TV Review: “Loot” Season 2

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In 2016, the short-lived variety series Maya & Marty flew like a meteor across the television sky: bright, ambitious, packed with talent, and fleeting. Canceled after just six episodes, the show was a disaster, bombing with critics and audiences alike. It turns out, to nobody’s surprise, that it wasn’t the concept that failed, it was the format. The concept revolved around highlighting the massive talents that Maya Rudolph and Martin Short are, and someone just needed to find the right way to give each of them their star turns. It took eight years, but, finally, the promise of Maya & Marty has come to pass, as Short’s career has been re-ignited by the massive success of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building and AppleTV+ greenlighting a series built around Rudolph, giving her all the room she needs to showcase her prodigious comedic skills in a much better format.

Loot’s first season, which premiered nearly two years ago, in the summer of 2022, seemed to suffer a bit under the weight of all that expectation and promise, as creators Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard weren’t sure what they had, as the first few episodes struggled to find a tone and an identity. Rudolph starred in the half-hour comedy as Molly Novak, a recently-jilted wife of arrogant billionaire John Novak, played by Adam Scott, who doesn’t know what to do with herself when she’s left alone, despite being left a significant part of John’s fortune (specifically, $87 billion). She finds out that there is a foundation in her name, so she feels inspired to inject some meaning into her life by getting involved with it, much to the dismay of the staff, led by no-nonsense foundation director Sofia Salinas, played by Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, and her devoted but starry-eyed assistant Nicholas, played by Joel Kim Booster.

The ten episodes of the first season are rough, as the show doesn’t know whether to make Molly a total buffoon or a naïve waif or an inspired do-gooder, so the character pivots between all three, which proves to not only be disorienting, but lacking in focus. The way the season ended, with Molly (and us) surprised to be waking up in John’s bed, it seemed that the Hubbard and Yang already knew they had a second season (or were just incredibly optimistic they would get it), but a total lack of identity and floundering tone made it seem undeserving of a renewal.

While Maya & Marty wasn’t given a chance at a second season to work out its kinks, Loot was, and between its first and second seasons, it has transformed into a surprisingly nimble, albeit formulaic sitcom that features an incredibly talented cast and a star at its center who finally looks comfortable. And when Maya Rudolph is comfortable, there’s nothing she can’t do.

Season two picks up right where season one’s surprise ending left off, namely with Molly and John sleeping together, a plot twist nobody saw coming. It would have been supremely disappointing if the show had not come back for a second season to explain THAT. Thankfully, we find out that Molly has not lost her mind (or self-respect) and gone back to John, as she wakes up as hungover as she is regretful, vowing to never make that mistake again. But John is not as convinced, as he goes to great lengths to try to win Molly back, including going to space in his own rocketship, in a very Bezos/Musk-inspired show of bloated moneyed machismo.

John’s efforts to win Molly back are more obstacles to Arthur’s (Nat Faxon) dream of winning Molly’s heart, as Arthur and Molly continue their will-they-or-won’t-they dance in season two. It’s clear the writers are trying to draw out the drama and the sexual tension by throwing wrenches into the gears of their obviously inevitable romance by putting challenge after challenge in the way of Arthur and Molly getting together—including John’s pursuit and Arthur hooking up with a supermodel (yes, you read that right). But it all plays a little too obvious and formulaic, as we’ve seen this a hundred times before in other shows. And it’s not helped by the fact that Rudolph and Faxon don’t have much chemistry, as Faxon is the sole casting miscue in the show. Thankfully, Molly’s romantic entanglements – or even her life – are not the focus of the show,as she has become clearly focused on her mission to use her money to help others. When she and Sofia come up with the idea to buy and renovate old buildings to turn them into low-or-no-income housing, they find out that doing good deeds on a massive scale is not as easy as it would seem, as one thing after another goes wrong.

While the general structure of the show is the same in season two, as Molly is still trying to figure out a way to put her billions to work for the betterment of humanity, surrounded by sweet and caring people who each have their own funny sitcom-style quirks, the show has become much more of an ensemble, as the less flailing narrative finally has everyone on the same page, which allows for confidence and growth in the characters and storylines.

The two actors who benefit the most from Loot’s expanded character focus are Joel Kim Booster and Ron Funches, who play Molly’s assistant Nicholas and her cousin Howard, actors who play off each other—and everyone else– with ease. The genius writers pair Nicholas and Howard in a few storylines in season 2, which pay off in big ways, mostly due to their amazing chemistry together. Nicholas’s casual, confident cattiness blends perfectly with Howard’s affable, easygoing man-child. When Howard decides to start his own pro wrestling league and recruits Nicholas as the villain, it is a mismatch made in heaven, as Booster and Funches go all out, throwing caution and cliché to the wind, the results hilarious.

Howard and Nicholas seem ill-suited to be friends, but with Booster skillfully steering his character away from overwrought cliché (except when it’s called for) and Funches mining dignity, compassion and a common-sense intelligence, Nicholas and Howard are genuinely a dream pair, complementing each other with panache. Far more than simple comic relief, they are both also given fleshed-out and satisfying storylines, including Nicholas confronting his own issues with being adopted and Howard facing his own insecurities about what he’s doing with his life. While the writing in Loot is nowhere near the quality of Ted Lasso, there is a real similarity in tone and an accompanying trust in its actors to be able to land both outrageous comic moments as well as deeper, more sentimental ones. It’s hard to say which actor is the bigger breakout in season two of Loot, but every scene with either Booster or Funches in it is a delight that is as enjoyable as any performance in any other comedy.

While Booster and Funches are clearly the standouts of the supporting players, Rodriguez certainly holds her own as the dedicated, ultra-serious boss who has little patience for frivolity and distraction. It’s a character similar to her star-making role in Pose, but Rodriguez gets the opportunity to test out her comedic skills and, although she certainly isn’t any Maya Rudolph, just being able to hold her own with her is testament enough to how far Rodriguez has come. The writers happily give Sofia a love interest, played by the adorable O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale), and her discomfort with being happy is almost as funny as her being caught being so. Giving actors like Booster, Funches and Rodriguez so much more to do is the biggest improvement in season two.

While Loot has become more of an ensemble, there is still no confusing who the center of the storm is though. Rudolph’s colorful and textured performance is given more room to breathe in the second season, and she’s given more to play with, including Ana Gasteyer in a guest-starring role as a fellow jilted wife billionaire who joins Molly in promising to give all her ex-husband’s money away. Gasteyer is hilarious as the vengeful, hurt and clueless castoff who has no clue what to do with herself—a clear nod to how far Molly has come. Gasteyer and Rudolph, both Saturday Night Live alums, pinball off each other with ease, and it’s a joy to behold.

But the best part of Loot in season two is that Molly is not that vengeful, clueless kicked puppy that she was in season one. Rudolph has fine-tuned Molly so she’s not so frenetic, yet still has the capacity for spontaneity, for silliness, for all the things that a gifted comedian like Rudolph can spin into gold. Molly is still struggling, but she’s now much more grounded, much more willing to take chances and be vulnerable. Molly’s journey to self-awareness and self-assurance is beautifully paired with the show’s positivity and clear message about how compassion and mutual support are what make the world a better place.

There is nothing groundbreaking in Loot, as there are sitcom tropes galore which do make it feel like a real throwback, but, even so, it keeps getting better– the second season is much funnier than the first– because of the massively funny performances that grow more appealing as the show goes on. Clearly, the creators realized that while Rudolph is the center of the show, the talent supporting her has sky-high potential, so each character has their own dedicated story arc in season two, most of them satisfying.

There is no denying Loot’s not-so-hidden message, which is to encourage people to pursue their own happiness while showing compassion to others. There is, of course, all the subtextual societal commentary, particularly about obscene wealth and those who have it, but the show brings home its message, thankfully, with a delicacy that is beautiful and effective.

Season two, like season one, ends with several intriguing open questions. No announcement has been made yet whether there will be a season three or not, but, considering Loot’s current trajectory, here’s hoping we get one, as this is truly a show that is only getting better.

Grade: B+

The first two episodes of season two of Loot will premiere April 3 on AppleTV+ with new episodes every Wednesday through May 29.

Review originally published on AwardsWatch.com