Palm Royale: Maxine Rolls the Dice

Posted on March 27, 2024


We never would have predicted this and we almost feel a little guilty writing it out, but with the fourth episode of Palm Royale, something became increasingly, uncomfortably apparent to us. The best parts of the show tend to not be the ones featuring Kristen Wiig, which is something of a problem because she’s not just the lead, she’s driving the entire story.

Before we go further, we think Wiig is a bona fide comic genius, potentially (but not yet) on par with her co-star Carol Burnett or, perhaps a little closer to her style, Lily Tomlin. If the show moves a little snappier and the jokes land a little better when she’s not dominating a scene, we have to assume it’s because the creators behind the show (in this case, director, co-writer and executive producer Abe Sylvia) aren’t quite in control of the material. Everything tends to feel a bit rambling and occasionally nonsensical.

It’s not that we think Wiig is bad. If anything, the material she’s getting just isn’t playing to her strengths. Maxine, at least as she’s currently being written, isn’t all that interesting a character. Wiig tends to play her so low-key and straight, which is an odd choice to make when you’re starring opposite people like, well, Carol Burnett and Allison Janney. The show has such an over-the-top aesthetic and most of the characters are little more than well-dressed cartoons. We can see why the show would want to differentiate Maxine from the women she so desperately wants to befriend, as if to illustrate how she doesn’t belong, but it seems like an odd choice to make all of the society women colorful, over-the-top characters (when in reality, most people at that level of wealth couldn’t be more dull) while rendering the social climber/pageant queen/jewel thief/liar as someone getting into wacky scrapes while just trying to get ahead. We’ll give her credit for the rhumba scene, however. Making her way through a chorus line of showgirls while half-heartedly trying to rhumba felt like something Lucille Ball or, not coincidentally, Carol Burnett would have done in their heyday and she was genuinely funny about it. They should give her more physical comedy and a little less of the voiceover narration.


Having said that, this episode was a big improvement over the first three, which failed to captivate us completely (as per the previous review and a spirited podcast debate); partially because Carol Burnett is being used more, and partially because whatever story they’re trying to tell is starting to coalesce and make a little more sense. So much of the first three episodes would have landed better had they dispensed with the whole “arriviste sneaking into the Palm Royale but forgetting to mention she’s a member of its most revered family” aspect, which took up way too much time. The motel scenes were funny enough, but the story would’ve moved along a little better had she moved into the Dellacorte mansion from the beginning. But enough whining about the past. As we said, things are starting to cook a little more. Don’t be distracted by the costumes or the rhumba or even the jokes. There is a lot going on here and we can’t tell yet if it’s to the writers’ credit that you have to work to pick up on all of it.

Evelyn visits Norma in the care facility and literally rolls her looking for the key to her safe deposit box. Allison Janney and Carol Burnett are just golden in this scene. Janney’s “Norma, stop fucking with me!” was hilarious. It’s notable that Evelyn seems to genuinely care for Norma, although Norma blinked back that she didn’t miss her. Janney is so good at threading the needle on portraying women who come off like bitches, but are really just trying to hold something together (which, to be fair, is true of most women who get called bitches).

Maxine goes to see Linda, distraught over the news that she and Dougie have been disinherited from Norma’s estate. Given the reveal that Linda was the girl left at the altar 20 years before (called it!), and the implication in the opening flashback that someone got shot at the wedding, we have to question her motives for “helping” Maxine. We also think, given how much the show lacks subtlety (not a criticism), that a nearly literal shotgun wedding 20 years ago forces the inevitable question: who in this cast could conceivably play a 20 year old? If you think about it, so far there’s no real reason to have Kaia Gerber’s character in the story. To be fair, the note in Norma’s rolodex implies that Linda/Penelope fired the cute little pistol at Dougie, rather than her clearly wild father.


Incidentally, the scene with Bruce Dern was sweet, but it kinda felt like Laura Dern just wanted to work with her father and let him ramble a bit on camera. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that a millionaire arms manufacturer who would’ve been born about 1885 would ever act, look or talk like that in 1969. It makes even less sense that a guy who talked and acted like that would marry Evelyn Rollins.

There was a really cute visual gag in the Palm Beach probate court scenes. The background of nearly every shot was peopled with nothing but the elderly in wheelchairs led around by gold diggers and gigolos. We kind of feel like Norma’s “Let’s play doctor” to Robert last episode was a misdirection. We’re clearly supposed to think he’s been seducing or romancing her, but it seems a little too pat. Granted, he would not have been the first gay man to make a career out of seducing elderly women. Some might suggest that, historically speaking, there’s always been an entire class of gay men who make a lifestyle out of wealthy elderly women. Not so much now, because they can hit on the wealthy elderly men so much more easily and openly while enjoying the same level of social benefits. But we don’t think that’s the direction this is going. “Everyone is just out for themselves, Norma,” he confesses to her. “But you knew that, and you protected us.” We’re not sure what their relationship entailed, but we doubt it was sexual, just as much as we doubt Norma was “protecting” everyone’s secrets as she was hoarding them for her own use.


“Have you ever seen such a tacky shit parade in your life?” A hilarious (and a weensy bit racist) line from Evelyn to Maxine that indicates a certain level of comfort with her. That’s the kind of thing you say to a peer, not someone you consider beneath you. In a surprising show of vulnerability, she bemoans “the rise of the common criminal” in Palm Beach society and even admits that she feels her power slipping away. With her husband fading away, and mobsters taking over the social scene, the only thing she can do to stave off insignificance is the Beach Ball.

Dinah is thrilled that her tennis instructor lover is threatening to kill her husband Perry — and we don’t think they’re gonna drop this plot point. Meanwhile, Perry and Dougie are planning a business venture together. Dougie might be Kaia Gerber’s father. Perry was also hitting on Kaia Gerber and asked for her number. You do the math. More and more, the rather ill-defined but much-discussed Perry is looking like a murder victim.

Maxine gets Robert arrested because he knows she stole Norma’s jewels, which is a deeply shitty thing to do. We don’t mind a lead character who’s awful, but we just don’t get that from Wiig’s portrayal. This would all be so much more fun if Maxine really was a scheming manipulator who was hell bent on destroying anyone who got in her way. We don’t understand this constant need to portray her as nervous, obsequious, and in over her head while she’s doing clearly villainous things for clearly terrible reasons, especially since they lingered so long on Ricky Martin’s po face and made a point of portraying his string of bad luck as a result of his gayness. If you’ve got a lead character framing a gay Latino war veteran for a crime he didn’t commit, you need to stop being wishy-washy about who your lead character is. There was a very cute touch with Robert pulling Giovanni’s Room off the shelf and scanning all the messages and phone numbers inside. This was, in fact, a very common way for queer men to connect at the time.


And finally, there’s the legend herself, Carol Burnett, who is managing to make such things as blinking and sipping a martini look hilarious. The final scene with her trying to communicate with Maxine was the first time we laughed loud and hard at the show.

So, we’ve got an entire cast with nothing but secrets, stolen jewels, a shotgun wedding that ended in the worst possible manner, business deals between shady men, a pistol floating around, and a whole lot of people who seem right on the verge of using it on someone. Palm Royale still isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders, but it’s definitely improving. Just prop Carol up on some pillows and give her more to do.

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