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Philanthropic book and media review series — Loot, Apple TV+

These reviews of philanthropic books and media were written by Lani Evans for Philanthropy New Zealand | Tōpūtanga Tuku Aroha o Aotearoa members. Loot, Apple TV+

Philanthropic insight – 2/5, general entertainment – 4/5

In the spirit of the holiday season, our review this month is less thought-provoking text, more binge-worthy streaming series.

Based loosely on the Mackenzie Scott story, Loot opens on a sunset scene, as pampered wife Molly Novak’s tech entrepreneur husband gifts her a(nother) superyacht for her 45th birthday. It’s a glamorous opening, but we don’t get far into the first episode before the shine wears off Molly’s ultra-rich lifestyle: she discovers her husband is having an affair and lands an $87 billion fortune in the subsequent divorce. Lonely, bored and looking for purpose, Molly starts meddling in the charitable foundation she forgot she had.

Surrounded by an excellent ensemble cast, Loot follows Molly’s attempts to reinvent herself as a philanthropist, her efforts inevitably undone by her own ignorance and ostentatious displays of wealth. A tone-deaf speech at the opening of a women’s shelter, a drunken tirade on a talk show and a series of other missteps provide ample opportunity for humour, whilst pointing out the vast chasm between Molly and those around her.

Created by the team that developed “Parks and Recreation” Loot is an enjoyable workplace comedy peppered with great one-liners and excellent acting. It features eccentric characters, warm relationships, great comedic chemistry and a banging 90’s nostalgia soundtrack (think Fine Young Cannibals, Lauryn Hill and Puff Daddy).

Maya Rudolph shines in the lead role, as does Joel Kim Booster as her best friend/assistant, and the non-profit sector tropes ring true – in particular the Foundation CEO (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), who is presented as an uptight workaholic (and with whom I personally, and uncomfortably, identify).

Throughout the series, Molly is presented as aggressively benign. At times this makes it difficult to buy into the redemption arc, as the show studiously avoids confronting the larger issues at play. It’s not until the final quarter of the season that the challenges of power and inequality are touched upon, including a critique of the 'moonshot' approach to philanthropy – I hold high hopes for a braver second season.

Is Loot a nuanced reflection on wealth, philanthropy and the transformative work of community organisations? Absolutely not, but it is a pleasant way to spend half an hour. Philanthropic insight – 2/5, general entertainment – 4/5


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