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The characters in 'The Resort' make a visit worth your while

Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper play Emma and Noah in the new <em></em>Peacock series.
Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper play Emma and Noah in the new Peacock series.

The Resort, the first three episodes (out of eight) of which are now streaming on Peacock, most immediately calls to mind HBO's The White Lotus, in that it is set at an expensive vacation paradise where people's personal demons must be exorcized. Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper star as Emma and Noah, a couple whose marriage is troubled and whose future appears uncertain, even as they arrive for what's meant to be an indulgent diversion.

They quickly are ensnared, however, in the details of a 15-year-old incident in which two young vacationers named Sam and Violet (Skyler Gisondo and Nina Bloomgarden) went missing right before a nearby resort was destroyed by a hurricane. They were never found — and soon, Emma and Noah find themselves playing detective on the case of these unsolved disappearances, while also trying to figure out how to rescue their own relationship.

From here, the series becomes two intertwined stories: the present-day tale of Emma and Noah, and the flashback story of Sam and Violet. Sam arrives for a vacation with his girlfriend and parents (played by real-life married character-actor power couple Dylan and Becky Ann Baker). But things quickly go south, and he winds up meeting Violet, whose trip with her father (Nick Offerman) has problems and sadnesses of its own.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, which bears the stamp of creator Andy Siara, who also wrote the time-loop romantic comedy Palm Springs, another Milioti vehicle with mysterious troubles in a beautiful location. But suffice it to say that, like a lot of twisty mysteries, it struggles at times to both make all the pieces fit and keep the story moving. Any flaws in that story, though, are easy to forgive.

That's because of the enormously appealing and talented cast. Milioti was great in Palm Springs, but also in the sci-fi dramedy series Made for Love and other admirably oddball projects she's taken on since she swerved away from a possible future in more conventional romcoms post-How I Met Your Mother. Harper is obviously a favorite from The Good Place, but can also swing drama and even horror. He easily keeps Noah, who initially seems like your basic un-fun husband, from becoming a sad sack or a drag. By coincidence, I interviewed them both for the podcast Bullseye, a few months apart, and they make a terrific pair. It's not just the two of them — Skyler Gisondo was one of several gems in Booksmart, among lots of other credits including The Righteous Gemstones, and Nick Offerman is very good doing a much less gruff father figure than Ron Swanson. Throw in the married Bakers, plus Bloomgarden (newer to me but lovely here), and it's a really strong set of performances.

Believable, grounded people in a story like this are so important, because stories with fantasy elements can lose the audience as they get weirder and more experimental. Milioti and Harper are completely believable as this very troubled pair, in that it's easy to understand how these people would have married each other, as well as how they would hit trouble.

Peacock has been in the news recently for its struggles to gain subscribers in a crowded field of streamers. That's a shame, because it's made some really well-regarded original series — Girls 5Eva, We Are Lady Parts, Rutherford Falls, the surprising Saved By The Bell reboot — and here, it presents a terrific cast in an unusual and surprisingly emotional story.

This piece first appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.