Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper star in The Resort, Peacock’s existential crime comedy series from the Palm Springs writer and creator of Mr. Robot.
By Valerie Ettenhofer Published 28 July 2022
If there is a title for the existential comedy equivalent of a scream queen, Cristin Milioti deserves it now. Of black mirror at Palm Springs at made for love, the actress has portrayed characters who have resolutely tackled bizarre and mind-bending storylines in some of the best speculative fiction of recent years. Now she plays in The complexa mysterious new series of Mister Robot creator Sam Esmail and Palm Springs writer Andy Siara. A moving and eerie genre mix set in the Riviera Maya, Peacock’s The complex is an entertaining series with undeniable pacing issues.
Milioti plays Emma, a woman who goes on a vacation for her tenth birthday with her seemingly dissatisfied husband Noah (William Jackson Harper). Noah is loving and at peace with their relationship, while Emma seems to crave momentum – even the dangerous kind. When Emma spills into the jungle and finds a phone belonging to a college student named Sam (Skyler Gisondo), who disappeared fifteen years earlier, the pair end up diving face first into a sprawling and dangerous mystery.
The complexThe greatest strength of is its cast: Harper, Milioti, and Gisondo all play to their well-established strengths, from Harper’s baffled support to Milioti’s borderline maniacal determination to Gisondo’s sweetly geeky charm. Newcomer Nina Bloomgarden is brilliant as Violet, a young woman who disappeared the same day as Sam, while Nick Offerman gives a surprisingly powerful performance as Violet’s grieving single father.
Harper and Milioti, in particular, are a surprising anchoring force for a series that often feels wandering and contemplative. Emma and Noah carry a lot of love, but also a lot of pain, and the series unpacks it in fits and starts amid their wild adventures as amateur sleuths. In fact, the pair are so watchable, it’s easy to let their propulsive performances and knack for witty dark comedy carry you through until the end of the season.
When you look away from the couple at the center of the show, there are aspects of the show that don’t quite hold the weight of their ambition. The show positions itself as a potential sci-fi story from the start, opening with two seemingly contradictory quotes about time travel. Additionally, Emma and Sam’s sagas begin with intriguing head injuries, setting them up to be, perhaps, cosmically linked. From the outset, The Resort appears to be more than a banal mystery, but it takes viewers on an at times meandering tour to its shaggyly defined final destination.
Like all Milioti projects listed above, The complex is really a matter of connection. As the fuse in Noah and Emma’s relationship threatens to burn out (they are, as Gabriela Cartol’s janitor Luna puts it, in “marriage puberty”), Violet and Sam burn for new possibilities. Yet the side stories have hurt them from the start, as the young couple’s demise is what fuels the more settled couple’s new lifeblood. These comparisons are obvious, but with the rest of the series’ resonant themes, they sometimes feel like they’re treated with too light a narrative touch to really hit home.
The complex is not bad: far from it. Still, the show tries to weave together several philosophical threads, embracing both ambivalence and ambiguity in ways that are often difficult to convey onscreen. It also feels like it could have been a movie. Over its four hours, the story sags at times, especially when it centers on scenes of Sam and Violet which, while endearing, don’t shed much light on their demise. Its tougher points, including an ending that meets some expectations and avoids others, also seem more suited to something other than an eight-episode format.
Still, it’s a testament to the understated star power of its two lead actors that The complex ends up being as enjoyable as it does despite its flaws. As they descend deeper into Yucutan and the mysteries of the resort-goers who came before them, Noah and Emma push far beyond their comfort zones, all in the name of pursuing something together. They’re simultaneously funny, tragic, and real, and Milioti and Harper easily sell every part of the characters. Serial, The complex is quite good. As proof that her talented and effortless prospects should be given whatever projects they want, it’s undeniable.
The complex debuts on Peacock on July 28. Watch the series trailer here.
Related Subjects: Peacock
Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, television enthusiast, and macaroni and cheese enthusiast. As a senior contributor to Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the television and documentary branches of the Critics Choice Association. Twitter: @aandeandval (She she)