The Emmys have long operated on an awkward contradiction: The broadcast networks that air the show are increasingly unlikely to receive any honors, which instead go to platforms on cable and streaming. This year, that trend has reversed somewhat; Abbott Elementary, one of just two freshman shows to earn a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, airs on ABC. But this disparity is now joined by yet another irony. On September 12, viewers can watch the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards live on NBC—or they can stream it on Peacock, the NBCUniversal-owned service that garnered only three nominations, and none in categories awarded in the main show.
Since launching in the summer of 2020, without the Olympics that were meant to anchor its opening lineup, Peacock has had a tough time of it. For two years in a row, the service has ranked rock bottom on Vulture’s list of who’s up and who’s down in the so-called Streaming Wars, based partly on input from industry experts. But Peacock’s struggles aren’t entirely subjective. At 13 million paid subscribers, out of 28 million active accounts, Peacock trails competitors like Paramount+ (40 million subscribers) and Hulu (45 million subscribers). And last quarter, that number stayed completely flat—better than Netflix’s net loss of a million subscribers worldwide, but unlikely to close the gap anytime soon.
Just past its two-year mark, Peacock’s track record isn’t without bright spots. There have now been multiple pandemic-era Olympics, with February’s Beijing games a considerable improvement on the user experience of the first. In leasing out the back catalog to Yellowstone, one of the most popular shows on TV, Paramount Global’s loss of viewers has been Peacock’s gain. As for original series, Peacock has produced a few gems, including the remake of Saved by the Bell and the Tina Fey–produced Girls5Eva, as well as more dramatic fare like Angelyne, the limited series that garnered all three of the aforementioned Emmy nods. The question is whether Peacock’s lack of traction guarantees said gems will stay hidden.
Amid its Emmy woes, Peacock released its latest bit of buried treasure this Thursday. At first, The Resort instills a certain sense of dejá vu. The limited series, now streaming the first three of eight episodes, is a tropical getaway suffused with mystery and dread, à la The White Lotus or Old. It’s also the latest brain-bending genre story—after Made for Love, Black Mirror’s “USS Callister,” and more—to star Cristin Milioti in a role that straddles the romantic and the supernatural. Those similarities make more sense when the credits start to roll: The Resort’s creator and showrunner, Andy Siara, is the screenwriter of Palm Springs, the riff on Groundhog Day that trapped Milioti’s character at a desert wedding with Andy Samberg.
Milioti’s latest heroine is Emma, a woman who’s traveled to the Yucatán with husband Noah (William Jackson Harper) to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. The couple is in what a hotel employee calls “the puberty of marriage,” though from what we see, they might be closer to its death. But after an ATV accident in the jungle, Emma finds a distraction to fixate on: an old flip phone that belonged to a fellow tourist who went missing exactly 15 years prior. From there, The Resort splits into two timelines: the present, where Emma—and, reluctantly, Noah—investigate the disappearance; and the past, where 20-somethings Sam (Skyler Gisondo) and Violet (Nina Bloomgarden) enjoy a vacation romance before they vanish without a trace.
Milioti’s character is something of a trope these days—the dissatisfied wife with a fixation born of self-destructive boredom. (Think of Eve in Killing Eve, whose cat-and-mouse chase with an assassin starts less as a work assignment than an emotional affair.) From the discovery of the phone, The Resort follows Emma down the rabbit hole. Whatever happened to Sam and Violet, we learn, involved a freakishly strong hurricane, a dynasty of fashion designers, and an obscure Mexican author who, in a preview of The Resort’s offbeat sense of humor, provides the show with its entirely fictional epigraph.
These zany high jinks prove a more effective hook than the attempted commentary on marriage and relationships. The show’s limited run prevents it from going full mystery box, and when answers do arrive, plenty of ends are left breezily open. In the meantime, The Resort has an infectious sense of fun. On top of directing several episodes, Ben Sinclair of High Maintenance appears as Alex, an eccentric hotel owner who suffers from a condition he calls “memory leakage.” That The Resort has hints of the paranormal comes as no surprise based on its creators’ CVs: Siara worked on the mystical, underrated Lodge 49, while Sam Esmail of Mr. Robot and Homecoming serves as executive producer. But The Resort is more playful than portentous when it comes to whatever’s going on at its namesake locale; one of Alex’s symptoms is “a primal hatred of iguanas I just don’t understand.”
The Resort is less interested in the colonial subtext of modern tourism (The White Lotus) or the manipulative interplay between staff and guest (Nine Perfect Strangers) than other recent shows set at idyllic retreats. Instead, it takes the idea of escape and a chance for renewal at face value. This is a story so up-front about its metaphors that a character begins a climactic monologue by claiming “vacation is a lot like life.” (We also know Emma is unhappy because she Googles “how do I know if I should leave my relationship.”) If we failed to connect the dots between one couple’s young love and the other’s quiet distance, it turns out Noah and Emma, too, met exactly 15 years ago.
But The Resort’s straightforwardness seems to free up its goofier side, starting with the performances. Like Milioti, Harper is playing almost comically to type; after leading the second, much-improved second season of Love Life, he’s back in character as a skeptical-yet-supportive partner. As Violet’s father, Nick Offerman seems wasted until he returns in the present day in full Ron Swanson mode, if Ron Swanson spent some time with paramilitary groups in Central America. Married actors Dylan and Becky Ann Baker get a chance to play the couple they are in real life—this time off Zoom, where they appeared in Netflix’s Social Distance.
The Resort is suffused with psychedelic graphics that look, in keeping with its flashbacks, like an early-aughts screensaver. The imagery is a clue to how the show is best enjoyed: zoned out and Zen, as true summer TV. Its platform may have existential questions of its own to tackle. The Resort, at least, makes its frantic search for answers fun.