Author Liane Moriarty, creator David E Kelley and lead Nicole Kidman are the powerhouses behind this unique investigation into the wellness sector, but despite being the most-watched Hulu original ever (as of August this year) the all-star cast received mixed reviews. Whilst some viewers resonated with the nine different personalities and backstories of the characters who arrive at ‘Tranqullum’, unaware of the unorthodox therapy they are about to receive, others found Marsha’s (Kidman) mysterious Russian accent and ethereal presence over-exaggerated, with Rotten Tomatoes concluding that the show was ‘watchable’.
Nine very different people arrive at the health and wellness resort and, despite their differences, they are bound by the fact that they are at a breaking point in their lives and are prepared to try any unconventional healing procedure the elusive staff present to them. Among the all-star cast include the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon and Luke Evans. An array of topics are addressed from failed relationships, career issues, scars left by homophobic bullying, to manslaughter and the suicide of a child. It is this range and the show’s ability to provide so much opportunity for viewer resonance that makes Nine Perfect Strangers successful.
At first, it seems the aim of the series is to lift the veil on the façade of the wellness sector as the characters part with huge amounts of money to stay in what is essentially a hotel with beautiful grounds. However, scientific and holistic healing techniques are then explored, from the benefits of laughter and exercise, to counselling and blood monitoring. Nevertheless, as the series develops, the characters display alarming side effects from personalised smoothies they are pressured to consume, and it soon becomes clear that something sinister is occurring at this nonconformist wellness centre.
It is later revealed that Marsha and her limited staff have been micro dosing their guests with psychedelics, spiking their smoothies with low dose psilocybin, LSD and MDMA. Marsha believes that this technique will allow the guests to access a higher level of intrinsic understanding and be able to fix the trauma they have brought to the resort. As well as her will to heal her guests, Marsha ultimately wants to create a cocktail of drugs which will allow her to see her deceased daughter once more, and she uses the guests to experiment with this vision.
The series arrives as micro dosing is on the rise, with 40,000 users subscribed to the micro-dosing subreddit. Biomed-central conducted a survey using Reddit to recruit participants and found that many users believe micro dosing LSD and psilocybin resulted in improved mood, energy, creativity and focus. However, some reported large amounts of physical discomfort and disastrous mental health implications.
At first the show seems to advocate for micro-dosing, as the guests do make inroads into confronting their issues and find relief from the troubles which have brought them to the resort. However, later on in the series many experience horrendous side effects from hallucinations and sickness to full psychotic episodes. Despite these painful side effects, as the series concludes, each individual has certainly confronted their baggage and possesses a new lease for life.
The show’s strength comes from both the creation of a unique space which marries an elite wellness facility with the taboo subject of recreational drugs, and the depth and range of life experience unpacked across the range of characters. However, controversy lingers long after viewers see the beautiful yet unsettling cult-like setting for the final time, as the show ultimately glamorises the micro dosing process as nine very different, and by no means perfect, strangers leave transformed, with the tools to live better and happier lives.