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Kristen Wiig’s 1960s-Set ‘Palm Royale’ Is Unserious in All the Best Ways: TV Review

Long before Instagram stories and TikTok videos were a thing, gossip magazines and television allowed everyday people to feel a connection to the wealthy and beautiful. In real life, few are brave enough to elbow their way onto the A-list, but others are bold enough to demand a seat at the table — which brings us to “Palm Royale.” Based on Juliet McDaniel’s novel, “Mr. & Mrs. American Pie,” and adapted for television by Abe Sylvia, Apple TV+’s new 1960s-set comedy, “Palm Royale” follows bottle-blonde Palm Beach transplant Maxine Simmons (a perfectly cast Kristen Wiig), who is determined to craft a glitzy and glamorous life for herself, even if it means bending the rules a smidge. Wildy outrageous and amusing, “Palm Royale” suggests that you might get more than you requested if you’re delusional enough to go after what you want.

The series opens in the early summer days of 1969 at Palm Beach’s most exclusive country club, the Palm Royale. Though she has neither an invitation nor the funds to cover the $30,000 initiation fee, Maxine doesn’t let that deter her from scoping out the establishment she’s long admired. Dressed like an orange creamsicle and armed with a sunny disposition and an exhausting tenacity, Maxine catapults herself over the club’s back wall. After finding a seat by the pool to indulge in her grasshopper cocktail and observe her surroundings, Maxine quickly learns that no one at the country club will be extending a welcoming arm to her.

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Like any societal structure, the Palm Royale has its hierarchy. At the head is Norma Delacore (Carol Burnett), Maxine’s estranged, comatose aunt-in-law who has ruled Palm Beach for 49 years. Vying for Norma’s crown is Evelyn Rollins (an unhinged, thrilling Allison Janney), who is just waiting for her filthy rich husband, Skeet (Bruce Dern), to die. There is also wealthy socialite Dinah Donahue (Leslie Bibb), who will use any opportunity to get Evelyn out of her way. While these ladies certainly aren’t friends, they quickly band together to tell Maxine just how unwelcome she is in their town.

A pageant queen from Tennessee with a simple-minded pilot husband, Douglas (Josh Lucas), Maxine has mastered the art of white womanhood, using misogyny and the patriarchy for her own gains. Despite her naïveté, her yearning for a luxurious life continues to drive Maxine even in the face of secrets, blackmail and a perfectly timed fender bender. Amid the mean mugs and the constant humiliation, the housewife plots her way inside Palm Beach’s inner circle on a quest to host the end-of-season Beach Ball, Norma’s annual extravaganza. Along the way, Maxine also connects with Linda Shaw (Laura Dern), a feminist activist and owner of a bookstore, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Maxine makes another unlikely ally in Robert (Ricky Martin), an observant waiter who knows much more about the who’s who than he lets on.

This pastel-infused satire is full of absurd charity events, pill parties and closets bursting with skeletons that sometimes are made public in the town’s gossip rag, “The Shiny Sheet.” From pawn shops and bounced checks to a near-continuous cycle of President Nixon discussing the Vietnam War on televisions playing in the background, “Palm Royale” is ridiculous fun. Though highly underestimated, Maxine charges forth, determined to find Norma’s coveted rolodex, which is the key to the Beach Ball invitations and becoming the woman she’s always aspired to be.

As bright and colorful as “Palm Royale” is, outlandish moments, including a whale, several assassination attempts and the random appearance of a crowned prince, highlight the need for some sharper editing. The show’s 10 episodes are overstuffed, never letting the audience catch its breath. By the time the credits roll on the finale, so much has happened that the viewer feels like they have been spinning around in the middle of the circus. It is a fun experience for sure, but definitely too long.

Coveting other people’s lives can be intoxicating. That’s why social media is so addicting, and influencers are able to rack in the dough. And yet, as many reasonable folks recognize, what is deemed exclusive and desirable are often just beautiful illusions; the tatters and tears are carefully tucked away from the public eye. Still, by the time the series ends, Maxine is someone viewers want to root for. Watching her follow her materialistic-centered dreams is a joyfully delicious experience. After all, there is something thrilling about a woman who decides what she deserves and has the gumption to go get it.

The first three episodes of “Palm Royale” premiere March 20 on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping weekly on Wednesdays.

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