Prepare to be wowed.
Having recently won 10 Emmys, including outstanding limited series, "The White Lotus" hits HBO Max on Oct. 30 for a sensational second season that only hurts when you laugh, which is constantly. They say a sequel is never the equal. Well, it is now.
OK, season 2 can't match the surprise whoosh of its 2021 debut -- what follow-up can? -- but Mike White, who won Emmys for writing and directing the first outing, actually tops himself by digging deeper into this stinging satire of white privilege among the rich and obnoxious.
The setting is again a White Lotus resort. Instead of Hawaii, Sicily is the dazzling destination for the guests and the staff that caters to their every whim. White makes much of the ceramic "Testa di Moro" vases on view to symbolize lust and adultery through the ages.
There's a new all-star cast, with the exception of Emmy winner Jennifer Coolidge who returns in fine, frisky form as Tanya McQuoid, the heiress whose latest hubby Greg (Jon Gries) resents the intrusion of Tanya's assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). In a move that is classic Tanya, Portia is told to hide in her room for a week while Tanya parties.
Is Greg jealous or is there a hidden agenda? Secrets and lies are common accessories here. And a portent of fresh hell materializes in the opening beach scene when one of the guests, Daphne (Meghann Fahy), finds a corpse nudging her in the Ionian Sea.
It turns out several guests might have been murdered, which panics Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore) as a resort manager much like the one Murray Bartlett played to universal acclaim in the first season.
A homicide also figured in season 1, but rest assured that White will be springing surprises -- sexual and sinister -- you won't see coming as the plot jumps back a week to the arrival of the guests, setting up a series that's such a twisted treat you won't want to see it end.
Besides Coolidge, who graduates from supporting to a lead role that she rides to glory, the actors all come up aces.
Fahy shines as the pampered wife of one-percenter Cameron (Theo James) who has invited along his former college roomie Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Ethan's sharp-tongued lawyer wife Harper (Aubrey Plaza), who specializes in prosecuting sexual misconduct.
Is the newly rich Ethan about to be scammed? In the five episodes sent to critics (there are seven in total), it appears so.
But White saves his sharpest barbs for Cameron and Daphne, who horrify Harper (Plaza juggles comedy and drama with deadpan dazzle) by building a bubble of indifference around a troubled world and ignoring the news in favor of bingeing "Ted Lasso."
Enter three generations of the Di Grasso family -- son Albie (Adam DiMarco), a Stanford grad; father Dom (Michael Imperioli), a Hollywood producer; and grandfather Bert (a superb F. Murray Abraham), the dirty old man incarnate -- to reconnect with their Sicilian roots.
Dom's cheating has kept his wife and daughter home. But the give-and-take between Abraham and "Sopranos" stalwart Imperioli is acting perfection. Dom's erotic addiction continues with local sex workers, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and wannabe singer Mia (Beatrice Grannò), who see sex as transactional as opposed to the higher plane of love few mere mortals can climb.
In one indelible scene, the Di Grassos visit Sicilian locations for "The Godfather," a classic film which Albie condemns as a dangerous male fantasy where alphas "solve every problem with violence, sleep with every woman and come home to wives who don't ask any questions." Ouch!
It's Bert who cites the myth of Hades, the god who burst out of the earth to rape Persephone and drag her back to hell. White makes sure that every one of his characters is haunted by his or her own personal hell, many spiked with a shock of revelation too tasty to spoil
As Tanya connects with palazzo owner Quentin (a standout Tom Hollander) and his gay hangers-on, season 2 moves from the pleasures and palaces of Taormina to the capital city of Palermo with its plush opera house and dark alleys of crime -- and, always in the distance, Mount Etna, an active volcano that mirrors the simmering passions of all concerned.
White treats these flawed, lonely, screwed-up people with cathartic wit and zero judgement as he plunges us into the perverse emotions roiling under the prettiest of surfaces.
How ironic that when Mia finally gets to sing at the hotel bar her song is "The Best Things in Life Are Free." Of course, no one in earshot lets those lyrics sink in.
Season 2 of "The White Lotus" is TV at its seductive, sneakily unsettling best. But be ready: You won't know what hit you.