Perhaps the timing of Netflix’s newest unapologetically self-indulgent series is what makes it irresistible. “White Lines,” the Spanish-English co-production from the mind of “Money Heist” creator Álex Pina, released its first 10-episode season Friday and its overwrought, at times inappropriately funny and imaginative pageantry has not left my mind since.
Picture this: You’re sunbathing on a beach in Ibiza. A romance novel lies open on your stomach as you tip your sunglasses down to lock eyes with the gorgeous waiter that just delivered your cocktail.
Maybe it’s not your particular brand of entertainment, but “White Lines” is self-aware enough to know that you can’t even have this entertainment right now under the current quarantine circumstances. But that won’t stop it from trying to convince you.
Maybe you’re Zoe (Laura Haddock), the show’s darling who, after seeing the mummified body of her murdered brother Axel Collins (Tom Rhys Harries) after 20 years of dealing with his disappearance, takes a trip to Ibiza to find the truth of his demise, letting all the trappings of the luxurious Spanish island distract her from her dull Manchester life. And yes, there is something wrong with being dull, and the show falls into this habit from time to time.
As Zoe begins her journey to Ibiza against the background of a mix of house music, flamenco and jazz music (you can’t do anything productive here if music is not playing), we’re privy to flashbacks of Axel and the English-typified “youth in revolt” character he not only exemplified for her, but also for his former friend group of washed-up pleasure-seekers that Zoe seeks to reconnect with. He and his friends brightened their gray days and nights in Manchester by DJing, hosting parties and letting the music envelope them along with a mix of pills and other potions when Zoe and Axel’s cop father took night shifts.
We get to know Axel Collins in flashback, and yes, only the utterance of his full name can capture his illustrious nature, as a teen trying to live life, man. After being arrested for a warehouse party that ended with police in riot gear, a cheery Axel asks the withered white-wigged judge, “Have you ever had a good time?”
Well have I? The gorgeous shots of Ibizan coastline, rolling hills and Spanish villas are edited to bring out the brightest colors of the sea, golden sand and green-purple strobe lights of the club — but these are only the background of the “lives of luxury” that Axel’s now-middle-aged friends are clinging on to. David (Laurence Fox) leads a spiritual retreat for people that need to wind down after a long night of partying, Marcus (Daniel Mays) DJs by night and collects Romanian cocaine by day in a banana boat, and Anna (Angela Griffin) — oh, Anna — leads people to their awakening by hosting orgies, all because “life is best lived through the senses.”
These one-liners are perfectly profound if you’ve ingested the right mix of illicit substances.
It’s too easy and too complacent to say that the life these Brit transplants live are just sad. On one hand, they are clinging to an adolescent euphoria that is long gone, as revealed through old clips of them driving down the road to the next party where they gaze and smile at the camera with barely suppressed joy. On the other hand, they are merely puppets in a larger economic scheme, because the show would not be a Pina product without some conversation on class.
Yet another layer to peel back is the influence of the famed Calafat family, led by the musing and overly noble Andreu (Pedro Casablanc) who decides to dig his heels in on finding Axel’s killer once the former DJ is found buried on his land in Almeria. But his ever-amusing wife Conchita (Belén López) and brusque son Oriol (Juan Diego Botto) have more important things on their mind, including securing the construction of their mega-casino to transform the island into a land of slightly more complicated vice
The connections between Axel Collins and the family start to unfold in, of course, the sexiest way, whether it be through extramarital affairs, visits to Anna’s famed sex parties or sexual awakenings until suddenly, everyone is a suspect.
Zoe faces possibly the second biggest challenge of her life in trying to discern who is at fault and to remember what she came to Ibiza for — along with having to remind the show to get back on track as well. While taking you along for the ride, “White Lines” manages to be gorgeously distracting, achingly enviable and dishearteningly hollow at its core. Right now, that is just what I needed to latch on to.