Big Little Lies premiered last night on HBO, telling the story of three first graders and their mothers as the perfect lives they’ve built for themselves slowly begin to unravel.
An all star cast, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley take the starring roles providing enough cache to elevate Big Little Lies from a Desperate Housewives knock-off into something else. Big Little Lies is a dark comedy-drama playing between a flash forward to a future murder and the first day of school.
But it’s not the murder which makes this episode so intriguing. The different perspectives of motherhood and the space which it occupies hasn’t necessarily been seen in a prestige HBO drama before. Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman, the young and thoughtful new mother to the small town accompanied by her son Ziggy holds her own surrounded by strong personalities. Nicole Kidman’s character Celeste Wright probably had the least to say this episode but provided the most nuance, giving up her career and the seeds of a violent relationship being sown there are definitely layers to this woman not yet told.
The real standout of this episode is Reese Witherspoon in her role of Madeline Martha Mackenzie. While she could have been very one note (there are smatterings of the Tracy Flick and Elle Woods) there is an underbelly of darkness to the character of Madeline, a vindictiveness, and a sadness as she wrestles with her own identity.
The setting, a beautiful affluent town somewhere in California allows the stakes of this drama to be played out with precision. As Ziggy is accused of choking Reneta Klein (Laura Dern) child were told how this starts off a chain of events ultimately leading to murder.
The murder element of the show is admittedly pulpy done by shows such as Revenge and How to Get Away with Murder but undeniable it raises the stakes and keeps you watching. But with Laura Dern as the antagonist for our group of moms we see a woman wrestling with being a mother and being shamed for having a career.
No one in this show is wholly likeable (maybe Kidman’s character has the edge) but overall I think that’s the point. Big Little Lies is a dark and twisty world under the veneer of sunshine and maryjanes watching the layers get peeled off is going to be half the fun.