tv review

Loot Is At Odds With Itself

Photo: Colleen Hayes/Apple TV+

The name Loot belongs to a more clever, insightful show than the one to which it’s attached. That titular noun refers to an unexpected fortune after all, the kind that comes from pillaging, plunder, perhaps even piracy, and a cunning series could link that definition to larger considerations of the current world in which we live. But that’s not what Loot does. It’s too busy elevating girlbosses, repeating Maya Rudolph’s Beyoncé impression, and making dated references to the marriage of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to seize upon any relevance to this moment, and the fact that the series is perfectly pleasant while also ideologically hollow makes that name a unique kind of betrayal.

The wealth gap between American families is widening at an alarming rate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s billionaires somehow amassed $2.1 trillion more. The rich are getting richer faster, while millions of Americans in both rural and urban areas live paycheck to paycheck. A single television show can’t solve those problems, and doing so isn’t its responsibility in the first place. But it’s odd the degree to which Loot postures as a series that cares about these issues and then retreats by crafting characters who fail to either reflect or internalize the conditions that led to this disparity. Its lack of imagination is its undoing.

Loot, premiering today on Apple TV+, stars Rudolph as Molly, wife of computer and tech genius John Novak (Adam Scott, tapping into smugness left over from Eastbound & Down and Step Brothers). After they graduated from college, when John was working out of their garage, Molly supported him financially and designed his company’s early logo. Since his success, though, she has lived a life of luxury for 20 years. While her assistant, Nicholas (a vivacious, scene-stealing Joel Kim Booster), caters to her every whim, Molly herself has seemingly never held a job, never been involved in volunteer work, never learned any details of her and John’s various business holdings and shell companies, and never figured out how to drive one of their many foreign sports cars or cook for herself. Molly is unbelievably blank — until she learns that John has been cheating on her and her primary categorization becomes victim. She walks away with an $87 billion divorce settlement, but why isn’t she happy?

Desperate for some kind of direction, Molly decides to get involved in the nonprofit foundation she and John started seven years ago and which she forgot existed until director Sofia (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez) calls and tells Molly to stop getting trashed in public and making the organization look bad. It’s no surprise, though, that the early antagonism of their relationship doesn’t last once Sofia teaches Molly how to analyze a grant application and Molly teaches Sofia about the benefits of an expensive skin-care routine. Other real-world relationships follow as a result of Molly’s foundation work, and could you have guessed that those help Molly become a better person, too? She reconnects with her benefiting-from-nepotism cousin Howard (a joyful Ron Funches), who encourages her to reach out to the other family members she has ignored since she got rich. She lightly flirts with accountant and fellow divorcé Arthur (the precious Nat Faxon, adding to a year of good performances in Our Flag Means Death and Gaslit), who makes her laugh for the first time in ages. How nice that all these people whose jobs are tied to Molly are so nice to Molly!

If Loot has one thing going for it, it’s the unexpectedly heartwarming best-friendship that blooms between Nicholas and Howard, which Booster and Funches invigorate with their enthusiastic line deliveries and elastic facial expressions. But every Loot episode has a Molly-focused A-story, with rage-inducing lines like, “The world is in a much, much worse place than I thought it was, and that’s a real bummer.” It’s only thanks to Rudolph’s ability to balance winsomeness, befuddlement, and sincerity that Molly isn’t utterly infuriating, and even with that in mind, Loot overestimates how much of the character viewers will be willing to tolerate.

That’s one issue, and the other is Loot’s seeming disinterest in the nonprofit world in which it sets its story. Why does an organization that is meant to evoke the Gates Foundation have only about a dozen employees in a single Los Angeles office building when Bill and Melinda have more than 1,700 people working for them all around the world? How has this foundation handed out millions of dollars so far without the oversight of a board or without undergoing an audit that would involve Molly and John? What’s the investment-return rate on their endowment? Those in need are props to make Molly feel worse or better, depending on which stage of her getting-her-groove-back journey Loot is focusing on, and that lack of specific detail is one of the many indications that the series’ two narrative paths just don’t work when combined. When Loot attempts to do so, it ends up melting into a sort of generalized “Be nice” message, the sort of thing that Parks and Recreation eventually wore into the ground. (Loot co-creators Matt Hubbard and Alan Yang previously worked as writers and producers on that series.) When Loot is focused on Molly, there are no schisms of class, hierarchy, or power that a little treating yourself can’t fix: She buys expensive paintings on a whim, she provides flights on her private jet to people she has wronged, she invites co-workers to a spa day. But niceness is different from kindness, and that distinction eludes Loot.

Cynically, perhaps, this is realistic. Rich people buy their way out of problems all the time. But as a storytelling tool, it means that Loot falls into a frustrating narrative repetition, one in which Molly is clearly motivated by being shamed personally — by John, who dumped her, and by her former friends, who replaced her — while the series insists she is acting altruistically. Loot is at odds with itself, a dysfunction that becomes obvious as the entire season is spent luxuriating in her wealth. The series was filmed in a $141 million mansion, features elite chef David Chang in a supporting role and constantly name-drops other celebrities, and frames everything from Molly’s latest yacht to her mansion’s dedicated candy room in an envy-inducing way — but also positions characters who question or interrupt such materialism as villains.

What’s worse: When a member of Molly’s household staff, someone we never see in another scene, expresses genuine sadness about how he is going to miss her when she goes to work for seemingly the first time ever? When Loot presents Molly’s declaration of “I’m not asking for thanks; I would just like not to be attacked” as a moment of vulnerability rather than self-involvement? Or when, at a public hearing inviting feedback about one of Molly’s redevelopment projects, a community member who reasonably asks, “Why do you decide what happens to our neighborhood? Is it because you have more money?,” is presented as a baddie? Loot is afraid to let Molly be anything but well intentioned, afraid to make the point that no amount of philanthropy can solve systemic problems caused by capitalism, and afraid to offend anyone. It adds up to a “Rich people can be good, actually — please don’t eat them” framing that makes this season feel fundamentally frictionless. The finale’s last 15 or so minutes should have been where Loot started, but even the vibe shift promised in that conclusion doesn’t redeem the series’ inability to interrogate its own status quo. Loot demands our sympathy for Molly, but she already has enough.

Loot Is At Odds With Itself