It needs to be said right at the start of this review of the entire first season of Loot that Maya Rudolph can do no wrong.
To be fair, that inarguably true and definitive statement was likely settled as gospel a good many years before this, but as you watch Loot, currently streaming on Apple TV+, it becomes apparent time and again that Rudolph who rose to prominence on Saturday Night Live before leaving it in 2007 to make a name for herself in movies and on TV, is a truly gifted performer.
While Loot is ostensibly the story of the wife of a tech billionaire, Molly Novak/Wells (Maya Rudolph) who finds out, at her birthday part no less in front of LOTS of guests, that her husband John (Adam Scott in now signature The Good Place devilish mode) has been cheating on her leading to a very messy divorce and an $87 billion settlement, it is also a fairly moving story of reinvention.
Forced to reassess her life which is given over to parties spread across the globe, private chefs and a home big enough to house a reasonably sized village, Molly has to ask herself if this is all her life is worthy anymore?
It’s a whole of existential deep digging that’s triggered by the fact that she discovers she has a philanthropic foundation, headed by no-nonsense CEO Sofia Salinas (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez) who really cares about her employer’s mission to change the lives of the less fortunate in southern California, which is everything Molly is not.
Determined to remake her life, she takes to turning up to the office each day with gusto, even if her flamboyantly bitchy and aspiring actor assistant Nicholas (Joel Kim Booster) laments the loss of their lavish cycle of self-indulgence to no particular timetable bar the need to always have fun, to the regimen of meetings and an actual 8 hours in the office.
It’s a wrench and a massive shift for Molly, and while Loot has a LOT of fun with the idea of a self-indulgent billionaire trying to adapt to the banality of a work-a-day world and trying to relate to the core group of people in the office which also includes tech guy Howard (Ron Funches), accountant Arthur (Nat Faxon), and admin team Rhonsa (Meagen Fay) and Ainsley (Stephanie Styles), it does play everything for laughs.
In fact, more often than not while Molly is portrayed as someone who, though dulled and set apart from ordinary folk by 20 years of lavish living and endless partying, is not without considerable heart and a healthy grounding in the real world courtesy of a family with whom she reconnects in episode 8, “Spades Night”, that is equal parts sitcom hilarity and affecting dramatic intent.
In other words, the show rather cleverly gives Molly’s character some real substance, important for the long-term storytelling and health of the Loot which would’ve found itself riding nowhere on a one-joke pony if she’s been sculpted as a ditzy rich woman and nothing more.
She is definitely out of touch, failing to understand at a few noticeable points – in “Pilot” (ep. 1) she gives a tone-deaf speech to end all tone-deaf speeches to a bunch of woman’s shelter residents while in “Bienvenidos a Miami” (ep. 2), she takes everyone on al ill-advised bonding retreat, and in “The Silver Moon Summit” (ep. 10) she fails to realise that you can just whisk everyone off to Corsica for a conference, even one with good intentions – but she’s also in touch enough to know that what the foundation is doing matters, that the lives of her co-workers have merit and worth and that she needs to reacquaint herself with the world outside her billionaires’ bubble.
It’s a big learning curve and it imbues Loot with some real emotional weight and meaning in amongst a slew of superbly written and delivered, very funny and richly observed jokes that play to the very heart of how insanely rarefied the world of the super-rich really is.
Take the moment when Sofia pops over to Molly’s mega mansion to coach her boss on the foundation’s many projects in advance of a series of hard-hitting interviews the next day where Molly is desperate to prove she has what it takes to do something worthwhile with her life.
In episode 2, “Hot Seat”, the coaching is indeed done, undertaken seriously and with earnest devotion by Sofia for whom the work of the foundation cuts to the very heart of who she is as a person but along the way Sofia, who rarely cracks a smile and who is scarily intense, discovers that she only has to say she’d like to eat and drink something and it’s there almost instantly.
It’s hilarious, not simply it points to the absurdly excessive availability of anything to the rich, but it highlights how easy it is to get seduced by extreme wealth, something Sofia rails against, even as she benefits from the way it makes the work she does possible, and which Molly is yet to extricate herself from; well, not until a big epiphanic moment in the final season 1 episode.
It also reinforces something else Loot does brilliantly well which is draw, flesh out and make affecting and comedically inspired use of its cast, all of whom take the fully fleshed out and thoughtfully created characters they are given and run with them.
It marks Loot as a top tier sitcom right from the start which knows zinger jokes d not a long-living comedy fest make and that if you are going to have the longevity of many of the classics such as Frasier and Cheers, that you need to invest as much in your characters as your punchlines, witty retorts, and achingly funny observations.
Molly is the obvious poster girl for this character-driven approach, growing and, not as the case may be, in ways that are wholly affecting and gloriously amusing, but other characters develop beautifully too including Arthur, who may have a thing for Molly with whom he has quite the spark, Nicholas, who actually becomes a better person despite his resistance to the very idea of that, Howard, who’s Molly’s cousin and a good and kind-hearted friend to Nicholas and Sofia who stay true to her charitable work calling while realising perhaps the world isn’t as black and white as she thought.
Loot is one of those gloriously rewarding sitcoms which never loses sight of the fact that while it is primarily there to make people laugh, something that fittingly and happily occurs a lot, it is also there to make some salient points, among them that lots of good things can happen with money in the right hands and used well, and that being a grounded human being doesn’t mean you can’t pursue some wonderfully lofty dreams.
Full to the brim with heart, a sense of goofy absurdity and a skewering wit for which no topic is off limits, Loot is a sophisticated, clever and thoughtful sitcom that give precedence to its characters, letting them drive the comedy which is as hilarious as it comes, and serving up some interesting idea about money, connectedness and how life isn’t as simple as just having lots of something like money but that it’s what you do with it that counts, a sage life lesson that gives real grunt to the ever flowing laughs.