Glossy, Gorgeous and Engaging 60s-Set Dramedy 'Palm Royale' Makes Gleaming Use of Kristen Wiig

Apple TV+'s latest page-to-screen series also welcomely gives off 'Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar' vibes.
Sarah Ward
March 20, 2024

More things in life should remind the world about Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, 2021's wonderfully goofy (and just wonderful) Florida-set comedy starring Kristen Wiig (MacGruber) and Annie Mumolo (Barbie), plus Jamie Dornan (The Tourist) singing to seagulls. The also Wiig-led Palm Royale is one such prompt. Thankfully, watching Apple TV+'s new page-to-screen dramedy doesn't cause audiences to wish that they were just viewing Barb and Star, though. The two share the same US state as a locale, too, alongside bright colour schemes, a bouncy pace and a willingness to get silly, especially with sea life, but Palm Royale — which streams its first season from Wednesday, March 20 — engages all on its own.

Adapting Juliet McDaniel's Mr & Mrs American Pie for the small screen, this 60s-set effort also knows how to make gleaming use of its best asset: Saturday Night Live, Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters alum Wiig. In its ten-episode first season, the show's storyline centres on Maxine Simmons. A former beauty-pageant queen out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, she thinks nothing of scaling the wall to the titular country club, then breezing about like she's meant to be there — sipping grasshoppers and endeavouring to eavesdrop her way into a social-climbing friendship with Palm Beach's high-society set — and Wiig sells every second of the character's twist-filled journey. Even better: she heartily and entertainingly conveys the everywoman aspects of someone who has yearning for a better life as her main motivation, and isn't willing to settle for anything less than she thinks that she deserves, even in hardly relatable circumstances.

There's no doubting that Maxine is both an underdog and an outsider in the milieu that she so frenziedly covets. When she's not swanning around poolside, idolising self-appointed bigwig Evelyn Rollins (Allison Janney, The Creator) and ambassador's wife Dinah Donahue (Leslie Bibb, About My Father) among the regulars — their clique spans widow Mary Jones Davidsoul (Julia Duffy, Christmas with the Campbells) and mobster spouse Raquel Kimberly-Maco (Claudia Ferri, Arlette) — and ordering her cocktail of choice from bartender Robert (Ricky Martin, American Crime Story), she's staying in a far-from-glamorous motel. Funding for her quest to fit in with the rich and gossip-column famous comes via pawning jewellery owned by her pilot husband Douglas'(Josh Lucas, Yellowstone) comatose aunt Norma Dellacorte (Carol Burnett, Better Call Saul), the plastics and mouthwash heiress who ruled the scene until suffering an embolism.

To say that Maxine has pluck is an understatement. To say that Palm Royale takes her lead is as well. Glossily made, and also supremely stylish in its gem- and pastel-hued costuming and production design — Maxine borrows from Norma's wardrobe, too; caftans, not culottes, are a favourite among the crowd she's clamouring to join — the series bounds along with wit, verve, humour and an eagerness to unpack as much as satirise. Creator Abe Sylvia (George & Tammy, Dead to Me, Filthy Rich), who also co-directs and co-writes, knows how ridiculous that lives revolving around superficial popularity, lavishness and being seen to host the best galas can seem — and how divorced from almost everyone's reality, whether or not you consider Evelyn and Dinah's existence aspirational as Maxine does — while devotedly ensuring that none of Palm Royale's key characters are as flimsy as their materialism-driven concept of happiness.

Wiig sings Peggy Lee's 'Is That All There Is?' in her leading part — it released in 1969, the specific year when Palm Royale takes place — but the show itself doesn't inspire the same question. There's always more bubbling up in the series, which also finds a sweet spot in both Desperate Housewives and The Stepford Wives territory. Affairs, betrayal, secrets, blackmail, criminal antics and fraud flow as frequently as martinis and quaaludes, as do subterfuge, ulterior motives, big reveals and attempted murders. Patently, all that glitters for its characters doesn't equate to the gold that is blissful and carefree days. Palm Royale's aesthetics shimmer and shine, but the vision of the American dream that Maxine, Evelyn, Dinah and company are chasing is anything but flawless.

A comedy, a skewering, a drama, a soap: this self-aware series isn't ever content saying "that's all there is" to any of them. Simply shaking together all of the above into a fun and chic blend doesn't satisfy Sylvia, either. Diving Mad Men-level deep may not be Palm Royale's aim, but there's weight to its time beyond the well-to-do in Nixon's America. The inclusion of Linda Shaw (Laura Dern, The Son), who runs a feminist bookstore in West Palm Beach with her friend Virginia (Amber Chardae Robinson, Loot) — and a collective that's actively protesting the Vietnam War — makes certain that the politics of the time are never ignored, for instance, nor the fact that doggedly pursuing the cashed-up fantasy life is not everyone's wish.

Ambition isn't lacking for Maxine or for the show, then — or when it comes to making the most of such a starry cast. Surrounding Wiig, Janney and Bibb are each a treasure as frenemies with equally delicious lines, and as women who appear to uphold the rich idyll yet typify how money can't buy everything. Dern, who also executive produces as Wiig does, invests sincerity and earthiness; her moments with her IRL father Bruce Dern (Old Dads), playing dad and daughter, are a particular highlight. While being bedridden is her lot to begin with, no one casts comedy legend Burnett just to keep her character unconscious. And if there's a breakout surprise among the performances, it's from Martin, who inhabits Robert, a fellow interloper alongside Maxine, with soul and thoughtfulness as he weathers Palm Beach's la vida loca.

It might seem erratic, seesawing between Big Little Lies-esque intrigue and dramas among the affluent, or pretending to be, and letting Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar-style absurdity kick in — and also bringing the far darker Ingrid Goes West, aka Maxine's plight if it was the 2010s instead, to mind. Indeed, it's no minor feat that Palm Royale's mix hit the mark. That said, the precarious feeling that tints Maxine's life and dreams is shared by the series, because there's no shortage of ways that this could've crumpled. Going all in while striving for glory may prove chaotic for its protagonist, but it works a treat for the show that she's in.

Check out the trailer for Palm Royale below:

Palm Royale streams via Apple TV+ from Wednesday, March 20.

Published on March 20, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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