An old flip phone was found by an American woman while vacationing in Mexico with her husband in “The Resort” on Peacock. The couple has arrived at this lush hotel on the Mayan Riviera for their 10-year anniversary. She, in particular, is looking for anything to distract from the boredom and bickering that’s settled over their marriage. And that phone — a banged-up relic from the early 2000s — becomes a welcome distraction. An obsession, really.
It’s a digital time capsule, filled with a stranger’s photos and text messages. Turns out, that stranger was another American — a college kid vacationing in the same area who went missing 15 years earlier.
Starring Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper as Emma and Noah, there’s something fitting about seeing these two actors play a couple; both have resumes filled with stories that look at romantic relationships from unusual angles. For Milioti that includes everything from “How I Met Your Mother” to “Palm Springs” to “Made for Love.” For Harper, that encompasses “The Good Place,” “We Broke Up” and “Love Life.”
“The Resort” also takes an unusual approach, if not an especially satisfying one. Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot”) is an executive producer here along with the show’s creator Andy Siara (who wrote the screenplay for the time loop rom-com “Palm Springs” starring Milioti) and a publicity blurb for the series describes it as a semi-comedic mystery “about the disappointment of time” — I’m honestly not sure what that means and I’ve seen all eight episodes.
Emma and Noah’s Mexican vacation becomes a strange and chaotic detective story as Emma becomes consumed with the person who was once in possession of that flip phone in 2007, a naive and restless guy named Sam (Skyler Gisondo). He began a secret fling on his trip with a fellow tourist (Nina Bloomgarden) that we see in flashbacks — and then, suddenly, these two young people went missing. What happened?
Emma, with Noah’s eventual grudging assistance, is determined to find out. She’s perpetually agitated; he’s more easygoing but concerned about his wife’s state of mind.
The couple teams up with a pair of the resort’s employees, the charming but elusive Baltasar (Luis Gerardo Méndez) and, to a lesser extent, the practical-minded Luna (Gabriela Cartol) and what they unravel together is a weirdly Byzantine back story that is suffused with a plot that goes in every direction but one with a destination point. It’s a metaphysical mystery that they find themselves trying to unravel, but in the end, little makes much sense. Even the journey itself doesn’t feel as meaningful as it should.
You keep waiting for Emma and Noah to have some kind of big fight that tells us more about what ails their marriage, but, as characters, they’re just too thinly drawn. They want something other than this tension between them, that’s clear. But I’m not sure who they are beyond that.
Like HBO’s “The White Lotus,” this is a show about American travelers in luxury accommodations blundering around with little sensitivity or respect or understanding — or even interest — in the local dynamics of the place they are visiting. With a handful of exceptions, Mexican people are relegated to background players in their own country. But the presence of Méndez’s Baltasar — the son of a wealthy family of thuggish tailors who decided to go his own way in life — gives “The Resort” some much-needed shape and wit. He’s charismatic but feels lost in the world, whereas Emma and Noah are just as lost, as well as frantic and miserable. We see flickers from Baltasar’s childhood and they are droll and fun — he sends letters of blunt criticism to a novelist, who is outraged by this kid’s impudence! — but there’s no actual reason for this tangent to be folded into the narrative.
There’s a lot of that in the series. Random-seeming stories strung together until finally the show just sort of ends, as much of a mystery as it was when it began.
“The Resort” — 2 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: Peacock
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic
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