Big Little Lies
Cast - Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, Adam Scott
Rating - 4.5/5
Whoever said marriages are made in heaven probably never watched Big Little Lies, or, for that matter, was probably never married. But, as untruthful as they have been to you, and the rest of the world, you can now retaliate with moves that will bring you endless catharsis, and, more importantly, get them the comeuppance that they deserve.
So beckon them over with a sly nod or a sneaky smile or, if you’re fine with it, even lies. Do whatever it takes. You’re the best judge. Just don’t give it away; you need to play it cool. Scooch up on the couch, maybe even have some snacks prepared; that would definitely make the whole operation more convincing, give it that perfect little touch, you know? Remove all doubt. Tell them it’s a show about three mothers, their first grade kids, their careers and husbands, all in an idyllic seaside town setting. Observe as a warm smile carves its way across their smug face, they really believe the world is a good place. Bless them.
And then, sit back and watch (in real time!) their entire worldview fall to pieces over seven gloriously pulpy, worryingly addictive, and uncomfortably dark hours of television.
Of course, you’d need to have seen HBO’s tremendous new show once already before you concoct this master plan of vengeance, but something tells me you’re going to want to watch it again. It’s the sort of show that’ll be more rewarding on repeat viewings just to see if you can spot any subtle hints to the stunning twists that it takes. “Stunning twists in a show that sounds a lot like Real Housewives of Monterey?” you ask.
Yes. Because murder.
You see, the whole thing is so deviously plotted (by veteran writer David E Kelley) and so deftly directed (by the excellent Jean-Marc Vallée) that before you know it, you’re as invested in the lives of these women as you would be in that of your attractively scandalous neighbour. All my life I’ve wondered what makes soap operas so mystifyingly addictive (not that this is a soap opera) but it does do that thing where common themes – anger, jealousy, betrayal – are addressed, but everything is turned up to a maniacal 11.
The central conceit is that a murder has occurred in this seemingly peaceful community, but it is never revealed who the victim, or the perpetrator is. As the story progresses, and more layers are peeled off our central characters, and more big little secrets are laid bare, it becomes clear that any one of them could be the murderer, or, more interestingly, the dead body. They all have skeletons in their closets, which are, at least as far as these ladies with their seaside homes and luxurious clothes are concerned, usually extravagantly cavernous.
Like every great murder mystery – especially Broadchurch and Bloodline, with which it shares several similarities, both in the paradisal setting and sheer pulpiness of the plot – Big Little Lies works within the almost doctrine-like confines of the genre and still manages to surprise. And a lot of that is because of the top form of its A-list cast: Reese Witherspoon, who is frankly quite brilliant as the alpha-female of the town, Nicole Kidman, whose secrets would give even a prolific sociopath pause, and Shailene Woodley, as the outsider who has just moved into town armed with nothing more than a fatherless 6-year-old and a mysteriously dark backstory.
“Jane (Woodley’s character) just didn’t fit,” says one of the secondary gossipy housewives to the police, in a flash-forward to an interrogation. “She’s like a dirty little Prius parked outside a Barney’s,” she adds, as if to emphasise her unlikeability. These flash-forwards are peppered throughout the show, police interrogations and press conferences, bitingly funny punctuation marks to a twisted tale that the whole community will probably be telling their grandchildren even years later.
And that’s what makes this show so great. Like its prodigiously messed up characters – which are, in a rare move for a major TV show such as this, all women – there is more to it than meets the eye. Beneath that frivolous exterior is a show about domestic violence, class conflict, and white privilege.
Big Little Lies is the truth. It continues HBO’s streak of stunning mini-series. If you enjoyed The Jinx and The Night Of, you’re going to lap this up. That’s at least three weekends taken care of.
Big Little Lies airs Tuesday nights at 10 on Star World Premiere