This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until a couple of days after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Should You Be True To Big Little Lies?
Do you need these desperate housewives on your DVR?
What Is This Thing?
The perfect lives of the families in the tony coastal town of Monterey, California, are (SURPRISE) not all that perfect after all, as tensions between parents of a local school's first grade class reach a murderous boiling point.
When Is It On?
Sundays at 9 PM ET on HBO, starting February 19.
Why Was It Made Now?
The series is based on a 2014 novel by Liane Moriarty, which received modest success and was praised for its accurate depiction of the complexities of domestic violence. So the turnaround from book to screen adaptation is actually pretty swift, if I'm answering that question based solely on time taken to production.
On the zeitgeist tip, there's a strong argument that we're seeing a resurgence in what I think of as "Women Are Human After All" entertainment -- think How To Get Away With Murder's Annalise Keating, for example. The success of that character, as well as big screen hits like Gone Girl, arguably prove that there's an audience (and, therefore, money to be made) in women who have personalities that go beyond "good at her job, but her personal life is a mess!" or "I like a boy!" or "troubled cop with secret trauma that both makes her great and miserable."
Finally, though women are still shamefully underrepresented in positions of power in every industry including entertainment, some female actors are finally able to wield the muscle (and money) that they have to get themselves the roles that they want. That's definitely the case here, as you'll read below.
What's Its Pedigree?
As you likely know from the barrage of media attendant on BLL's premiere, the main reason this show is onscreen in its current form is because Reese Witherspoon's Pacific Standard production company (Wild, Gone Girl, and the regrettable Hot Pursuit, among others) and Nicole Kidman's Blossom Films teamed up to get it going. According to the L.A. Times, "Witherspoon and Kidman had been looking for a project on which to collaborate," and after the former read the novel, she reached to to Kidman to suggest that this be the one.
That's not the only star power behind this show, however, as David E. Kelley (pretty much every TV show ever) was hired to write the entire seven-installment series, and director Jean-Marc Vallée (who directed Wild and Dallas Buyers Club) was behind the camera for every episode. I am racking my brain to think of a show with a fancier back office, and I cannot. And we haven't gotten to the cast yet....
...all of whom are amazing, and do some of the best work I have ever seen from them. Witherspoon shapes her oft-dislikable brittle intensity into Maddy, a fantastically rounded, believable mother of two. Kidman's Celeste is warm, dark, scary, and complicated in a way that reminds me of her work in Eyes Wide Shut. Laura Dern signals Sheryl Sandberg as Renata, a fantastically successful woman who seems unmoored in her role as a mother. Even Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley, who are outclassed by the grownup ladies, still shine as (respectively) stepmother to Maddy's eldest daughter and a mysterious mom new to Monterey.
Oh, guys are in this show too! Alexander Skarsgård, who has been poorly used since True Blood, is back on his game as Celeste's charming, abusive husband. And Adam Scott, who I never really thought much about, is pitch perfect as Maddy's doormat (or is he?) husband.
It's not just the performances that are good, as nearly every moment in the script feels lean and thought-out, building this whole world in all its classist, well-meaning, excessive, endlessly talky truth. Everyone is awful, and great. Everyone does horrible things, and good things, and even the most over-the-top moments (and, oh yes, they are coming) you are somehow able to buy because this universe has been constructed so well.
In the first episode, and intermittently throughout the rest of the episodes, action you are likely enjoying will suddenly be interrupted with a series of brief smash cuts to...memories? Fantasies? Things to come? They make little sense at the time, and feel a bit like artiness for artiness's sake.
Similarly irritating are the show's time jumps -- we'll go from a line of what was apparently the lengthiest crime investigation press conference in history to a scene in the past, then an expository set of lines of dialogue from secondary characters ("no one liked her!" etc. etc.) during the post-crime investigation, then another scene from before the homicide. It's all a little too much telling, when the show is doing a fine job of showing already. I would have been fine with one scene from after the crime at the beginning of each episode to remind us why we're here, with the remaining hour spent on the lead-up. There's nothing wrong with good old straight storytelling, y'all!
And those secondary characters, oh my god. They are the cartooniest people you will see outside Peanuts. It's not possible to draw every character as well as your protagonists: I get it! But to expect us to spend most of our time with these fascinating people, then to interrupt our consumption of their lives with these one-dimensional weasels is insulting.
I was fully prepared to dislike this show a great deal; after all, does the world need one more story of (almost entirely) rich white heterosexuals who are eluded by happiness? No, it probably does not, but I think it might need this one, as it's one of the most fearless portrayals of the beauty and ugliness of the lives of women I've ever seen. It's not always easy to look at, but you'll have a hard time looking away. And after a couple episodes, I promise you'll never look at those forty-something women double-parked in their six-figure SUVs to pick up their sets of twins the same ever again.