'Nine Perfect Strangers' Is Another TV Show About the Price of Paradise

Nicole Kidman plays a mysterious Russian woman running a wellness retreat that isn't what it seems.

Nine Perfect Strangers, Nicole Kidman legs crossed

Take a little bit of the creepy beach from Old, throw in a dash of the obnoxious guests of The White Lotus, swirl it all around in a David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman stew and you've got Hulu's Nine Perfect Strangers, which debuts today and ultimately can't live up to the sum of its parts.

The new series from the team that brought you the melodrama of Big Little Lies and The Undoing once again taps into what is emerging as a pandemic entertainment trend: the resort vacation gone wrong. Based on a book by Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers follows the broken souls who come to the place known as Tranquillum House seeking healing from a mysterious Russian woman named Masha, played, of course, by Kidman in a fluctuating accent. (Will she ever not sound a little bit Australian? Probably not.)

The guests think they are in for a relaxing excursion, where they can lounge by a pool, take advantage of hot springs, and engage in spa treatments, but Masha has other plans for them. She has specifically selected this group to complement each other's insecurities and issues, and wants to take them on a journey that she claims will help them become reborn anew. But first they must bicker. Melissa McCarthy's romance novelist-in-crisis Francis is immediately in conflict with Bobby Cannavale's grump Tony. Luke Evans' mysterious Lars is antagonizing everyone, while Regina Hall's Carmel is suspiciously nice. Samara Weaving and Melvin Gregg are a beautiful influencer couple on the verge of breaking up, while Asher Keddie, Michael Shannon, and Grace Van Patten play the members of a family reeling from loss.

Nine Perfect Strangers, Bobby Cannavale, Melissa McCarthy

Masha's own backstory remains dramatic but vague through at least the first six episodes. In fragmented flashbacks we learn she once wore power suits instead of flowing sheaths and was gunned down in a parking structure, ultimately saved by Yao (Manny Jacinto), who now works for her along with his girlfriend, Delilah (Tiffany Boone). Her secrets, along with everyone else's, will presumably come out over the course of the series while her methods remain suspect. The guests—or patients or even lab rats—have their blood taken and their diets regulated.

Nine Perfect Strangers is entertaining enough, and features great performances, specifically from McCarthy and Hall, but the question of what Masha is exactly up to is never compelling enough to make the series a must watch, especially when it feels like just one of many projects out there exploring similar themes.

Like Old and The White Lotus, Nine Perfect Strangers was filmed as COVID-19 was raging. All of these feel like pandemic productions. The casts are small, and the actors were sent to quarantine in a beautiful locale while filming. (In Nine Perfect Strangers' case, it was Kidman's native Australia.) These type of self-contained stories are ideal for safety protocols, but they also speak to a collective anxiety that feels more relevant than ever: What does relaxation really mean? Who can afford wellness? For the past year and a half, so many have been craving a retreat, an escape from the world. All three of these projects are reminders that with every paradise, there comes a price.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.