The Spool / Reviews
Palm Royale is no day at the beach
An undeniably impressive cast can’t overcome the empty spectacle at the heart of Palm Royale, AppleTV+’s period dramedy.
NetworkApple TV+
SimilarKONOSUBA – An Explosion on This Wonderful World!, Monarch of the Glen, Oh, Doctor Beeching!, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,
Watch afterGame of Thrones Stranger Things Ted Lasso The Orville,
StudioApple Studios,
6.3
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There’s something undeniably inspired about casting Kristin Wiig as Maxine Simmons in Palm Royale. A social climber attempting to ingratiate herself into late 60s Palm Beach high society, Simmons shares with Wiig a certain constant desire to change herself. The actor’s years at Saturday Night Live and subsequent film roles have established her as a chameleonic performer. She has enough versatility to play everyone from the painfully grounded to live-action cartoon characters. In this case, Wiig pours that talent into a woman trying desperately to be a different version of herself.

As a kind of middle-aged conservative version of Tom Ripley, Wiig does indeed excel. The actor invests a mix of brute force cunning and barely hidden desperation in Simmons. That makes the would-be social maven compelling and repulsive in equal measure. Her machinations are too intriguing to ignore, but her very presence can be almost unendurable, especially for viewers with an overactive sense of vicarious embarrassment.

Palm Royale (AppleTV+)
Kristen Wiig and Allison Janney try to hash it out. (AppleTV+)

The show also adds an interesting layer to her performance of wealth and class. Simmons’ claims often sound outlandish, the scrambling lies of someone trying to stay one step ahead of being exposed. However, Palm Royale slowly confirms a great many of them. Unlike Ripley or Saltburn’s Oliver Quick, she’s not a total fabrication. She has the credentials for the inner circle, but can’t stomach the time it takes. 

This, in part, explains her affinity for the oft-mentioned President Nixon. He was a career politician with an impressive resume of offices held and a robust Rolodex. Yet, he couldn’t shake his demeanor and grasping sense of entitlement. It frequently got him what he wanted, but it also handed him every failure he experienced, including the eventual loss of the Presidency. Simmons, similarly, has the money and status to enter Palm Beach’s exclusive enclaves but scales walls, steals, and manipulates to get there a season earlier. And like Nixon, every trick she uses races her ahead 12 steps. And, like Nixon, the consequences of those tricks continue to mount, making what could’ve been a slow but leisurely stroll into life as a Palm Beach Queen B a rapid, frenetic, and eternally close to toppling affair.

Palm Royale (AppleTV+)
Behold. The face of a man just owning a show, as demonstrated by Ricky Martin. (AppleTV+)

Wiig has excellent support from a cast that includes Leslie Bibb and Allison Janney as two of the current in-crowd women, Laura Dern as a member of high society turned late-60s feminist, and Carol Burnett as an aging mouthwash magnate. However, the true surprise is Ricky Martin as Robert, the most crucial staff member at the Palm Royale. Impossibly ageless at 52, his skin has this sheen that sets him apart from the rest of the Palm Beach elite. They’re desperate to stay young and usually failing while he’s doing it as easy as breathing. With none of Simmons’ advantages, Robert seems to play the game better than her, securing the graces of many in the inner circle and finding forbidden romance. Martin has acted before, but he’s never married his charisma and skill as well as he does here.

With so much to the good about the cast, it’s doubly disappointing to report that Palm Royale doesn’t quite work. There’s plenty of activity and a heaping helping of delightfully soapy situations, certainly. That ensures it is far too busy to be a hang-out series where the viewers can just enjoy spending time with fun characters. However, all the activity, all the bluster never seems to amount to anything. The show hints at plenty of “points”—class consciousness, racial issues, gender dynamics. Unfortunately, Palm Royale doesn’t have much to say about them. Or, at least, not much unique or especially insightful. As a result, the plot mechanics strand a game Wiig and her powerhouse supporting cast in a maelstrom of activity, keeping all manner of plates spinning, for little result. 

NetworkApple TV+
SimilarKONOSUBA – An Explosion on This Wonderful World!, Monarch of the Glen, Oh, Doctor Beeching!, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,
Watch afterGame of Thrones Stranger Things Ted Lasso The Orville,
StudioApple Studios,