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Peacock's The Resort is a Rip-Off Mystery Series

Up to a certain point in “The Resort,” the twisty Peacock series from creator Andy Siara (and executive producer Sam Esmail) feels like it just wants to be a beach-read of a binge-ready mystery TV series. All the more power to it, especially with Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper as its two vacationers-turned-sleuths at the center. The two get caught up in a missing tourists story in the Yucatan that goes back 15 years, and also involves something about the possibility of changing time. Should be breezy enough, right? And yet “The Resort” finds a way to make this all incredibly convoluted and drawn out, the kind of mystery that makes you question what it even thinks it is doing. “The Resort” is a rip-off, however you want to read it. 

Here is a series that is more or less all exposition, all clues and memories, and it barely feels like a plot. Instead, “The Resort” uses a mystery to create the illusion of movement, in this case of going on a kooky adventure. The first couple episodes have this sense of chase, especially as Emma (Milioti) and Noah (Harper) pursue a story of missing young people while on a marriage-healing vacation in Mexico. She found the phone of Sam (Skyler Gisondo), which had never been a part of the previous investigation; it’s the first piece of evidence that links him to a different missing person, Violet (Nina Bloomgarden), who was also staying at the Oceana Vista Resort in 2007, and also disappeared during a massive hurricane. Emma is fixated on learning the truth, and when she opens up to Noah joining him, they use news reports and Sam's text messages to fill in the blanks. 

Some of this detective work involves sneaking around the abandoned Oceana Vista Resort, where they run into Baltasar Frias (Luis Gerardo Méndez), whose last name holds a lot of power, contrary to his own outcast nature. He’ll get into all that, in great detail. “The Resort” opens to small world of kooky characters meant to have surprising sincerities, many of them given loving performances. There is no villainous force in the story, despite the Frias family being prefaced that way as domineering and ominous, but we learn more about the far-reaching empire from its rejected son Balthasar who becomes a main character in the adventure, as supported by employee Luna (Gabriela Cartol), who also knows the old resort's cryptic secrets. They both used to work for an eccentric named Alex (Ben Sinclair) who owned the Oceana Vista Resort before the hurricane destroyed the property 15 years ago, along with other strange events. 

The characters simply don’t do a whole lot in this story, across eight half-hour episodes. There’s so little comedy or thrills along the way, but there are long scenes of them learning more about strange things that happened in the past, either in personal flashbacks or in the Sam & Violet timeline. It becomes profoundly tedious how large chunks of rhythm are given to different characters to explain something that doesn’t make all that much sense in the end—the disheveled Alex owns a couple middle episodes, with his head that is “leaking memories,” and it’s far too rambling to stoke intrigue. And when the show does cook up a striking visual puzzle piece, as with a mural featuring people who by logic of time shouldn’t be painted on it, “The Resort” gets tangled up trying to explain that. 

Even what “The Resort” yearns to really be about—its personal themes about the passage of time and relationships—are underwhelmed by its reliance on such superficial intrigue. For however much it wants to be about a frayed marriage coming back together through this adventure, it handles those emotional elements so indifferently, and then later so on-the-nose as if it were all a plot point anyway. Milioti and Harper are fine in these two roles, but it’s also clear when the story doesn’t have much ideas for their chemistry, so it has them play with flashlights as if they were lightsabers for ten seconds of quirky comedy. Their shared grief is revealed and cared for with about the same tact and meaning; meanwhile we spend a lot of time with Sam and Violet, who are just like two kids that decide to chase a firefly and leave their parents behind. Violet is consumed herself by a book about time travel, as given to her by her late mother.

The only sturdy emotional arc that might exist in this story belongs to Nick Offerman, whose performance as Violet’s father displays how the experience of grief transforms someone, and can always return them to unanswered questions. It happens so late into the story that I can’t get into too much detail, but it’s a sliver of some emotional impact, as if Offerman's tears have the life source this mystery needs. Other than him, the why of following this unrewarding mystery is just so thin, which makes our reason to stick with these barely developed characters even thinner. 

There came a point, deep into the weeds of “The Resort,” in which I was annoyed any time a character asked a question. It started to feel like anytime someone asked about what they were doing, or "How do you know this?", “The Resort” would break into some tangent that was nonetheless removed from its nonexistent stakes (the series doesn't have a villain, and maybe it needed one since it doesn't even have a good finish line). It's a terrible resentment to have, especially for a series meant to stoke curiosity about a life-reflecting journey, and yet can seem to only do it in some way by dragging the audience by the nose from one piece of information to the next. But as the curiosity of the show dies episode by episode—about a powerful family, a powerful hurricane, a powerful book written about time travel—it’s clear that there is no grand scheme behind “The Resort.” If there ever was one, it’s long gone. 

All of season one screened for review. The first three episodes of "The Resort" premiere on Thursday, July 28th, with a new episode each week. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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