‘Palm Royale’ Review: Kristen Wiig Claws Her Way Into Palm Beach High Society in Apple’s Campy Retro Comedy

Ricky Martin, Laura Dern and Carol Burnett are among the star-studded cast of the show from the producers of “Dead to Me”

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Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin in "Palm Royale." (Apple TV+)

“When you first come to Palm Beach, you think you’re the oldest and the richest. But then you realize you are the youngest and poorest.”

Everybody has goals. For new resident Maxine Simmons (Kristen Wiig), hers is to enter the world of Palm Beach high society circa 1969. She dreams of joining the Palm Royale, the most exclusive country club in the area. It’s the sort of exclusive place filled with swimming pools, galas and daytime martinis that feeds into the competitive charity season. It’s the time of year where the wealthy women in the area show off their wallets and organizational skills to vie for the coveted title of “Queen of the Season.”

All this just to be mentioned in the local society papers. After all, “At the Palm Royale, the more you gave, the more you got.”

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Krsiten Wiig in “Palm Royale.” (Apple TV+)

But poor Maxine isn’t exactly the malicious female clique’s idea of upper-class status. For one thing, she’s a former pageant contestant living in a motel while her pilot husband is flying around the country for work. She happened to marry into the D’ellacorte family, one of the oldest and most distinguished lineages in all of Palm Beach.

Maxine is viewed as a trashy outsider by many of the women she so desperately wants to be associated with. She tries to maneuver her way into affording the pricey membership to the Palm Royale, resorting to pawning valuable jewelry and outdated Gucci bags she steals from her husband’s comatose aunt Norma (Carol Burnett).

The ladies of the Palm Royale are a capricious bunch. There’s socialite Dinah (Leslie Bibb), a philanderer who cheats on her husband with a tennis instructor, and Maxine’s best option for getting sponsored for membership to the club. Mary Jones Davidsoul (Julia Duffy) is one of the club’s oldest and most well-mannered heiresses, but she’s not afraid to spread gossip when pressed. Racquel (Claudia Ferri) is a feisty opponent to Maxine’s advances, often siding with the other women to ice out the newbie.

Misunderstood evil shows its full form in Evelyn (Allison Janey), regarded as Maxine’s primary competition and the most likely candidate every year for “Queen of the Season.” Maxine wants to be Evelyn; she wants everything Evelyn has and will do anything to gain her elder’s respect. Sometimes, these plans get derailed by Evelyn’s personal scheming. However, Maxine finds support from Evelyn’s feminist stepdaughter Linda (Laura Dern), a radical anti-Vietnam War revolutionary who besmirches her family’s name with every breath she takes.

Yet, an air of mystery hangs over the residents of Palm Beach amidst all the cunning tactics, secret abortions and rumors. A period comedy that takes its cues from “Desperate Housewives,” “Palm Royale” initially introduces Maxine as a down-on-her-luck thief who will stop at nothing to get in with the rich and powerful. But the series evolves as we learn more about Maxine and her husband, their connection to Palm Beach, and why she desperately wants this lifestyle.

There’s also possibly a murder and other criminal activities afoot, adding to the intrigue of a social commentary on the elite.

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The Apple dramedy series premieres Wednesday, March 20. (Apple TV+)

Based on the novel “Mr. & Mrs. American Pie” by Juliet McDaniel, “Palm Royale” is a feast of retro stylings and historical events, building a world of a privileged class set against the backdrop of the Nixon administration and Vietnam. Maxine is the epitome of fake it til she makes it, equipped with a southern accent that Wiig seems delighted to play around with consistently from episode to episode. The series might be dirty-handed at times, but a mischievous campiness keeps the characters and plot twists engaging.

The all-star cast assists in moving the story forward, just as Maxine digs deeper into what makes this town full of rich schmucks tick. Singer and actor Ricky Martin is first introduced as Robert, the bartender at the Palm Royale. His frequently shirtless trumpet-playing role in Norma and Maxine’s life comes into focus as the series progresses, providing some of the show’s funniest dialogue exchanges. But Robert isn’t immune to the ever-present backstabbing, secrets and lies that plague this seaside town, contributing to the show’s mystique.

Setting a limited series in a period like the late 1960s gives “Palm Royale” enough fodder for the impressive cast to feast. Opposite male counterparts like Josh Lucas and Jordan Bridges, Wiig, Janey, Bibb and Dern are all standouts in an ensemble dramedy that escalates with every new episode. Director Tate Taylor (“The Help) frames the first episode as a way into Maxine’s treachery without divulging too much information, but it is creator Abe Sylvia and directors Claire Scanlon (“Set It Up”) and Stephanie Laing (“Physical”) that heighten the collusion between all parties involved in subsequent episodes.

As Maxine uses incapacitated Norma’s legacy and name to establish herself in Palm Beach society, it slowly becomes evident that something is rotten in the state of Florida. Not everything is as it seems, and Norma’s condition becomes shrouded in conspiracy. Could even more dirty tricks be involved in this beachy whodunit?

It’s worth it to tune in and find out.

“Palm Royale” premieres Wednesday, March 20, on Apple TV+.

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