A lottery winner, a drug-addicted former footballer, and a grieving family walk into a bar. Well, more like a smoothie bar. Nine Perfect Strangers, the latest collaboration between author Liane Moriarty and Nicole Kidman (and adapted for TV by David E. Kelley and John Henry Butterworth), is a captivating limited series on Hulu that follows a group of individuals all brought to the gorgeous Tranquillum House for a wellness retreat. As they learn more about their cryptic host and what brought them there, it’s clear nothing is as peaceful as it seems.
Masha (Kidman) is the mysterious leader of the Tranquillum House, a woman who was pronounced clinically dead after a near-fatal accident, and who has made it her mission to drastically change lives upon her rebirth. She hand-selects each group of visitors, only allowing those who need her help most to receive it. Along with a small handful of assistants (two key employees are played by Manny Jacinto and Tiffany Boone), Masha cultivates an enigmatic experience at the gorgeous spa located deep in an undefined, Napa Valley-esque landscape, far away from prying eyes and anyone who threatens to disrupt Masha’s very explicit plans.
Each guest has come to Tranquillum in search of help, spiritual guidance, or just some good ole fashioned R&R. Francis (Melissa McCarthy, also serving as an executive producer) is a novelist looking for inspiration and relaxation after an online relationship turned out to be a scam; Tony (Bobby Cannavale) is struggling with opioid addiction following a sports injury; married couple Jessica (Samara Weaving) and Ben (Melvin Gregg) have lost their spark; Carmel (Regina Hall) is reeling from family drama and motherhood-induced insecurities; and the Marconi family (Asher Keddie, Michael Shannon, and Grace Van Patten) are looking to reconnect after a death nearly tore their family apart. The ninth and final guest, Lars (Luke Evans), is the most guarded and doesn’t make it immediately clear why he has arrived at the Tranquillum House.
Like Big Little Lies, also adapted from a novel penned by Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers excels in balancing its incredible ensemble cast. Every performance in the series is well-acted and thoroughly engaging. Throughout the series, different activities—like an all-male foraging trip—bring together varying groups of guests, and each new combination further complicates the relationship dynamics that seemed so certain when they arrived. The seemingly vain Jessica and insecure Carmel butt heads frequently, as do Tony and Francis, and it’s enthralling to watch the bonds that ultimately develop between them. Further, each guest is also given a one-on-one session with Masha during their stay, allowing the audience to fully dive into their psyches alongside her.
Of the star-studded cast, Kidman and Shannon give standout performances. Masha is a walking contradiction, at times warm and inviting, but able to snap into an icy demeanor in the blink of an eye. She’s innately confident and dares anyone to disagree with her, especially when it comes to The Protocol—the evasive way she refers to the treatment her guests are receiving. It seems that Masha has calculated every move; not just her own, but the moves of each guest and worker at Tranquillum House as well. Shannon, on the other hand, expertly plays a goofy and repressed father struggling to comprehend how his family can endure such tragedy. As he works through this grief, his vulnerability is palpable. Although his wife and daughter are experiencing similar pain, Shannon’s performance is deftly subtle and incredibly moving.
Nine Perfect Strangers is not the first work of post-pandemic television with such a luxurious backdrop. In HBO’s The White Lotus, the resort is crucial to the class commentary that’s rooted in the heart of the series. Despite its beauty, the expansive hotel is stifling and a powder keg for interpersonal drama. In Nine Perfect Strangers, however, the idyllic facilities are merely a backdrop for more effective character studies. Both of these series could have a similar logline: a group of rich, white people arrives at a gorgeous resort, only to find there’s more than simple relaxation in store. But Nine Perfect Strangers edges out The White Lotus, particularly in the writing of its characters, providing more depth and a far more compelling group of individuals. To its credit, The White Lotus is about horrible people who are incapable of seeing their own privilege, but when the commentary doesn’t go much further beyond that, it’s hard to not be left wanting more. While Nine Perfect Strangers isn’t necessarily attempting the same critique on wealth as The White Lotus, it offers a more gripping look into the over-the-top and eccentric experiences available to the ultra-rich.
Despite her seemingly bizarre ways of healing, Masha truly wants to help all of the Tranquillum House visitors, and believes that she is. Her ideas are weird and fascinating, and encourage the guests to look within to finally get over whatever is holding them back from the happiness she knows is possible in all of their lives. Once they give in completely to her, the results are empowering and at times, frightening. After savoring the six episodes made available for review, the final two cannot come soon enough. Nine Perfect Strangers takes us along for the ride—a trippy, intense, exhilarating ride—and like the guests of the Tranquillum House, it’s best if we just buckle in and let it happen.
Nine Perfect Strangers premieres Wednesday, August 18, with a three episode drop. The following episodes will be released weekly on Hulu.
Kristen Reid is a culture writer and TV intern for Paste Magazine. She’s been known to spend too much time rewatching her favorite sitcoms, yelling at her friends to watch more TV, and falling in love with fictional characters. You can follow her on Twitter @kreidd for late-night thoughts on whatever she’s bingeing now.
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