Debuting on February 19, HBO’s Big Little Lies is a soapy, sometimes satirical, sometimes dark and often uneven ensemble exercise in the exploration of very privileged people’s very real and seething problems. The Jean-Marc Vallée-directed and David E. Kelley-penned adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s 2014 bestseller also is an excellent vehicle for the very real and deep talents of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon.
While Big Little Lies itself could do with some trimming to get it in better shape narratively and aesthetically, the Oscar winners and executive producers of the seven-episode series put in a pair of strong performances. As I say in my video review above, as scathing and shameless supermom Madeline, who controls or seeks to control everyone around her, Witherspoon almost goes over the top. But that deeply disciplined characterization turns out to be a perfect foil to Kidman as tightly bound and starting-to-crack Celeste, an ex-lawyer with a rich younger husband and twins, and a seemingly perfect Monterey, CA, life that is anything but.
The series starts off with a schoolyard bullying incident that introduces Shailene Woodley as the new mom in town and includes a murder, made-for-cable sex, the jockeying for position and power and more than a few intentional digs at how good some of these bad people have it. There is also a violent and shadowy side to Big Little Lies behind the veneer of Pacific Ocean perfection, where secrets, bruises and birthrights cower. It is in this place between the soapy shallows and the dark deep that the series works best, with its star power and premium-cabler prestige on simmer to allow a good yarn to emerge.
Click on the video to check out more about what I have to say about Big Little Lies, which also features Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz and Alexander Skarsgard in its cast. In the end, there is nothing small about the tale at the center of it — you just have to work a bit to get there.