It’s about damn time actress-comedian Maya Rudolph got to flex her considerable talents as the lead of her own TV series. Long a star supporting player during seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, as a voice actor on various animated shows, and in feature films from Bridesmaids to Grown Ups, the four-time Emmy winner now finds herself front-and-center, and in full flow, on the new Apple TV+ comedy Loot (★★★☆☆).
Created by Matt Hubbard and Master of None co-mastermind Alan Yang, Loot isn’t as consistently well-realized right out of the gate as, say, Hacks or Russian Doll. But it’s several shades of funny, uncommonly compassionate, and takes big chances — not the least of which is building a mainstream comedy around a jet-setting billionaire in this gloomy economy.
Rudolph’s stylish, new-money socialite Molly Novak isn’t a bad person, per se. She’s superficial and absurdly out-of-touch, firmly ensconced in the opulent, mega-yacht and supercar life she shares with tech-bro husband John (Adam Scott), who also isn’t exactly evil. He is a dog, though, as revealed swiftly — and, for Molly, in humiliatingly public fashion — in the pilot episode.
Their scandalous, expensive divorce leaves her with $87 billion and turns her into a media hot topic, à la Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Bezos. The betrayal also sends her spiraling. Molly, who supported John in every way as he built his billion-dollar company, was so thoroughly invested in their marriage and so comfortable in their wealth, that she neglected to cultivate her own passions, outside of a stunning wardrobe.
Yang, directing the first two eps of the ten-episode season, captures in one dreamily serene montage a sense of the world passing Molly by, each day bleeding into the next. She’s still attended by a hilariously large household staff in her enormous mansion. You won’t pity her, but Rudolph will have you rooting for her. Like Master of None, Loot delicately balances the poignant and the absurd, subtle asides and broad slapstick.
Rudolph, who can ham it up with the best of ’em (or the worst, if we’re talking about some of her Grown Ups castmates) mostly plays Molly at a credible level of amusingly pissed-off and heartbroken. She only goes full zany when it’s called for, as in a fun post-divorce sequence of Molly bouncing around the international party scene with gay aide-de-camp Nicholas (a snarky Joel Kim Booster).
Molly wakes up to the fact that she’s been moving without purpose, and much like billionaire divorcées Gates and Bezos, she finds purpose in running her charitable foundation. First, she has to be informed that she even has a charitable foundation, a solid joke that sets up the show’s fish-out-of-water premise, as Molly, with Nicholas in tow, dedicates herself to being a team player at her namesake foundation.
Blissfully unaware of how unaware she is, Molly initially clashes with the foundation’s intensely focused director, Sofia, portrayed by Pose star Michaela Jaé Rodriguez. Sofia is a driven hard-ass, who, quite obviously, will warm to Molly eventually. Everybody else in the office falls for her immediately, including gregarious Howard (comedian Ron Funches), a distant cousin she barely remembers, and hangdog single dad accountant Arthur (Nat Faxon), who develops a crush on her.
The writers do little to disguise the plot turns that come along rather expectedly, and it takes a few episodes before the ensemble locks into a steady, snappy rhythm. And mid-season feels repetitive in portraying Molly’s gaffe-prone foibles as the face of the foundation.
Once the show commits to storylines for characters other than Molly, it starts to feel like we’re going somewhere. And throughout the entire season, in broad strokes and witty details, Loot astutely emphasizes the ways that money can change everything, or, conversely, doesn’t change anything.
The show has it both ways, portraying how intoxicating private jets and private chefs can be, while making the point that Molly’s privileged, “frictionless” life, as Sofia calls it, bears no resemblance to how most people live. And maybe, while so many suffer with so little, no one person should have so much. Yet, what can any one person do but try to be better?
Molly Novak, celebrity billionaire, is not just like us, but for her, like anyone watching, there’s a world to gain by giving. She stumbles often on her path of learning to be more generous, but, thanks to Rudolph’s grace and comic panache, gets up every time looking like a million bucks.
New episodes of Loot are available for streaming every Friday on Apple TV+. Visit www.apple.com/apple-tv-plus.
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