Of the nine supposedly perfect strangers on “Nine Perfect Strangers,” three are members of an equivalent family, and two are married. That’s five people — quite half — who are considerably familiar with a minimum of one other member of the group. Perfect? almost. But hey, who’s counting?
That attention to detail, or lack thereof, is indicative of “Nine Perfect Strangers” as an entire. The eight-episode series, which began streaming on Hulu Wednesday, takes a glance at wellness, wealth, and privilege, topics far more deftly and shrewdly handled by HBO’s just-wrapped “The lotus .” Where “The White Lotus” presented a warped check out the subtleties of sophistication warfare through a dark comic prism, “Nine Perfect Strangers” may be a clumsy star-driven project that, scene to scene, isn’t quite sure what it’s. Is it a comedy, a drama, a pointy satire? If you are able to work it out, make certain to let “Nine Perfect Strangers” know the solution.
The creator here is David E. Kelley, who reteams with Nicole Kidman for his or her third series together, following “Big Little Lies” and “The Undoing.” Here Kidman stars as Masha, a self-help guru who runs a California resort referred to as Tranquillum House, a replacement age spa/retreat/wellness center where visitors unburden themselves from life’s problems and appearance to emerge as better versions of themselves. The 10-day program includes therapy sessions, team-building exercises (trust falls), and field day events (potato sack races) that appear more silly than beneficial (what, there is no dunk tank?), but the place has great reviews, so it is best to travel with the program.
Masha is described by one guest as an “amazing, mystical, Eastern Bloc unicorn,” and Kidman plays her with a thick Russian accent that comes and goes. She features a dark past herself; she was shot and left for dead before being saved by Yao (Manny Jacinto), who is now one among her partners in Tranquillum House, alongside Delilah (Tiffany Boone). But she’s been threatened by vague text messages and is haunted by her past, so it seems she needs a retreat the maximum amount as any of the guests.
Those guests include a family, the Marconis (Michael Shannon is that the father, Asher Keddie is his wife and beauty Van Patten is his daughter), who is grieving a family suicide; a few, influencer Jessica (Samara Weaving) and her Lamborghini-driving husband Ben (Melvin Gregg), who are browsing marital issues; an author, Frances (Melissa McCarthy) who is at a life and career crossroads; a self-absorbed jerk, Lars (Luke Evans); another self-absorbed jerk, Tony (Bobby Cannavale), and Carmel (Regina Hall), a timid, quiet type.
Most of them manage to right away rub one another the incorrect way, especially Frances and Tony, whose childish bickering comes off like playground flirting. they seem to be a step far away from passing each other notes and asking to see “yes” if they like one another. (It’s McCarthy and Cannavale’s third project together within the last year, following “Superintelligence” and “Thunder Force.”)
There are hints of darkness and indications that each one isn’t what it seems at Tranquillum House, including particularly menacing shots of the guests’ morning smoothie preparation. The opening credits are a psychedelic wash of sunsets, fires, ocean waves, and Venus flytraps set to Unloved’s cover of Dave Berry’s “This Strange Effect” which indicates an environment of moody dread that the series can never really observe on. Each actor inhabits their own world and their own vision of the series they’re in; Kidman’s is pure camp, if only Kelley and director Jonathan Levine would have allowed her to follow that impulse, something more interesting may have emerged.
“Are we on some quiet reality show?” Tony asks within the third episode, still unsure of exactly what Tranquillum home is meant to be. The same goes for the experience of watching “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Hopefully, there’s a solution tucked into the ultimate episodes, which weren’t provided for review. Whether or not you care enough to stay around that long, that’s another story.