Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Palm Royale, on Apple TV+

Groucho Marx famously quipped: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Maxine Simmons would not find that funny. She is desperate to join the most exclusive country club in Palm Beach, to assure her entrée into the high society that congregates there in 1969. Naturally, the gate-keepers are dead-set against allowing her in, but the naïve social climber turns out to be quite resourceful in creator Abe Sylvia’s ten-part Palm Royale, which premieres today on Apple TV+.

Simmons is so eager to join the Palm Royale, she scales the wall and invites herself in. Robert, the waiter, will see her out, because one the Korean War vet’s duties is ejecting the riffraff. Of course, Simmons would take exception to that. In fact, she would rather be known as Mrs. D’ellacourt, because her husband, Douglas D’ellacourt Simmons is the black sheep nephew of Norma D’ellacourt, the queen bee of Palm Beach society.

Unbeknownst to Mr. and Mrs. Simmons, Aunt Norma disinherited Douglas and the fell into a minimally conscious, nearly catatonic state. Frankly, she did it because of his marriage to gauche Maxine. Nevertheless, Simmons regularly visits the non-responsive Norma, to “borrow” from her closet. Weirdly, Robert, the obviously closeted (to everyone except Maxine) waiter, has an ambiguously protective relationship with Norma that sets him at odss with Simmons. However, he and the crass social climber will slowly warm to each other.

The other ladies-who-lunch are a different story, especially Evelyn Rollins, who considers herself Norma D’ellacourt’s rightful heir at the top of the social order. To claim her place, Rollins is desperate to get her hands on Aunt Norma’s infamous rolodex, which also holds all the blackmail fodder she has amassed on Palm Beach society.

Palm Royale
is billed as a comedy, but at least half the jokes poke fun at the recovering Aunt Norma’s attempts to speak, which come out as grunts and groans. If you think speech disabilities are hilarious than, boy oh boy, are you going to laugh during Palm Royale. You can tell the series is deliberately trying to milk D’ellacourt’s nonverbal utterances for humor, because one or two clearly echo thesp Carol Burnett’s famous Tarzan howls.

As a bonus,
Palm Royale also rewrites some history, erasing Kingdon Gould Jr., Nixon’s ambassador to Luxembourg and a WWII veteran, who was awarded two Silver Stars with Oak Clusters and a Purple Heart, replacing him Perry Donahue, Douglas Simmon’s corrupt real estate developer crony. On the other hand, it certainly makes Pres. Nixon look conscientious, apparently holding round-the-clock press conferences, updating the nation on developments in Vietnam, 24-7. Whenever anyone turns on the TV, there he is.

To further confuse matters, it is unclear whether Sylvia and the writers expect viewers to root for or against Maxine. She is tacky, manipulative, opportunistic, and delusional. Yet, she is also idealistic, a relentless self-improver, and in her own way, loyal and faithful. Mrs. Simmons is also keenly patriotic, but it seems like Sylvia and company consider that a questionable virtue. A major subplot involves the efforts of Rollins’s estranged step-daughter Linda Shaw to desert to Canada, which lands quite awkwardly for us grown children of Vietnam veterans. Our perspective and those of our military parents are definitely not included in
Palm Royale, not even from Maxine Simmons.

Frankly, rude, “offensive” humor can be refreshing, but it should have multiple targets. However, considering
Palm Royale spends so much time championing gay rights, abortion rights, and the anti-War effort, its mockery of speech disabilities hardly reflects a subversive take-no-prisoners South Park-y attitude.

It is too bad, because if Sylvia and company had embraced rudeness,
Palm Royale could have been a ruckus farce. Kristen Wiig plays Simmons (D’ellacourt) with an indomitable optimism that is actually quite winning. Ricky Martin also brings a lot of understated charm and humor as Robert. Allison Janney basically reverts to her type-casted sarcastic power-maven as Rollins, but as her fans would expect, she still gets lot of laughs. Probably the nicest surprise is Mindy Cohn (who we all still best know from The Facts of Life) as the sardonic society reporter.

Unfortunately, Burnett makes Aunt Norma a mean-spirited caricature. Laura Dern is also insufferably hippy-dippy as Shaw, but she has some poignantly redeeming scenes with Bruce Dern, who logically and convincingly plays Shaw’s father, Skeet.

Palm Royale
is a bright, colorful period production, but the tone is all over the place. At least it has a nice soundtrack, including Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bang, Bang.” Palm Royale is just too inconsistent, too didactic, and too hypocritical. Not recommended, Palm Royale starts streaming today (3/20) on Apple TV+.