“Palm Royale ”Review: Carol Burnett Brings Her Signature Slapstick Comedy to Palm Beach

The Apple TV+ series also brings Kristen Wiig, Leslie Bibb, Allison Janney, Ricky Martin, Laura Dern and Julia Duffy to the Florida social scene

<p>Apple TV+</p> Carol Burnett in "Palm Royale"

Apple TV+

Carol Burnett in "Palm Royale"

As an actress, Kristen Wiig never wears out her welcome. A wonderfully eccentric comedian, she can also be much more subtle, delivering her lines with soft, unexpected notes. Think of the music a cat might produce as it carefully walks the length of a piano keyboard. Across the 10 episodes of Apple TV+'s Palm Royale, though, her performance grows only to a point, then stops, even as the series’ farcical melodrama spins ever more wildly.

Any actress might have trouble pulling off Palm’s Maxine Simmons, a former Tennessee pageant contestant determined to conquer Palm Beach society in the late 1960s. Palm Beach is where her husband’s aunt Norma (Carol Burnett) has reigned for decades—although she’s been felled by an embolism.

In a late episode Dinah (Leslie Bibb), one of Maxine’s many frenemies, wheels on her and says: “I can’t tell if you’re a country bumpkin or the most ruthless woman in Palm Beach!” The show doesn’t seem to know, either.

<p>Apple TV+</p> Kristen Wiig in "Palm Royale"

Apple TV+

Kristen Wiig in "Palm Royale"

Related: Kaia Gerber Has Sweet Support from Mom Cindy, Dad Rande and Brother Presley at Palm Royale Premiere

Maxine falls somewhere between Vanity Fair’s conniving Becky Sharp and Scout, the innocent little narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s not impossible to be both wily and guileless—but does anyone from Succession fill the bill? Wiig can tease out laughs from the sillier moments, some involving a beached whale, but she hasn’t been provided with enough rope and a big enough harpoon to land the character.

This is true of Palm overall. The production design is terrific, as if Pedro Almodóvar decided to share his palette of popping colors, and the cast is impeccable, but nothing here ever feels sufficiently sharp, sophisticated or simply funny. Oh, for the shallow satiric sprightliness of ABC’s Desperate Housewives!

The strongest performance is Burnett’s as the aunt, an absolutely horrible schemer who spends much of the show slowly recovering consciousness. Burnett plays Norma with an unforgiving toughness — even when she’s comatose — and, by some miracle, she projects the slapstick kick of her old CBS comedy show. Other standouts include Allison Janney, looking like the retro-chic ghost of Susan Hayward in Valley of the Dolls, as Evelyn, Maxine’s rival for control of the annual Beach Ball; Ricky Martin, managing to combine sex appeal and moral decency as Robert, a kind of glorified pool boy; and Julia Duffy, still best known for Newhart, as Mary, a rich, unstable widow hounding Maxine for a promised charity donation.

Related: Kristen Wiig Says Working with Carol Burnett Has Made Her a 'Better Person': 'I Just Love Her'

The story tries to connect Maxine’s misadventures to the era’s larger themes—Vietnam, Nixon—but the attempt is flimsy. (You can see this sort of thing done right in the 1975 film Shampoo.) Laura Dern, at least, is powerfully fervid as Linda, who wants the town to be brought in line with her progressive politics.

Palm remains mystifyingly inert. It’s like watching inflatable rafts drifting across the surface of a pool, waiting for a tidal surge to deliver a forward shove. But that doesn’t happen in pools.

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Palm Royale premieres its first three episodes Wednesday on Apple TV+ followed by new episodes every Wednesday through May 8.

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