Kristen Wiig’s Palm Royale Is a Delightfully Deranged ’60s-Set Soap

3 minute read

Vietnam. Stonewall. Charles Manson. Easy Rider. Woodstock, the Harlem Cultural Festival, and the tragedy that was Altamont. These are the touchstones that define 1969 in our collective memory. But in the Palm Beach of 1969, as conjured by the delightfully deranged Apple TV+ soap Palm Royale, which premieres on March 20, they barely register. Insulated from the war, free love, and societal upheaval, the resort community’s wealthy denizens have a different set of preoccupations. Like securing membership in the most exclusive social club in town.

That walled haven, a headquarters for ladies who lunch and the husbands who fund their leisurely lifestyles, is called the Palm Royale. Into its haughty, pastel-hued world vaults—as in, literally enters the club by going over its fence—the plucky outsider Maxine (executive producer Kristen Wiig). Queen bee Evelyn (Alison Janney), her ascendant rival Dinah (Leslie Bibb), and their clique of frenemies clock the interloper immediately and freeze her out. So begins Maxine’s tireless campaign to gain acceptance in Palm Beach society’s most rarefied social circle.

Laura Dern and Ricky Martin in Palm RoyaleApple TV+

She must prove herself a useful confidant in a land whose currency, especially for those who don’t have millions of dollars at their disposal, is secrets. That quest will bring her to places Palm Royale members would never venture into, from a feminist bookstore where the liberated Linda (Laura Dern, also an executive producer) leads consciousness-raising sessions to the extracurricular haunts of the confusingly ubiquitous club employee Robert (Ricky Martin). At the same time, she’s elbowing her way into campily ostentatious Palm Beach parties that give the show a festive vacation vibe—like an upper-crust cousin of Wiig’s cult comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.

The self-aware soap is an increasingly popular format, and Palm Royale adheres to familiar conventions. But showrunner Abe Sylvia (Dead to Me), loosely adapting Juliet McDaniel’s novel Mr. and Mrs. American Pie, makes it feel fresh by nailing both the comedy and the melodrama, in a punchy first season that gets weirder with each episode. The cast is similarly well balanced, with actors like Dern and Janney counterweighting comic performers like Wiig, who makes an unhinged social climber lovable, and the legendary Carol Burnett as the funniest convalescent you've ever met. You’ll find mild wealth satire if you’re looking for it, but—like an afternoon spent poolside at a club that wouldn’t have you as a member—Palm Royale is best enjoyed as pure, mischievous fun.

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