‘Palm Royale’ Review: Apple’s Shiny, Starry Comedy is All Style, No Substance

This star-studded period comedy ends up being a bloated and confusing mess.

Kristen Wiig stars in Palm Royale. Courtesy Apple TV+ Press

Much like the vapid, ostentatious characters it revolves around, Palm Royale is a show with a shiny surface and very little depth underneath. This story of social climbing in 1969 America has all the components of a savvy, snappy new series, from its A-list stars to its exquisite period production, but it ends up a bloated mess with a major identity crisis.

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The show’s set-up is easy enough to get on board with: Maxine Simmons-Delacorte (Kristen Wiig, with a Tennessee accent that takes a minute to get used to) is a former Chattanooga pageant queen determined to break into the esteemed Palm Beach social scene. She has little to her name aside from a doting, doltish husband Douglas (Josh Lucas) and a tenuous family connection to the town’s maven. That would be Norma Delacorte (Carol Burnett), who just so happens to be comatose, her assets on display for any eager loved one to take advantage of.

This all leads to Maxine fatefully scaling the walls of the exclusive Palm Royale beach club, coming into contact with fearsome socialites Evelyn (Allison Janney) and Dinah (Leslie Bibb) as well as a generally well-meaning waiter, Robert (Ricky Martin). As she infiltrates the upper echelons of society, Maxine also gets close with the leader of a local feminist circle named Linda (Laura Dern), who has her own history with the Palm Beach elite. Gossip, affairs, attempted murders and more ensue.

Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin in Palm Royale. Courtesy Apple TV+ Press

If that all sounds fun, think again—Palm Royale is so overstuffed across its 10 episodes that it becomes an absolute slog. Though it’s billed as a bright and zippy comedy, each 50-ish minute installment feels more weighed down with plot than the last. Whether that’s Dinah’s marital problems (that she inexplicably blames on Maxine), Evelyn’s money concerns, or Douglas’ boneheaded business ventures, the individual plotlines combine to make a confused story. When the series dips its toes into soapier waters, such as Linda’s relationship with her father (played by Bruce Dern) or the local gossip columnist’s intense attention on Maxine, it feels like a waste.

It also doesn’t help that, by episode 10, very few of the umpteen plotlines actually get resolved. Conflicts are forgotten or forgiven in the span of a few scenes, only to be rehashed out of nowhere episodes later. Plot holes abound, problems make no sense, and the people who populate this show are written with next to no consistency. It’s shocking how messy the scripting is, given the caliber of talent on screen and behind the camera—Palm Royale has the look and vibe of a prestige comedy, but it fails to perform at the level of those it’s recruited.

The series’ MVP has to be costume designer Alix Friedberg. If you’re the kind of person who watches things just to gape at the wardrobe, then she alone makes the show tuning into. Maxine and her fellow Palm Beach ladies require multiple outfits a day, and you can be sure that every garment is vibrant and vivid in the bright Florida sun. Gowns, ready-to-wear casuals, even chic vintage tennis wear—the looks are easily some of the most entertaining parts of the series.

The performances aren’t too bad either, but there is a sense that the cast could have really killed it with better material. Wiig works well as the leading lady, making Maxine’s increasingly unbelievable facade at least a little bit credible. Though she mostly operates in her regular zone of kooky comedy, she does get to flex her dramatic muscles in the show’s finale. As the stern and scheming Evelyn, Janney also plays an admittedly familiar (though never unwelcome) role. Bibb gets some good zingers in as well, in between Dinah’s major personality shifts.

Carol Burnett in Palm Royale. Courtesy Apple TV+ Press

Carol Burnett is obviously a highlight of the ensemble, even as the series does its damnedest to limit what she can do; her Norma spends the first few episodes unconscious, then awakes (sort of) into a twilight stupor that sees her able to make vague noises and small movements. Few people could make communicating via blinking this funny; Burnett excels at her bits, when she’s allowed them.

Ricky Martin also impresses as perhaps the only sympathetic character of the series. Robert is lonely and at an uncertain point in his life; new friendships with Maxine and Linda help him open up and discover who he really is. Martin and Wiig have a lovely rapport, and their friendly relationship is one of the few effective and genuinely moving throughlines. That said, the role of waiter-slash-pool boy-slash-supportive best friend does feel a bit questionable, especially when combined with Linda’s Black feminist comrade Virginia (Amber Chardae Robinson). The two major characters of color exist as exceedingly capable sidekicks to their bumbling white counterparts, and though Robert gets a subplot of his own and Virginia frequently calls out Linda’s privilege, it all feels like an afterthought to update an outdated dynamic.

Much more could be said about the mess of Palm Royale, from its pointless references to the Nixon presidency and mid-century feminism to the sheer number of bad checks Maxine writes without getting in trouble, but it’s best to keep this review on the shorter side—better that than have it end up as long as this truly interminable series.

The first three episodes of ‘Palm Royale’ debut on Apple TV+ on March 20th. 

‘Palm Royale’ Review: Apple’s Shiny, Starry Comedy is All Style, No Substance