Visit any luxury holiday destination this summer and you will find a significant percentage of the clientele gripped by tales of brutal murders, mysterious disappearances and complex criminal conspiracies. This is nothing to do with their idyllic surroundings, of course – it is simply because true-crime entertainment (TV shows, books, films and especially podcasts) has become one of the sick and twisted public’s foremost methods of relaxation.
In fact, you would imagine a resort that offered a choose-your-own true-crime adventure would be a huge hit. Bored of endless sun, sea and sand? Investigate a cold case while sipping bottomless margaritas! Run out of conversation at your seventh consecutive family dinner? Spend the meal consolidating the evidence you have unearthed during the day!
In The Resort (Peacock/Now), this fantasy becomes a reality – kind of. Created by Andy Siara, best known for the Andy Samberg time-loop comedy Palm Springs, and executive-produced by Mr Robot’s Sam Esmail, the show stars Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother) and William Jackson Harper (The Good Place) as Emma and Noah, a pair of holidaymakers whose marriage has soured in the most mundane ways: he comments on her bad breath, she rolls her eyes at his proclivity for napping and does internet quizzes on whether to leave him.Their indulgent Mexican break feels slightly off from the start (in the opening scene, their taxi arrives at the hotel and duly crashes into a large plant pot, as David Byrne and Brian Eno’s Strange Overtones plays in the background), but takes an ostensible turn for the weird when Emma falls down a small ravine on a quad-biking excursion, banging her head and unearthing an old mobile. The phone, she soon discovers, belongs to a college student who went missing in 2007 from a neighbouring resort – one that was destroyed by a hurricane soon afterwards.
This leads Emma and Noah to investigate the boy’s disappearance, mostly under the influence of endless cocktails and with a giddy excitement that bubbles over into their stale relationship.Interspersed with the surprisingly fruitful escapades of these drunken detectives are a series of flashbacks to Christmas 2007, where the phone’s owner, Sam (Licorice Pizza’s Skyler Gisondo, channelling a young Woody Allen), is holidaying with his parents and his girlfriend. After skateboarding into a palm tree, Sam is rescued by Violet (Nina Bloomgarden), a fellow guest, who superglues his head wound together. The pair then embark on some romance-sparking sleuthing of their own. Did it lead them to their deaths?
It is difficult, initially at least, not to think of The White Lotus, Mike White’s smash-hit 2021 series about a bunch of spoilt, unhappy guests and hard-partying staff at a swanky Hawaiian hotel, which becomes the site of a brutal killing. Both shows play on the tension between opulent getaways and the murky arrangements that underpin them, although The Resort doesn’t feature nearly as much side-eyed commentary on privilege, exploitation and cultural appropriation. Both shows also meld comedy, drama and frequently horrifying mystery, yet The Resort manages to be the much goofier and more hair-raisingly menacing.
Unsurprisingly, the show feels most like a spiritual successor to Palm Springs, Siara’s archly silly, mildly terrifying and intellectually satisfying 2020 romcom, which also took place at a luxury hotel and starred Milioti as a similarly sardonic wedding guest dragged into Samberg’s inflatable-based Groundhog Day timeline.Does time-travel factor into The Resort, too? Maybe. There is an awful lot going on in the wildly entertaining first three episodes – and the show hints there is much more to come over the remaining five. We have the amateur investigation itself, which is fast-moving yet incredibly twisty. Then there is the question of Emma’s mental state: was she this reckless before sustaining a head injury that she is medicating with non-stop booze? Most intriguingly, there are hints that Violet and the large book she carries around with her – inscribed with a message from her mother, who died the year before – are in some way imbued with supernatural forces.
Of course, there is also the marital drama at the show’s centre – the linchpin of the series and also the least convincing, least compelling element of it. Although the couple’s true-crime adventure reinvigorates their marriage, their dynamic can feel a bit thin, especially if Harper’s recent starring role in the excellent dramedy Love Life – a show that studiously and sensitively unpicks one man’s romantic history – is fresh in your mind.But The Resort doesn’t purport to be a deep and meaningful meditation on the vagaries of love. A show like this lives or dies by how clever the mystery at its centre turns out to be. While we will have to wait to see whether it lives up to expectations, this funny, fast-paced, knotty trip seems worth sticking with until the inevitably bitter – but hopefully not bitterly disappointing – end.