Review: Big Little Lies, season 1

Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley in Big Little Lies

When I read Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel Big Little Lies I thought it was one of the best-written novels I’d ever read. Since then I’ve read everything I can find by Liane Moriarty. The novel became a TV series, created and written by David E. Kelley. It’s almost as good as the book.

Season 1 of Big Little Lies, the topic of this review, covers the plot of the book. It was a huge success for HBO. It earned a second season, which begins June 9, 2019. It looks as if the happenings in season 2 will be based on a story by Liane Moriarty as well.

Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley are the three lead characters in Big Little Lies. I’ll describe them separately, even though everything about them is intertwined.

Madeline Mackenzie

Reese Witherspoon in Big Little Lies

Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), like the other moms, has a kid in first grade, Chloe (Darby Camp). She’s currently married to Ed (Adam Scott). She was married to Nathan (James Tupper). Madeline and Nathan have a 16 year old daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton).

There’s constant push between Madeline and Nathan. He’s now married to Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). Nathan and Bonnie also have a first grader, Skye (Chloe Coleman).

Madeline is an instigator, she stirs things up. She is friendly and attaches herself to people immediately.

Jane Chapman

Shailene Woodley in Big Little Lies

Jane (Shailene Woodley) is a single mom. She’s new to Monterey, where the story is set. Her first grader is Ziggy (Iain Armitage). Madeline befriends her immediately. Jane is guarded and a little unsure of herself. It doesn’t take long to find out why she’s jumpy and hyper alert.

On the first day of school, little Amabella Klein (Ivy George) accuses Ziggy of choking her. This upsets Amabella’s rather horrid mother Renata (Laura Dern) and causes problems and tension throughout the rest of season 1.

Celeste Wright

Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) has twin boys (Cameron Crovetti and Nicholas Crovetti). Celeste is married to Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). Everyone thinks they are crazy in love. Even they think they are crazy in love.

Of the three friends, Celeste seems to have to most perfect life. But, of course, she doesn’t.

The Story

The season begins with a death, but we don’t know who died until the end of the season. The death happened at a school fundraiser all the parents attended. We hear lots of gossip and theory from the various parents at the event about who did what, but nothing that gives away what actually happened.

We go back from the alleged murder to the first day of school to start retelling the story. Themes of parenting, marriage, family, and friendship build the many facets of the story. However, the lies people tell themselves and others around them form the core of the story. Rationalization, self-justification, and self-deception create action with consequences.

As lies are revealed about each woman, each marriage, each character, we piece together how damaged and hurt people are. Little lies that seem like a good idea at the time grow and balloon until things are out of control. There’s hidden infidelity and violence, jealousy, and secret longings. Relationships between parents and children, between married couples, and between friends constantly balance on a tightrope of what is known and what is withheld.

The performances in the series are outstanding. The three main characters are perfection with complex arcs and personal depths. All the characters around them are wonderful as well, including the child actors who do a terrific job.

I should mention some of the characters I’ve omitted in this brief overview, because the cast is uniformly excellent and these people have important parts. Renata’s husband Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling) brings a measure of sanity to their marriage. School Principal Nippal (P.J. Byrne) has his hands full with so many ambitious moms running at him. Tom (Joseph Cross) runs the coffee shop. The marriage counselor is Dr. Reisman (Robin Weigert). Det. Quinian (Merrin Dungey) investigates the murder. Finally, the director of the community theater is Joseph (Santiago Cabrera).

The series was filmed in the Monterey, California. It’s a beautiful setting. One would think it was full of only rich, beautiful, perfect people. But one would be wrong.

Big Little Lies is on HBO.

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