Even though he’s been in the industry for decades, Mike White was unexpected. But then, bisexual chaos is always unexpected. And that’s precisely what White brought to prestige TV with his masterpiece, The White Lotus, an anthology series that continues to be the only thing anyone wants to talk about.
Apart from a few choice roles (including his 2011 series Enlightened, which he co-created with star Laura Dern), White has been the man behind the camera, writing such diverse and varied works as the 2003 Jack Black vehicle School of Rock, 2017’s Beatriz at Dinner, and a handful of Dawson’s Creek episodes in the ’90s.
He’s even done his time in the Survivor circuit: in 2018, he achieved runner-up status on the show’s 37th season.
But nothing could have predicted, or compared to, White’s hysterical, pitch-perfect comedy of manners, The White Lotus, a series in which assorted far-too-rich guests wine, dine, and possibly get murdered in glamorous locales, all while providing incredible meme fodder.
Season one, set on Hawaii’s big island, gave us the Murray Bartlett/Lukas Gage rimjob scene that no one could forget.
Season two, which brought a new cast of characters to a White Lotus on the sunlit coast of Taormina, Italy, gave us even more. We got Aubrey Plaza as the sexually frustrated wife of a tech bro explaining in deadpan that she doesn’t watch Ted Lasso. We got Jennifer Coolidge—the main character holdover from season one—proclaiming “these gays…they’re trying to murder me!”
And that’s not even touching on what The White Lotus theme song has done for the club, and the culture.
“I was thinking, it would be so fun to bring Tanya back,” White explained about Coolidge’s character in an HBO behind-the-scenes featurette for the The White Lotus finale. “Maybe that’s the journey for her, the journey to death.”
To create an iconic character, surround her with murderous gays and messy bisexuals, and then murder her in the silliest fashion possible is all par for the course with The White Lotus. Because what the show is is bisexual chaos incarnate. And White, bisexual himself, knows this better than anyone.
Both seasons of The White Lotus have been chock-a-block with not only gay icons like Coolidge and Plaza, but canon gay characters. In both seasons, the White Lotus hotel managers were horny older queers looking for release, and both series featured some semi-sapphic friendships between femmes.
But it’s not just about the campy, silly moments: The White Lotus stands out in a glutted prestige TV landscape for actually holding a critique inside its glitzy package. The White Lotus is one of the few shows we have about wealth that avoid, in some unconscious way or another, celebrating the wealthy (sorry, Succession.) It’s also a beautiful blend of high and low culture, of soap opera and crime drama.
That’s not exactly a new combination for White, who can be credited with modern-day masterpieces and total commercial efforts, such as 2017’s The Emoji Movie.
In 2002, while discussing his new comedy Orange County, he told Provincetown Magazine about his struggle finding a place for his particular talent.
“I went through the main character’s experience in a lot of ways–and am still going through it,” White admits. “You wonder if, in a culture where great literature doesn’t have a high value, there’s a place for you–and does that mean you need to escape, or can you stick it out?”
White stuck it out, and the culture is richer for it. In White’s textured, oblivious, and passionate characters can be found the stuff gay dreams are made of. And season three, set in Thailand, promises to bring us an even more star-studded, hilarious class critique.
But none of it’s surprising. White has been a legend for a long time, and he’s going to stay one, if this community has anything to say about it.
After all, you don’t win three Emmys without knowing exactly how to please the girls, gays, and theys on the small screen.