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‘Palm Royale’ can’t live up to its starry cast of desperate ’60s-era housewives

There’s so much talent packed into “Palm Royale” that you’d think – or at least hope – the net result would be better. Yet this attempt to do a sort-of “Desperate Housewives” set in Florida in 1969 begins with great promise before becoming ever more ridiculous, until a beached whale in a later episode inadvertently signals that the show has jumped the shark before the sun can set on the 10-episode first season.

What that leaves, mostly, is a chance to admire the flamboyant performances, which, in the elder-statesperson division, including a supporting part for Carol Burnett and fleeting opportunity for Laura Dern to play scenes with her dad, Bruce Dern.

The focus, though, sits squarely on Maxine (“SNL” alum Kristen Wiig, who doubles as a producer), a social climber essentially squatting in the house of Burnett’s elderly matriarch while trying to fulfill her dream of winning over Palm Beach society, and particularly the wealthy wives that congregate at the Palm Royale, billed as “the most exclusive club in the world.”

Allison Janney in "Palm Royale." - Erica Parise/Apple TV+
Allison Janney in "Palm Royale." - Erica Parise/Apple TV+

Maxine begins by sneaking onto the property and endeavoring to befriend the suspicious women, whose de facto leader, Evelyn (Allison Janney at her snooty best), is immediately and rightly suspicious of her. That extended roster includes Dinah (Leslie Bibb), who is hiding her own potentially exploitable secrets.

“It’s not my night. It’s cancer’s night,” Dinah says, insincerely, while being lauded for hosting a charity event.

Maxine also strikes up relationships with Linda (the younger Dern), a born-into-wealth political activist who is fighting for women’s rights and racial equality, issues that Maxine, a former pageant queen, sees as less significant than achieving her personal goals; and Robert (Ricky Martin), a nosy waiter. As for Maxine’s husband (Josh Lucas), he generally supports her, without fully buying into the program.

The unsettled political environment of those times plays a recurring role in the series, with Richard Nixon intermittently popping up on the TV and the space program, with its ties to Florida, among the threads woven into the story.

Kristen Wiig and Laura Dern in "Palm Royale." - Erica Parise/Apple TV+
Kristen Wiig and Laura Dern in "Palm Royale." - Erica Parise/Apple TV+

Like so many recent streaming series (and “Palm Royale” is clearly set up to continue beyond this season), the show incorporates a mystery that’s teased early to help carry the audience through to the end. That curiosity, though, gradually wanes due to the situations becoming more exaggerated and absurd as the season drags on, with the whale serving as a very big sign of how much the writing has drifted off course.

That still leaves the cast and performances to enjoy, which isn’t nothing, and might qualify as a guilty pleasure for those unperturbed by a show with roughly the substance of a balmy breeze. “Palm Royale” nevertheless feels like an underachiever, a wannabe that doesn’t earn a place in the exclusive elite-series club to which it aspires.

“Palm Royale” premieres March 21 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a division of Apple.)

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