If I were to choose a moment to release a television series that not only asks for, but requires, sympathy for a billionaire so obscenely rich that she is the third-wealthiest woman in America, I am not sure that I would launch it slap-bang in the middle of a rampant cost of living crisis. Still, Loot (Apple TV+) has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Maya Rudolph, who plays Molly Novak, soon to be Wells, also soon to be one of the most famous cheated-upon wives in the western world.
Molly is married to a tech baron, John Novak (Adam Scott, really putting in the work for Apple TV+ after Severance), and lives an airy, removed life of ultra-privilege and opulence. They have a mansion so vast that it makes the Selling Sunset team look like the estate agency who once let me a flat that had no sink, “but you can brush your teeth over the bath”. (I lived there for two years.) When she realises John has been having an affair with a much younger woman, she drives away from the marriage in one of their many color-coordinated supercars, and gains $87bn in the divorce.
After the necessary but so-so scene-setting of the first episode, in which Molly and John’s lavish lifestyle is played for fairly hollow laughs – a megayacht with a full-time crepe chef! A spare swimming pool for dogs! The actual Seal! – it starts to settle into a much better and far warmer show than it first appears to be. Given that it was created by Parks and Rec alumni Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard, and Parks and Rec was perhaps the warmest show ever to exist, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
The scenes of Molly as a new divorcee, partying in Berlin, Phuket and Rio, living out the hedonistic youth she never got to experience, are fun, as are the themed costumes, but it isn’t until she starts to search for a life purpose that it begins to get really interesting. Molly hasn’t worked since she left college, but discovers that at some point a charitable foundation was set up in her name, with her money. Now, she decides, is the time to roll up her sleeves and go into the office.
Though it is initially dressed up as a satire of the ultra-rich, the writers are smart enough to realise that this is low-hanging fruit, and what it actually turns out to be is a sweet ensemble workplace comedy. Molly is a tone-deaf, out-of-touch elitist whose attempts to bolster the good work of her foundation are truly dreadful. When she gives a misguided speech at the opening of a new women’s shelter, I cringed so hard I was in danger of pulling a muscle. Think it would be impossible for Molly to come up with a new version of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies appropriate for that situation? Think again.
It is all handled with extremely good taste. Sofia (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), who runs the foundation and does the unglamorous work of fundraising, campaigning and badgering elected officials for their attention, is the voice of reason, a balance to Molly’s follies, though there are frequent nods to the appeal of celebrity culture and how grotesque it is that a famous name can sometimes get more done simply because of their notoriety. When you think it’s about to get too saccharine, and Molly gives her most emotional speech about life and loss, Sofia pops her bubble. “I’m sorry, I don’t care about any of that,” she says. It’s perfectly pitched.
Loot, which is the MacKenzie Scott story in a number of ways, needs Rudolph’s appeal to make it work, and she is extraordinary here. But one of the lessons Molly must learn is that not everything is about her, and the supporting cast make that easy for the viewers to grasp. It has a game sense of humour – Molly’s stint on Hot Ones, the spicy wings interview show on YouTube, is a treat – but it also hits the right notes when it comes to the feelgood stuff. Its threads on friendship are genuinely touching, and it even nods to the romcom, though this doesn’t dominate or take over. Ultimately, it’s about a bad person, or at the very least a naive one, trying to become better.
Is it a bit preachy? Kind of. Does it hedge its bets? Often. But by the end of the series it has done enough to make you care about its characters. In the finale, released in a few weeks’ time, it finds a more radical voice than its jokes about spas and private jets might have led you to believe it would, while also maintaining its gentle, moreish loveliness.