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Jennifer Coolidge Still Rules, But Tanya Is the Weak Link in The White Lotus Season 2

A palazzo full of scheming gay men hasn't been enough to salvage her disappointing return.
  • Jennifer Coolidge on The White Lotus (Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO/Primetimer graphic)
    Jennifer Coolidge on The White Lotus (Photo: Fabio Lovino/HBO/Primetimer graphic)

    The second season of The White Lotus sees creator Mike White take the heightened comedy and social commentary of Season 1 to new and exciting places. The Sicilian location of the titular chain resort has provided the setting for a swath of new characters to engage in all manner of romantic and sexual entanglements, jealousies, and embitterments. In the midst of all of that is the season's only crossover character, Tanya McQuoid, who returns after breaking out in Season 1. As played to Emmy-winning perfection by Jennifer Coolidge, Tanya spent the first season mourning the death of her mother, tentatively branching out into romance, and cruelly (if only somewhat knowingly) stringing along Natasha Rothwell's Belinda with the offer of a business partnership.

    It's easy to see why Tanya would be the one character White would carry over into the second season. For one thing, Coolidge is an absolute unicorn of a performer, bringing an energy that truly cannot be replicated by any other actress. Tanya was also the most portable of the guests from Season 1, unconnected to any of the other major characters (though she does bring along her now-husband Greg after meeting him in the first season). Unfortunately, Tanya's presence in Season 2 has been a real drag. She's been the least compelling character for much of the season, the least engaged with the show's shift in themes, and hasn't delivered on the kind of moments of hilarity that made her pop in Season 1.

    This is all especially disheartening considering the fact that HBO and The White Lotus basically defied the Emmy categorization rules by bringing Coolidge back for a second season. The Television Academy granted The White Lotus permission to categorize itself as a limited series for the 74th Emmy Awards, despite the fact that limited series aren't supposed to have characters carry over from one season to another. And yet there was Tanya getting off the boat at the White Lotus location in Sicily, with her personal assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) in tow, awaiting the arrival of her new husband, Greg (Jon Gries).

    The second season of The White Lotus shifted the show from primarily an exploration of wealth, privilege, and the careless way rich people treat everybody else, to an exploration of power dynamics within relationships and the kind of sexual jealousy that can result. For the first episode or two, Tanya's storyline existed under that umbrella. We saw she and Greg were having marital problems; Greg was frustrated with Tanya in all sorts of ways, and by the end of Episode 2, “Italian Dream,” Tanya overheard a phone conversation where it definitely sounded like Greg was seeing someone else.

    Then Greg (seemingly) left Sicily, and the show's focus moved more intently to other characters: the pair of vacationing young couples, the tri-generational Italian-American men ostensibly on a trip to visit the mother land; a pair of local sex workers trying to get one over on these sexually pent-up tourists. Tanya, meanwhile, was on the sidelines. Sure, she had that tarot reading. Yes, she was eventually befriended by Quentin (Tom Hollander) and a band of vacationing gay men. But mostly, Tanya was there as a bystander, watching Portia bounce between nice-guy Albie (Adam DiMarco) and Essex lad Jack (Leo Woodall). But even the prospect of Tanya as a Miss Havisham-esque figure trying to caution Portia away from bad decisions has been presented with such low energy and urgency. This seems to be an active choice on the part of White and Coolidge — it's not laziness, but it's also not terribly compelling.

    The situation with Quentin and the gays has certainly ramped up in the last two episodes. Tanya's big viral-video moment came at the end of Episode 5, “That’s Amore,” as she wandered the palazzo in Palermo and observed Jack — to use a clinical term — railing the hell out of Quentin (his purported "uncle"). In the penultimate episode, Tanya was further plunged into the homosexual party scene at Quentin's, ultimately having sex with Quentin's cocaine dealer, Niccoló (Stefano Gianino). This has certainly been an uptick in activity for Tanya, but it's still almost entirely passive action. There's intrigue surrounding her, including a framed photo of young Quentin with what may well be a young Greg, but she doesn't really do anything with that revelation.

    Even as the mystery regarding Quentin's identity and intentions has grown, with fan theories flying as to what it all means and how it pertains to the dead bodies we learn about in the premiere's flash-forward, Tanya's storyline has been frustratingly superfluous to the season's stronger aspects. The themes of sexual jealousy and competition have been far more compellingly depicted in the knotty quadrangle of Harper (Aubrey Plaza), Ethan (Will Sharpe), Cameron (Theo James), and Daphne (Meghann Fahy). The inter-generational tensions between Michael Imperioli's Dominic and his father (F. Murray Abraham) and son (DiMarco) have felt more urgent, especially as they've entangled with sex workers Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (​​Beatrice Grannò). Even the role of the ill-at-ease bystander has been far more richly depicted by Sabrina Impacciatore as the concierge Valentina. Compared to these characters and storylines, Tanya's lurid adventures with the gays feels leaden; their intrigue feels cheap by comparison.

    In the debate over the identities of the dead bodies alluded to in the premiere, Tanya has become a popular choice for murder victim. But even this feels less intriguing than it should be. Are we predicting a grisly end for Tanya because that's the only way her tension-laden storyline can possibly end up? Or is it because the show has pretty much run out of interesting things to do with Tanya, so White might as well bump her off? It feels more like the latter, and that's a real bummer for a character who was so instrumental to the first season's success. We shouldn't want Tanya to die just because we're bored with her. But it does seem increasingly clear that she didn't need to show up in Sicily.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The White Lotus, HBO, Adam DiMarco, Aubrey Plaza, F. Murray Abraham, Haley Lu Richardson, Jennifer Coolidge, Leo Woodall, Meghann Fahy, Michael Imperioli, Mike White, Sabrina Impacciatore, Simona Tabasco, Theo James, Tom Hollander, Will Sharpe