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Limited Series. 

Aired On: Apple TV+.

Release Date: 03/20/24.

"An ambitious woman schemes to secure her seat at America's most exclusive table: Palm Beach high society circa 1969."


Though Palm Royale has a certain campiness to it – which one may expect given it’s fronted by a fabulous, bleached blonde Kristen Wiig – some viewers may be surprised that the series isn’t perhaps as continually comedic as envisioned.  Whilst Wiig has proved her witty worth on her long-running tenure on Saturday Night Live, as well as in films like Bridesmaids and Barb & Star, she’s an immaculate dramatic performer – see The Skeleton Twins – and it’s her effortless blend of grounding an exaggerated character that keeps Palm Royale from completely turning into the farce it so easily could have become.

Given its 1969 setting, it’s a bit of a surprise that the Abe Sylvia-created series – the producer also earning credits on Nurse Jackie and Dead to Me – doesn’t have a lot of historical weight to it, but it’s clear that the series is aiming for a more light absurdity overall, with Wiig’s Maxine Simmons charging through in a manner that, thankfully, keeps us on her side, despite the character’s questionable morals.  A former beauty pageant queen, Maxine has always dreamed of joining high society, and she sees an opportunity to join the well-to-dos when her husband’s wealthy aunt (Carol Burnett) seems on the verge of death.  It’s morbid, but it makes sense, but it isn’t the easiest transition to join the wealthy whites by simply stating she’s Norma D’ellacourt’s (sort-of) niece.

Maxine gives it a red-hot go though, and she convinces her husband, Douglas (Josh Lucas) – an airline pilot who has essentially rejected the renowned D’ellacourt name – to return to Palm Beach, Florida, and tend to the unresponsive Norma, currently in a vegetative state following an embolism, hoping that she will pass away and leave her entire fortune to them.  It’s quite a nasty state of mind, and it would be easy to root against Maxine if Wiig wasn’t so effervescent in the role, and if the high society types who swan about Palm Beach weren’t quite so awful.

Leading the charge in that regard is Allison Janney as Evelyn Rollins, the reigning queen bee of the Palm Royale country club, who manages to shake our perceptions throughout the series as to whether or not we can truly consider her a villain.  Janney knows how to navigate manipulative confidence, and her distaste for Maxine is understandable, but we see a certain likeness between the two – that they are both outsiders working hard on their intended status – that helps their dynamic from ever succumbing to anything archetypal.

On the other end is the character of Linda (Laura Dern), a feminist who hopes to recruit Maxine to a new way of thinking. Maxine is old-fashioned – in a certain sense – but, again to the benefit of Wiig’s casting and Sylvia’s guiding, she has a stronger sense of self than she’s given credit for, and it’s this that helps the two ladies bond; of course, the series isn’t without throwing a few melodramatic revelations throughout for plot convenience.

Ultimately, Palm Royale works best when it’s aiming for Desperate Housewives/Dynasty-like drama, and it sets itself firmly within the satirical compounds of framing the rich.  The vague thriller elements and brief touches on abortions and the queer community never quite land as strongly as they should – the latter could’ve especially been noteworthy given the time period – but the ensemble cast (which also includes a wicked Leslie Bibb and a surprisingly straight-laced Ricky Martin) continually keep the palms swaying in the right-enough direction.  

It may not quite find its footing amongst the Apple TV+ crowd, but those that appreciate the intelligent trash of an outing like 2011’s Revenge would be wise to check in. Its shiny, tropical aesthetic masks a little of Palm Royale’s darkness, but the always reliable Wiig keeps this resort a positive experience.

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