If you’re going to focus a sitcom on a character who is the third-richest woman in America after the divorce, casting Maya Rudolph would be a smart move.
Molly Novak, the heroine of the new Apple TV+ series “Loot”, is the wife-to-be of a tech gazillionaire who is kind, funny and, as played by Rudolph, childishly delighted with her lavish lifestyle. Rudolph’s seamless blend of witty bravado and unassuming charm—among today’s actresses, she’s easiest to imagine in a 1930s Hollywood comedy—keeps us on Molly’s side as she overhauls her life and attitude in 10 episodes.
For one of those episodes, it’s also easy to be on “Loot”‘s side. The show begins with Molly heading for the large yacht her husband, John (Adam Scott), is giving her for her 45th birthday. “Can we turn the sun 20 percent lower?” she asks, half seriously, all the while mocking and celebrating their mega-rich status.
The caricature of extreme wealth is, in the first episode, relentless and quite funny, from Seal’s guest appearance to sing “Happy Birthday” (he’s upset to hear Michael Bolton sang it on one of Molly’s previous birthdays) to Molly’s fumbles to open the doors of John’s candy-colored, aerodynamic sports cars. That screwball energy resurfaces here and there later in the series, especially in a running gag with David Chang as Molly’s personal chef, who constantly apologizes for his restaurants distracting his attention from her.
That first half hour is packed with action: Molly and John’s marriage predictably is ajar; Molly comes out of their divorce with $87 billion and goes on a transcontinental revelry; Finally, back in Los Angeles and feeling lost, she gets a call from the director of the charitable foundation she didn’t know she had and decides to check it out.
And then “Loot”, for the most part, goes off a cliff, with the delights of the first episode increasingly similar to the setup for a prank that never arrives. Satire goes on vacation, replaced by tired workplace comedy, inconclusive romantic comedy, and a level of sentimentality that goes even beyond what the show’s creators, Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard, could have gotten away with when they were on “Parks and Recreation.” ‘ worked.
Some of this can be attributed to the general pablum-before-the-pandemic effect that has gripped situation comedy in recent years. But the problems with “Loot” go beyond that. Understandably, the show wants to make Molly as sympathetic as possible, but it barely presents her with any conflict beyond her own comedic weaknesses; Scott, whose plastered arm is perfect for John, barely shows up after the opening.
You can feel a juggling act: the show aims to mock Molly’s privileged ignorance and then too, while her work with the foundation reorients her moral compass (or just puts her to shame), to score points for reforming her and for offering easy reflections on class and gender. However, the attempt to make that straddle is half-hearted – an indication of the show’s divided consciousness is the strange way no one comments on Molly’s wealth, or behaves strangely around her unless a certain message is conveyed. Delivered.
Most of the time is taken up by the mildly amusing, mushy, formulaic jokes of the foundation’s staff, including the forbidding director Sofia (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez of “Pose”), a sweetheart of a techie (Ron Funches) and a normie accountant with a crush on Molly (Nat Faxon). They’re all fine, and Joel Kim Booster, as Molly’s personal assistant, can be bitingly funny if the script gives him a chance. But their roles are so softly drawn that their performances don’t get a chance to sign up.
Rudolph, meanwhile, sails through “Loot” as the captain of Molly’s gigantic yacht, oblivious to the rough waters. The show is structured as a series of revelations as Molly goes on her journey of self-discovery and learning how the little people think; Rudolph, with her extraordinarily expressive features, makes us feel each new revelation. However, she can’t make us forget that the display of the privilege fakery in the first episode is the one and only thing on the show.