TV Review: Big Little Lies

Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, & Shailene Woodley in  Big Little Lies  | HBO

Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, & Shailene Woodley in Big Little Lies | HBO

I’ve unfortunately been neglecting the movie theater a bit lately and have yet to see any new movies. And instead, I’m Back On My Bullshit™ and re-watching old shows for the millionth time! The category this time is: HBO’s Big Little Lies (aside from FX’s Pose of course, which just wrapped up their first season this past weekend). And the reason I started re-bingeing Big Little Lies (which I did twice this weekend oh my god) was because of HBO’s new limited series Sharp Objects (which is from the same peeps behind BLL, Gone Girl, and Get Out). After listening to all of APM Reports’ In The Dark and watching Sharp Objects, I’ve been on a weird murder kick in my media consumption so alas, here is a very belated review of Big Little Lies

This limited series from HBO is based on the novel by Liane Moriarty and consists of only eight episodes, meant to last one single season but has since been renewed for a second one set to premiere in 2019. It’s got a pretty star-studded cast featuring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, and Zoë Kravitz - and will eventually include Meryl Streep in the new season! I like to think of this series as a classic Trojan horse - not completely unlike FX's Atlanta. I say this because on the surface, Big Little Lies appears to be a show about rich white women and their tumultuous relationships with their families and others while living in wealthy Monterey, which, it is all those things. And it’s also a story about women supporting each other in the face of sexual assault and domestic violence. 

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon, & Nicole Kidman in  Big Little Lies  | New York Times/TIME

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon, & Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies | New York Times/TIME

After watching Big Little Lies the first time around, I was amazed at the efficiency of its storytelling; it managed to weave in the individual stories of all these women - their home lives and relationships with each other - while also layering a murder investigation all within eight episodes. It’s a feat in narrative sculpting and editing that is, frankly, very inspiring. The series begins with a recurring segment of witnesses being interrogated (which, throughout the season, I had to question if they had their own lives since they seem so consumed with the gossip of their neighbors). The question at the top of the show is, of course, who died and who killed them. 

We meet the moms: Madeline Mackenzie (Witherspoon), a Type A helicopter mom; Jane Chapman (Woodley), a young mom new to the neighborhood whose son is the product of sexual assault; Celeste Wright (Kidman), a lawyer-turned-mom who has an extremely abusive husband, Perry (Skarsgård); Bonnie Carlson (Kravitz), Madeline’s ex-hubby’s new wife; and Renata Klein (Dern), a Career Woman™. Their lives are deeply intertwined right off the bat when Jane’s son Ziggy is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter Amabella. This sparks a sort of snowball effect of crazy event after crazy event - which includes a Frozen-themed getaway trip, an off off-Broadway rendition of Avenue Q, the attempted sale of someone’s virginity, and a 50’s themed trivia night that ends in the death of BLEEP! I want so badly to spoil it, but even as someone who has no qualms about spoiling things, this is something you just need to watch the show for. Big Little Lies, ultimately, is about a murder investigation, but I love that nothing is really revealed until the last like 20 minutes of the final episode. Instead, the show focuses on all the preliminary events that inevitably led to the death of this person (and when it happens, you breathe a sigh of relief because you KNOW they deserved it). 

As well-written as the series is, we can’t forget some of the other things the show does well. Having lived in Surf City Santa Cruz before, which is relatively near Monterey and where Woodley’s character is from, I can say that Big Little Lies did a phenomenal job in portraying this ~wealthy~ beachside neighborhood! It definitely made me want to glow up my life so I can live in a house like Madeline’s or Bonnie’s. The accompanying soundtrack really augmented the next level of seemingly peaceful wealth that these people have - and I love that all the music choices were made to look like Madeline’s 1st grade daughter Chloe’s selections. From Alabama Shakes to Leon Bridges and more, the acoustic country-esque vibes really work to make the events of this bougie town seem like a middle-of-nowhere small town murder (even down to some of the ways a small town would handle race). 

Before Meryl Streep makes her appearance on season two, be sure to catch season one of Big Little Lies in all its glory.