‘Loot’ Still Hasn’t Decided What It Wants to Do

In its second season, the philanthro-com keeps falling short of its mission
‘Loot’ Still Hasn’t Decided What It Wants to Do

Loot, which premiered in 2022 on AppleTV+, has a buzzy premise ripped from the headlines: When a tech billionaire ends his marriage to the woman who helped get him there, what will she do for her second act? 

Maya Rudolph stars as Molly Wells, who finds out at her lavish birthday party that her wildly successful entrepreneur husband John Novak (Adam Scott) has been having an affair with a much younger woman. One $87 billion divorce settlement later, Molly grabs her personal assistant Nicholas (Joel Kim Booster) and takes him on a nonstop party around the world — but that comes to an abrupt end when Molly gets a call from Sofia (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), the director of Molly’s nonprofit. Given that Sofia is working, in Molly’s name, to ameliorate conditions for disadvantaged people, it reflects badly on the foundation for Molly to make headlines by drunkenly falling into pools in foreign capitals. 

Sofia thinks Molly will then return to her dissolute life, just in a less public way, but instead, Molly decides to take a more active role in the foundation. Molly’s effectiveness and commitment ebb and flow over the first season until the finale, when she crashes a panel at a Davos-like symposium to declare that billionaires shouldn’t exist and that she’s going to devote the rest of her life to giving all her money away. 

As Vulture’s Roxana Hadadi wrote in her Season One review, that closer “should have been where Loot started,” but never mind: at least Molly’s late-breaking epiphany could set up a second season with a sharper sense of purpose, chronicling Molly’s newly defined wealth redistribution mission! 

Unfortunately, that’s not the second season that has reached viewers, and giving the characters a specific project has somehow made their work more amorphous, and left me wondering what the point of this show actually is.

The intermittent stabs at specificity start with the timeline. We’re told it’s been “a year” since Molly’s divorce, but (a) we have no idea how long it took to finalize the settlement, and (b) Molly’s first birthday since the one on which she discovered the affair comes halfway through the second season. How long it has been since Molly declared her intention to give away her billions is unclear, too. One of the few actions we hear she’s taken in that regard is to have sold the gigantic house she occupied in Season One, downsized to another slightly smaller gigantic house, and donated the proceeds. (To what cause? We don’t find out.) Fortunately for Molly’s employee and cousin Howard (Ron Funches), the new place is big enough to have a luxurious guest house Molly never sets foot in, such that Howard — cleaned out financially after a Season One breakup with his girlfriend — has been squatting there, entirely without Molly’s knowledge. 

Howard’s offhand comment about half her property being unoccupied gives Molly an idea about working around the L.A. City Council’s season-premiere cancellation of a housing project Sofia spent most of the first season working on. Without governmental support, Molly could buy unoccupied hotels, renovate rooms into apartments for currently unhoused people, and outfit the buildings with wraparound services to support residents’ needs. (Los Angeles’ Project Roomkey is probably the best-known real-life example of such an initiative, minus the part where it was based on one rich person’s largesse.) Does this revelation also move Molly to raise Howard’s salary so that his full-time employment permits him to rent his own place or (imagine!) maybe even buy his own home? Absolutely not: In fact, a plot thread in the next episode finds Howard trying to raise his income by getting foundation accountant Arthur (Nat Faxon) in on a crypto scheme. As far as we know, Howard is still squatting as the season ends.

Howard’s situation reflects the show’s overall conception of how money flows, or doesn’t: Molly has enough to buy herself out of any calamity, no matter how whimsical, but that’s okay because she’s presented as a good person — unlike her ex-husband John, who becomes more of a cliché this season by founding an aerospace company. Large-scale governmental intervention in socio-economic issues is, generally, not even mentioned in Season Two; when, later in the season, she starts courting other billionaires to get in on financing her hotel conversions, she warns Sofia, “It’s going to be tough this time of year because they’re all hiding from the IRS” — a line that none of the apparently very underpaid staffers at this nonprofit finds as offensive as I do. Maybe the Wells Foundation could focus on issues that aren’t literally life or death if Molly’s One-Percenter peers stopped evading the estimated $150 billion in taxes they owe their fellow citizens.

The show also obfuscates its seeming premise by keeping the beneficiaries of the foundation’s life-or-death work extremely offscreen. Since the series premiere, in which Molly delivers a wildly tone-deaf speech at the opening of a women’s shelter to disgusted but silent reaction shots from the facility’s presumed clients, the closest thing to an unhoused person we actually see is, well, Howard. Molly hears from an ER nurse that her cousin just moved into the converted hotel: “It’s already helping him so much, so thank you. He somehow keeps pushing through, kind of like you.” Molly’s an angel! 

Unveiling maquettes of the many hotels they’ve apparently renovated over the season, foundation staffer Ainsley (Stephanie Styles) gushes to Sofia, “We helped so many people!” Guess I’ll take your word for it! At a reception held at the flagship hotel later in the episode, the guests mostly seem to be uniformed staffers. If any are residents, they don’t get to speak for themselves. They’re probably just shy! 

A midseason episode revolves in part around Sofia bringing the staff out to canvass the area around the first hotel, and while I had thought for a moment that this was going to show foundation employees asking currently unhoused people in the neighborhood about their needs, the staffers are actually drumming up support from business owners. Sure, why not center them in the episode!!! 

Intractable social problems and the ways our governments fail the most vulnerable among us are not, I grant, the most hilarious subjects a sitcom could explore. But that’s why Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard should have maybe not created a comedy series with those subjects at its core, only to make them total abstractions deep in the background behind an unimaginably wealthy woman, portraying her philanthropy as meaningful because it’s part of her personal journey of self-discovery.

Speaking of which: Part of Molly’s story this season is to recover from her Season One rebound relationship by swearing off men for a while. Then, in the fourth episode, she goes on a meditation retreat and meets a man far too hot to resist, setting Rudolph up for some wildly horny physical comedy, a mode in which she has always excelled. 

Back at the office, Ainsley steps out from her usual role as staff punching bag to delight Nicholas and Sofia with a problem: Her wedding is coming up, and the seating chart is impossible to finalize due to her rich and crazy relatives’ many long-standing feuds and scandals. This is, by far, the best episode not only of the season but the series, because it contains as little content as possible about the central workplace’s purported mission. I can’t say that Loot’s writing staff is uncomfortable about how to portray the foundation’s work and Molly’s constantly shifting role in it; I can say that the plot lines where Molly gets to be a rich, heedless fool — particularly toward the end of the season, which introduces another billionaire divorcée for Molly to mentor/party with — are a lot more assured, and a lot more fun. 

Occasionally, we get glimpses of the latter-day Absolutely Fabulous that Loot could have been if anyone had the guts to make Molly more of a jerk. Instead, we’re all stuck in this quicksand of liberal guilt. If only Molly could buy her way out of this problem, too.

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