Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are becoming known for their quest to carve out a space in Hollywood for actresses who don’t want stereotypical roles. HBO’s miniseries, Big Little Lies, continues to further the success of that mission. Written for television by Chicago Hope’s David E. Kelley, the series is taken from the best-selling book of the same title by Australian author Liane Moriarty.
The show is set in the coastal town of Monterey, California. For an Aussie, Moriarty is certainly well versed in American suburban culture. In the first episode, the upper-class setting is used to lay out a drama about how easily people unravel when a newcomer arrives on the scene. When single mother Jane Chapman, played by Shailene Woodley from the Divergent movies, and her son Ziggy, mysteriously enter the picturesque world that the people of Monterey have worked so hard to create, everyone is plastically friendly at first.
Madeline Mckenzie, played by Witherspoon, genuinely befriends Jane at their children’s school since she sees a bit of herself in her and immediately takes her under her wing. Kidman’s character, Celeste Wright who also has children who attend the same school, also takes in interest in Jane, for complicated reasons we find out more about further in the episodes, and thus completes the triad of friends. On the very first full day of school, Ziggy is accused of hurting fellow classmate Annabelle who just so happens to be the daughter of the snotty, ritzy princess Renata Klein, played by Laura Dern. Within minutes out in the school yard, Madeline and Celeste take up for Jane and Ziggy drawing a line across the pristine asphalt and sides are chosen.
The stars alone set this show up to be another of HBO’s successes, but the strategic filming of Big Little Lies is the real clincher. With interviews of the townspeople at what looks to be a police station interspersed throughout, a tension is set into motion that this whole playground debacle has not only evolved into something far more violent between the women, but has also managed to create upheaval for the entire town. It is one of the best uses of external reveal, where the audience learns information before the other characters in the show learn about it. We learn more about each of the protagonists by what others say to the cops about them rather than what they are actually doing in the scenes.
With its dark comedy drizzled here and there, great performances and fantastic writing, the show is one of the most satisfying things currently on television. The main feature that will satisfy viewers, however, is that it takes a seemingly flawless place, and the prettiest of people and turns them into something ugly very quickly. It peels back the curtain on the real lives behind modern mythical figures like stay at home moms we theorize have more than enough time to craft their zero percent body fat physiques, and come home to their Ken doll hubbies and doll-like children. It takes people we usually love to envy and makes us so very glad we are not them.