HBO’s newest series, Big Little Lies, is the mystery drama we’ve been craving ever since Desperate Housewives came to an end.
With its pilot airing this week in the UK and boasting an all-star cast, Big Little Lies uses its oxymoronical title to introduce its externally jovial but internally screaming characters over an intriguing opening hour. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Nicole Kidman; they play a trio of very different women who share the bond of motherhood and their respective entanglements of family and social commitments that shape their lives.
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Madeline’s (Witherspoon) a prim and proper wife, mother, and socialite. But as is evident early on she’s a bit of a control freak, intensely organised, and completely set in her ways with her daily routine. However, as soon as we scrape away the first layer of her bolshy demeanour her insecurities and weaknesses become highlighted. Similarly Celeste (Kidman) is the envy of the her friends due to the overt manner she and handsome husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) flaunt their public affection. Only, things might not be quite as rosy as they seem. Jane (Woodley), on the other hand, has been pushed into a more sophisticated part of town, having recently absconded from nearby Sacramento. She appears to have jumped from working to middle class without the necessary means to do so, leaving us questioning what prompted her to move and what unsavoury secrets she may be harbouring.
Our leads – regarding Madeline and Celeste at least – offer faux exteriors to the world, adhering to somewhat Stepford Housewife personas (a movie remake Kidman actually starred in) yet have very contrasting private lives that unravel as the episode does. Jane is the fish out of water in their well-to-do preppy community; as she slots into their clique but also very obviously doesn’t.
With an opening credit sequence that’s strikingly screams of Desperate Housewives, the tone of the show seems to be a mixture of that classic drama but with an eerie sprinkling of Twin Peaks.
As the episode opens on a crime scene and choppy segments of police interviews, we begin to grasp its structure, which is that a murder’s occurred before we’re then transported back to the alleged ‘beginning’ of what lead up to the event.
What’s great is that, based on the first episode, we don’t have a clue a) who the murderer is, or b) the victim. This is a stroke of genius and a mystery I pray continues until the very end of its season. With this formatting, it’s therefore obvious to pick up on a Twin Peaks vibe, but it’s also got an oddly unsettling quirk in places too.
Primarily though it’s a drama. The lives of this trinity may appear scheduled and mundane to outsiders, but as soon as you step into their world things become way more interesting. And it’s largely in part to the script because it oozes sass and intelligence. A maintained level of wit and humour graze the surface of what has the potential to turn into an, at times, poignant, salacious, and shockingly grim narrative.
The notion of mixing motherhood with careers and other aspirations looks set to be explored more thoroughly, especially after we’re introduced to Laura Dern’s job-focused Renata and Madeline’s ex-husband’s new wife, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz): two women she despises but for very different reasons.
It’s also a show that branches out into the lives of husbands and children in a starkly faux-feeling, glossy location that’s akin to The O.C., while exuding a Lynchian undertone we’ve seen in movies like Mulholland Drive as we frantically try to piece together clues of an at-present unsolvable mystery.
Big Little Lies succeeds at grabbing its audience’s attention from the start and retains a firm grip on it. The key here is its stellar writing which is pleasure to watch unfold with the calibre of names involved. The setup instantly sucks you into the world, as we gradually learn all about these new faces we’re set to bond with over the impending six episodes.
Did you watch episode one of Big Little Lies? Are you anticipating the rest of the season?
Mike is a freelance TV, film, music and entertainment writer, with an unhealthy obsession for Game of Thrones. He’s written for BBC Radio 1, BuzzFeed, Shortlist, MTV, GamesRadar+, Total Film, GoThinkBig, Loaded, and regularly scribbles for Yahoo Movies UK, VODzilla, and Metro.
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