Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin

I seemed to be in the minority among TV critics last month in Pasadena during the Television Critics Assocation’s semi-annual press tour. I was not so knocked out with Palm Royale.

The 10-part dramedy begins streaming Wednesday on AppleTV+.

Maybe for me its that old bugaboo, “dramedy.” Is it simply not funny enough to be a comedy? Certainly it has some comedy masters among the cast, including lead actress and executive producer Kristen Wiig. Then there’s Carol Burnett, right up there with Lucille Ball when it comes to all-time TV comedy masters. Allison Janney is also in the cast, she of the several seasons starring in Chuck Lorre’s sitcom Mom.

And maybe that’s the other problem. With those names, more laughter is expected. Yet Palm Royale for me at least always seems Melissa McCarthy away from being truly funny.

The series is set in Florida’s tony Palm Beach district in 1969. The Palm Royale of the title is an exclusive club catering to southland elites, of which Wiig’s character, Maxine Simmons, is definitely not an invited member. This drives Maxine nuts and she is determined to crash this well-to-do party.

The producers worked to dampen any all-out comedy expectations at last month’s TCA press session. Chief among the dampeners was Abe Sylvia, the showrunner, executive producer and pilot director. Asked how be saw balancing comedy and drama on the series, Sylvia — previously best known for Christina Applegate’s Dead to Me — explained that the series was designed to best fit the diverse talents of lead actress Wiig.


The world of Palm Royale “is so delicious and all of these people are so delicious,” said Sylvia, “that we could spend three hours an episode with them and be still wildly entertained.” He sees Wiig, however, as “a once in a generation talent who is able to thread the loop between comedy and silliness and then break your heart in the next moment.”

While that may be true and Wiig does shine in certain scenes, you also need a very skilled team of writers and directors to deliver on all that potential.

Carol Burnett

Sylvia also pointed out that he has scenes between Wiig and Carol Burnett — two of the most talented comedy improvisers or their generations — and that, while they largely followed the scripts, he also made sure to grab an improvised take. To have not done so, he admitted, “would be a fatal flaw on my part.”

For me, however, the flaw is that the tone of the series comes across as uneven, not enhanced by the comedy moments. Burnett is very funny is spots and given less to do in others. As she points out, her first scenes as wealthy dowager Norma find her in a coma. The important thing, she told reporters, was, “I still got paid.”

I could have used more lines like that in the series.

Palm Royale can be compared to another period piece currently streaming on Netflix fearturing wealthy society women, although that group is based on real people. Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Capote vs. The Swans explores similar social mores where snobby elites freeze out mere mortals. That series hangs on the observations and tragic betrayal of author Truman Capote (brilliantly played by British actor Tom Hollander).

Laura Dern and Ricky Martin

The actresses cast as “The Swans” (Capote’s high society confidants) are all more associated with drama: Diane Lane, Calista Flockhart, Niomi Watts, Jessica Lange (as Capote’s late mother), Demi Moore and others. That alone sets expectations in a very different way than Palm Royale. You do feel pathos, with the occasional laugh, watching Feud unfold. With Palm Royale, it is frothy fun at times and even Dynasty level bitchy at others. It is just not as compelling as drama nor as juicy as comedy.

Ricky Martin, the Latin pop singer, would disagree. He plays Robert, one of the favoured waiters at the resort. He told reporters that he felt very lucky to be part of Palm Royale.

“It will change the way you think about life in general,” he told us. “It’s comedy, it’s a tear- jerker, it’s thought provoking, it’s a very powerful show. And I’m very honored to be a part of it.”

Burnett also offered that, “just the look of it is incredible, the scenery and all, and then with all the costumes, I have never seen anything — it’s better than any great, big motion picture that you would see. It is eye candy.”

Allison Janney

So maybe I am missing something, or I’m just bitter about being shut out of the upper echelons of society. Judge for yourself.

Palm Royale also stars Josh Lucas, Leslie Bibb, Amber Chardae Robinson, Mindy Cohn, Julia Duffy and Kaia Gerber and, besides Burnett, features as a guest star another 90-year-old Hollywood wonder, Laura’s dad Bruce Dern. The 10-episode series premieres with the first three hours on Wednesday on AppleTV+, with one episode a week after that on subsequent Wednesdays.

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