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Friday, September 24, 2021

Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers is a Crowded, Tedious Retreat | TV/Streaming

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In the first six episodes provided to press, “Nine Perfect Strangers” gets an initially curious air about its character dynamics, of seeing who opens up with who when the group is originally deemed “a powder keg.” But the series has a dangerously low amount of stakes, as it slogs between so many different storylines that just hold the series’ curious evolution back. Sometimes it will jump to the perspective of Masha and her assistants, to show how things work behind the scenes with careful dosages, or security camera footage. But no greater intrigue or mystery arises; nothing in the narrative matches the ominous intoxication of recurring shots of smoothies being curated and mixed in extra slow motion. 

The story is tediously more driven by star power than it is narrative, and while that set-up has some hold, it doesn’t make large chunks particularly memorable, or tense. Especially in the first three episodes, you’re always waiting for the shoe to drop, for the wellness company to, of course, reveal its con, or for someone to get murdered. None of that happens exactly, because “Nine Perfect Strangers” is often as straightforward as hopping between nine-plus therapy-like experiences, whether sessions are successful or not. Themes about loss, suicide, and trauma are handled broadly, but the emotional impact is not there however impressive the tearful monologues are, or extended some conversations may be. Even when some more scandalous elements are brought into the fold and normalized, it’s not as compelling or rich as a production with this cast could be. 

Their characters are of course flawed but don’t seem all that nuanced beyond a secret that eventually comes out—one guy is revealed to have been a lottery winner, who was then burdened with a mentality of nothingness after achieving such financial security. But the story leaves him behind to focus on a million other problems, because that’s what “Nine Perfect Strangers” can only really do—juggle these plot lines that don’t challenge the viewer so much as very, very slowly reveal themselves in a gorgeous, sunny setting. You don’t necessarily grow attached to these characters, or deeply care about their wellbeing, so much as you simply get used to them. 

Six episodes screened for review. The first three episodes of “Nine Perfect Strangers” premieres today on Hulu, with a new episode every week.

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