) to director Ben Sinclair (High Maintenance), and the premise is intriguing, following a married couple, Noah and Emma (Cristin Milioti, one of the best at playing a slightly unhinged woman), trying to work through an extended rough patch in their relationship by celebrating their 10-year anniversary on vacation in the Yucatan. Emma takes a fall in the jungle one day into their trip and stumbles on a flip phone stashed away in the dirt, which, she comes to discover, belonged to Sam (Skyler Gisondo), one half of a pair of teens who went missing 15 years earlier while staying at a separate resort called the Oceana Vista, which has since closed down.
The details, when Emma starts to look into it, are muddled: an eerily timed hurricane here, an unidentifiable dead body washed ashore there. She becomes consumed with her quest to be the one to solve the mystery, roping a semi-reluctant Noah, who is clearly only involving himself in the chaos in the hopes that it will reignite the spark with his wife, into it along the way.
The series raises a handful of interesting themes and questions early on as it moves back and forth between Emma's investigation and flashbacks that color in Sam's story, showing how he meets and instantly falls for Violet (Nina Bloomgarden), a teen girl staying at the resort with her dad (Nick Offerman), which sets off the chain of events that leads to them both disappearing. Much of the first three episodes are spent drawing effective parallels between Noah and Emma's long-stale relationship and Sam and Violet's giddy, all-consuming young love, which is part of what enthralls Emma about the case. Using cell phone photos and context-free texts, she pieces together an idea of what the two infatuated teens could have been like together as she simultaneously brushes off the very real decay happening inside her own marriage. What happens if you lose who you are in a relationship? Can the tantalizing fantasy of a vacation actually give your life clarity? Will the present ever be as good as the past?
It's frustrating that The Resort veers off track before it can find any answers. Around the fourth episode, the series becomes unwieldy, losing sight of the connection between the two couples as it muddies the plot by over-explaining the central mystery and introducing conveniently important characters late in the game before quickly writing them off after they've served their purpose. It can't figure out how to satisfyingly wrap up what it started, like the involvement of the Oceana's unstable owner Alex (Sinclair); the role the powerful Frias family, of which the Oceana's head of security, Baltasar (Luis Gerardo Méndez) is a member, plays in it all; and an underwritten throughline about grief that deserved to be explored more. By the time Violet's dead mother's favorite author (yup), the reclusive Illan Ibbera (Luis Guzmán), shows up, you're left scratching your head trying to figure out how it all connects together.
What makes the series watchable as it descends further into nonsense is its cast, many of whom are forced to make the most of half-baked roles. Milioti and Harper, two of our most relentlessly charming TV stars, are great on their own and lovelier as a pair, easily selling the chemistry of two people who have been together forever, know each other too well, and are too comfortable to leave, even though leaving would probably be for the best. Gisondo, Méndez, and Gabriela Cartol as hotel employee Luna are highlights as well, rolling with the kookiness and spinning what gold they can out of the material they're given.
Before it even had the chance to premiere, the show's trailer earned it comparisons to The White Lotus, HBO's dark series about the clientele and staff at an upscale resort-turned-crime scene, but Siara lacks Mike White's clear vision, and The Resort, for better or worse, spins out into its own thing. At several points, it's easy to get the sense that Siara wanted to make a thoughtful, slightly surreal show about the nature of romantic relationships and was told to turn it into a thriller to give it wide-ranging appeal. I'd be interested in watching that show, but until then, much like a mediocre vacation, it's probably better to just forget this one entirely.
Premieres: Thursday, July 28 on Peacock
Who's in it: Cristin Milioti, William Jackson Harper, Skyler Gisondo, Nick Offerman, Luis Gerardo Méndez, Luis Guzmán, Ben Sinclair
Who's behind it: Andy Siara, Sam Esmail, Ben Sinclair
For fans of: Search Party, bad vacations, lunacy
How many episodes we watched: 8 out of 8