Star-studded 'Palm Royale' series features Carol Burnett at 90; Ricky Martin making comedy debut

How do you get comedy legend Carol Burnett to sign on to your TV show when her character spends multiple episodes in a coma?

That was a task for Abe Sylvia, creator, showrunner and executive producer of the new Apple TV+ series “Palm Royale,” streaming now, about a woman’s efforts to enter high society.

Burnett “was curious as to where it goes,” revealed Sylvia, who assured her that she would have more to do.


Fortunately, Sylvia already had a great cast lined up — Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern (also an executive producer), Allison Janney and Leslie Bibb — which impressed Burnett.

“She said, ‘Those are the best ladies in the business. I want to be on set with them. I want to have dinner with them. I’m game.’”

Once he got a yes from Burnett, Sylvia stuck to his word that the role would be worth Burnett’s time.

“I went back to the writers room. I said, ‘We now have Carol Burnett playing this role. We need to make sure it is worthy of Carol Burnett.’” They added more scenes for her character — with dialogue.

In hindsight, Burnett, who turns 91 in April, jokes those coma scenes weren’t so bad.

“I did fall asleep, so it was perfect, although I’d been up since 5 a.m. to get ready to come there and then go back to bed,” Burnett said.

FILE – Abe Sylvia, from left, Executive producer Katie O’Connell, Josh Lucas, Carol Burnett, Laura Dern, Ricky Martin, Jayme Lemons and Amber Chardae Robinson pose for a portrait to promote the Apple TV+ television miniseries “Palm Royale” during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

“Palm Royale” is based on the novel “Mr. & Mrs. American Pie” by Juliet McDaniel. The series is set in 1969 and follows Wiig as Maxine Simmons, a woman who will do anything to be accepted into Palm Beach high society. For her, the pinnacle is becoming a member of an exclusive club called Palm Royale. In her first scene, Maxine scales a large fence around the property to sit by the pool and order a cocktail.

“She’s complicated,” said Wiig. “You still want to root for her even though it’s like, what is she doing? You want her to get there and you want her to succeed, and she keeps getting in her own way.”

Maxine’s “in” to both Palm Royale and its members is Burnett’s character, Norma D’ellacourt, who she is related to by marriage. With Norma in a coma, Maxine believes her husband will inherit her fortune.

It’s established that Norma is the societal queen bee who seems to know everyone’s secrets and the concern for her health is more surface than sincere. Most would rather she stay in a coma, which Burnett says is understandable.

“You get to know who she is and she’s not a very nice person,” said Burnett, “Those are really a lot of fun to play.”

“Palm Royale” also gave Burnett the opportunity to improvise with Wiig, who shares a sketch comedy background. Wiig is a “Saturday Night Live” alum.

“We would do the script, and then the director would say, ‘OK, do it for yourselves now’ so that we could play. That’s a great gift to any actor,” said Burnett.

Janney plays a socialite who is a lady-in-waiting for Burnett’s throne. Janney, an Oscar winner, says working with Burnett legitimized her career to her father.

“I’m not even kidding. He was so over the moon. I’ve never seen him get excited about anything I’ve done before,” she said.

Not everyone desires to be a part of the upper echelon in Palm Beach. Dern plays Linda Shaw, who has the wealth and family history to be included but scoffs at its superficiality and focuses on social issues like women’s rights.

Because Dern has been fortunate enough to have some exciting roles in her own career, she wants others to have that opportunity.

“Being raised by an actress was a big influence in that want, as we fight for equity in varying ways,” said Dern, the daughter of Diane Ladd. “I think ageism is not talked about enough. Creating opportunity where an ensemble could include Kaia Gerber all the way to Carol Burnett was really exciting.”

The cast also includes Amber Chardae Robinson, Mindy Cohn and Josh Lucas, who plays Maxine’s husband,

Ricky Martin portrays D’ellacourt’s caretaker who also works at the Palm Royale. For Martin, the series gave him an opportunity to perform comedy for the first time and try to hold his own in scenes with “maestros in comedy.”

“I love difficult tasks. I’m a Capricorn,” said Martin. “If it’s challenging, I’m in. I’m seduced by it, and I want to be good at it.”

He learned that less is more when going for laughs. “I didn’t know that was the key until I was surrounded by this group of people,” he said.

Martin would love to still be working at 90, like Burnett.

“She walks onto set and makes everyone feel good. Even in a coma, she makes people laugh without opening her mouth.”

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