Perhaps the main hurdle the show faces is one of expectations as it doesn’t match the aforementioned series. The simple conceit involves a group of guests (nine, coincidentally) arriving at an exclusive health-and-wellness retreat, promising them a transformative experience in just 10 days.
The enigmatic director of the facility, Masha (Kidman), pulls the strings, whose motives and tactics are as difficult to decipher as the origins of her accent. The strangers could hardly be more different, but in soft whispers it is noted that Masha is essentially casting each group, suggesting a higher logic at work – or worse, a bizarre rat-in-a-maze experiment.
Every visitor harbors some sort of secret, from the author (Melissa McCarthy) to the journalist (Luke Evans), the divorcee with anger issues (Regina Hall) to the former athlete (Bobby Cannavale), the four solo attendees. Think of a family (Michael Shannon, Asher Keddie, Grace Van Patten) mourning the death of their son/brother, and a couple (Samara Weaving, Melvin Gregg) whose outward beauty masks hidden insecurities.
The guests resist to varying degrees the regime Masha has in store for them, a mix of new-age counseling and hardship, ostensibly designed as a spiritual, psychic and physical cleansing. Still, there are early musings from the small staff that the latest arrivals could be particularly flammable, raising the question of whether the owners can steer the wheels they set in motion.
The most fundamental thread connecting this show to “White Lotus” is the problems of rich people, and the not-so-subtle message that having a lot is clearly not the same as having everything when it comes to happiness.
As the plot progresses slowly, the writing makes up for that by spreading meaty material for the actors in this adult summer camp, no small feat at this sort of exercise.
In the balance, “Nine Perfect Strangers” doesn’t reach perfection, but it’s both quite odd and fairly compelling. That doesn’t match the compulsive binge eating that “Big Little Lies” or “White Lotus” offered, but as the TV version of Summer Escapes wears off, it’s not a bad trip.
“Nine Perfect Strangers” premieres August 18 on Hulu.