How Is Hulu’s ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ Such a Hot Mess?
TV fans in “White Lotus” withdrawal were excited for another prestige drama about the rich and entitled running amok at a fancy getaway. But Kidman’s new show is a big miss.
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Nine Perfect Strangers, One Messy Show
There are few positions that suck to be in more than the person at bat after someone hit a home run.
(This is the rare occasion where my wonky sports metaphor is actually informed and not some “shot the touchdown into the goal” nonsense. For a time in his tweendom, Baby Kevin was a perfectly competent Little Leaguer, a feat of hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness that this [redacted]-year-old who can’t walk through his living room without crashing directly into the coffee table can barely believe he ever had.)
In any case, when you’re in that position, everyone is thrilled and excited, riding the high of witnessing greatness. All that energy is then turned onto you. Of course, you’re not going to hit a home run. You know that. They know that. But glory fosters delusion, and therefore nothing will possibly satisfy anyone except that unlikely follow-up homerun.
Even if you hit, like, a double or triple, it’s a letdown, a disappointment that’s magnified by its proximity to the previous triumph. And if you strike out? The enthusiasm crash is so violent, if you look up after you’ll see the Road Runner speeding away from Wile E. Coyote with the rest of his anvils.
I don’t know why I decided to start a reaction piece about the first few episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers by talking about baseball, but here we are.
The point I’m making is that the new Hulu series, which stars Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Regina Hall and is about a bunch of rich and entitled people attempting to recharge at an expensive getaway, suffers greatly from debuting just three days after the finale of HBO’s The White Lotus, which starred Jake Lacy, Jennifer Coolidge, and Connie Britton and was about a bunch of rich and entitled people attempting to recharge at an expensive getaway.
The series was about as much of a watercooler obsession—the TV world version of a home run—as there’s been this summer, and the finale was fantastic, in this critic’s opinion. Other people have quibbled about elements of the episode, and the great thing about television discourse is that everyone gets to have strong opinions, even those who are absolutely wrong.
(The complaints about Alexandra Daddario’s reunion with Jake Lacy being unbelievable are ludicrous, and hint that not enough of you have spent your life amidst insufferable millennial women to understand that it was exactly what a character like that would do.)
In the aftermath of The White Lotus ending, people wanted more The White Lotus... which is to say they wanted Nine Perfect Strangers to be The White Lotus. It is not. In fact, I’m not even sure the series is good.
The first three episodes premiered on Hulu this week, setting up the central premise and some not-that-interesting mysteries. There’s an unconventional wellness retreat that nine guests, each hoping to confront their own personal crises, descend upon—or, rather, are chosen to attend as very few people are lucky enough to be selected for one of its limited slots.
Its spa treatments, personalized diets, and bucolic environs evoke resorts like Canyon Ranch, were a luxe getaway like that to seem immediately sinister upon arrival. Something seems off and vaguely nefarious, like a GOOP underling might spring out from behind a bush at any point and start pelting you with jade vagina eggs.
Melissa McCarthy plays a successful author reeling from bad professional news and a dating-life disaster. Bobby Cannavale is an addict and overall grump. Regina Hall is a divorced mom who wants to lose weight and feel healthier and possibly has some screws loose. There’s a married influencer couple struggling with their relationship. A family of three is working through a son’s suicide. Luke Evans is there, too, seemingly just to be cranky and hot?
The mystical figure at the center of it all, however, is Nicole Kidman’s Masha, a Russian healer/former business lady/possible ghost. That’s not even a joke. Her whole thing is that she technically died once after being shot and rebirthed with a new purpose, which is apparently to be both ethereal and intimidating while rich people bitch about not being able to use their phones.
Right off the bat, nobody wants to be there, which is a bold creative choice for welcoming viewers to your TV show. On the one hand, I get it. As a person firmly against the concept of being among other people, the thought of being confined to a resort with eight other strangers—perfect or otherwise—and a constantly smirking Russian witch lady is misery. But groaning displeasure, while certainly my general state of being, isn’t exactly the jolt to get you excited about a new series.
But that’s the thing: the jolt never comes. Over the course of three episodes, the circuitous narrative amounts to the guests wondering, on a seemingly never-ending loop, “Why are we here?”
They learn that Masha is incredibly picky about the guests she selects. They discern that the nine of them and their traumas are meant to fit together like a puzzle, that they’re all there for a specific reason. They suspect the treatments they’re receiving are more experimental in nature than they might have thought: “Why are we here?” Three hours into the show, I do not know why they are there, but I did stop caring about the answer in about half that time.
It doesn’t help that the performances are all over the place. McCarthy is the standout, delivering a “Reese Witherspoon in Big Little Lies” kind of revelatory performance, bitchy and soulful at the same time. In fact, she’s the only person on the show whose character even vaguely resembles an actual human, a byproduct of the fact that no one seems to understand what the tone should be. They are all acting as if they are in entirely different series.
Then there’s Kidman, floating through the series with her cryochamber chic aesthetic. It’s phenomenal not just how often Kidman works, but how big of a swing each performance is. It’s also disappointing how often, lately, a study of her work is reduced to yet another outlandish wig and uneven accent.
There’s no denying her Masha is captivating by nature—this is Nicole Kidman holding your attention on screen, after all—but nothing about the character is as enrapturing as the presence she fortifies. What is Masha hiding? The story is so underwritten that no amount of Kidman’s signature eye-twitch acting could hypnotize you into caring.
I’m not sure if Nine Perfect Strangers is that bad, or if it’s just hurt by comparison to The White Lotus. It’s a show in which the plot kind of hangs there stagnantly, like an unmoving cloud of humidity, like the one torturing the privileged guests at Masha’s retreat. As a person already terrorized by his intense tendency to sweat, that’s not the refreshing escape I’m looking for.