Hulu’s Saint X Adaptation Puts Forward a Bland, Disjointed White Lotus Imitation

TV Reviews Saint X
Hulu’s Saint X Adaptation Puts Forward a Bland, Disjointed White Lotus Imitation

With the amount of page-to-screen adaptations shoved in front of us every year, there are bound to be a few that fall flat on their faces. Simply put, a book being good does not guarantee viewers a good TV show. There are times when an adaptation can dodge the wrath of angry book fans and be welcomed into the loving arms of all of the people who don’t care. The story might be unrecognizable to those who loved it in the first place, but at least it still has the bones of something that led to success. Risk cannot always be met with a reward though, and in the case of Saint X, the divergences from the source material do nothing but a disservice to everyone involved.

Split among three different time periods, Saint X follows the events leading up to and following the death of Alison Thomas, a college freshman who went missing on her family’s winter break vacation to the Indigo Bay resort in the Caribbean. Across 8 episodes, we jump between the Thomas Family’s trip in the early 2000s, the childhoods of the men who worked at Indigo Bay who are suspected to be Alison’s murderers, and the life of her younger sister two decades after her death, in the present day. Non-linear storytelling is generally something that works well when it comes to mysteries, but Saint X just isn’t able to get a grip on the format. 

The present-day storyline following Alison’s sister, Emily (Alycia Debnam-Carey), is the most even of the three if only because it has us following the fewest people at once. After moving to Flatbush’s Little Caribbean neighborhood with her boyfriend, Emily ends up in a cab driven by Clive (Josh Bonzie), one of the men suspected of raping and murdering her late sister. Triggered by this event, Emily decides to slowly insert herself into Clive’s life for the sake of finally figuring out the truth of what happened to Alison. Her life slowly starts to unravel as she becomes more and more obsessed with him and her craving for the truth, and while that may sound interesting, Debnam-Carey and Bonzie are wholly unable to carry what little they’re given to work with. To give credit where it’s due, Bonzie’s performance is only lacking because there isn’t a lot for him to do, not because he isn’t up to the task. Debnam-Carey’s performance is an opposing situation. Emily has a lot to deal with in the present day—her high-demand job, her boyfriend, her rekindled interest in her sister’s cold case—and Debnam-Carey’s performance comes off flat in its best moments and wooden in its worst. Again, the writing is not doing anyone any favors, but the script is only half the issue. Most of the attempts to try and expand upon the source material have their potential shot down by poor writing and flat acting, and while the only way to a better outcome is an improvement on both fronts, it’s always nice when you can look back on a middling show and say “Well, at least the acting was good.” Saint X does not offer us that courtesy.

The lackluster acting is also an issue in the Indigo Bay sections of the show as well, but the real issue is the incredibly bloated cast. A significant portion of the supporting cast only serves a purpose on what feels like technicalities. Gay couple Paul (Bryan Terrell Clark) and Greg (Matthew Risch) serve as needless comedy relief that seems like it’s only in the show so that we remember who they are when they finally serve their purpose as a plot device. Ethan (Josh Cooke) and Dana (Hani Furstenberg) portray a married couple with deeper issues rooted in Ethan’s infidelity and predatory nature, but they don’t serve any purpose other than to be weird—in a very boring and un-fun way. Alison (West Duchovny) has her own teen drama that feels like a sad echo of Olivia Mossbacher’s romps on White Lotus, which is just another element of the show that feels hollow. For her part, Duchovny gives the best performance of the show during the finale, and really gives a solid “Hell is a teenage girl”-derivative mental breakdown monologue. It’s unfortunate that the buildup was tamped down by secondary and tertiary characters getting unnecessary screen time.

Saint X on Hulu

While the less-than-interesting gaggle of tourists is a drag, the supporting cast that comes in the form of the resort workers is the one consistent positive that Saint X grants us. Jayden Elijah gives a wonderful performance as Edwin and is probably the most well-rounded character of the bunch. Regardless, he cannot save the show alone, and the best we can do is hope that he is cast in something where he can better showcase his talent. 

Saint X also tries its hand at racial commentary and falls into the trap of knowing exactly what needs to be said and then going on to say it with no nuance or skill. Edwin and Clive are the prime suspects in Alison’s death and the show makes some unsuccessful attempts at trying to dissect the racial implications of the accusations being hurled at these young, black, working-class men by the wealthy and white Thomas family. At one point Emily says something about “how it looks,” but that’s basically as deep as the show goes. There is also an attempt to comment on the impact the tourism industry has on the island of Saint X through the eyes of Edwin, Clive, and the other service workers, but much like the racial dynamics that come with the murder accusations, nothing gets deep below the surface.

Had Saint X been adapted into something more precise like the book it takes after, it may have had a chance at coming out on top. A more focused set of scripts would have undoubtedly helped the actors out with their performances but instead, we got a limited series that is the poster child for why ensemble casts are a hit-or-miss kind of asset. No show should have an 8-episode run and feel too long, but Saint X does, and we can only hope that the next time Hulu adapts something similar, it actually gives us something sturdy to grip onto.

Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter. 

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