Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman star in this fabulous adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s bestseller, which goes beyond Desperate Housewives territory with a satisfying darkness.
omeone’s Dead is the title of the first episode of Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic). Who, though? You’ll know, if you’ve read Liane Moriarty’s bestseller from which this series is adapted – and transported from New South Wales to California. Otherwise, not only do you not know who’s dead, but neither do you know who killed them. Or who will be dead, and who will kill them, depending on whether it’s mainly now with a bit of flashing forward (crime scene, police lights, interviews at the police station), or mainly flashing back with a little bit of now. Whodunnit, whogotdun, or who’lldoit, who’llgetdun, if you see what I mean.
What do we know? That Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) shows up with her son Ziggy in the town of Monterey and is adopted by Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon; don’t forget the small screen is the new silver one. Wait till you see who plays Celeste).
It’s perfect – everything and everyone (and their kitchen, and their house, and the view from their house) is so welcoming and so beautiful. Beautiful Celeste (Nicole Kidman!) photographs her beautiful boys with a Pacific sunset backdrop, before her perfect husband (Alexander Skarsgård) grabs her romantically and pulls her towards him …
The local school is just like the first day of term at our local school: a lot of top-level networking – “Hey, how were the holidays?” “Yeah, great, you know, joined the board of PayPal …”
But then there is an incident at school: someone hurts Amabella, PayPal Renata’s little girl. Yes, that is Amabella with an “m”. Excellent way of dealing with the incident too – a very public naming and shaming at pickup time, in front of everyone, parents included. I must try to get that introduced at our school. Actually, it’s not quite naming and shaming, because it’s the first day and they don’t know each other’s names yet; so it comes down to finger-pointing. And Amabella points hers at Ziggy.
What! Ziggy, who seemed such a nice, thoughtful, shy little boy? Did he really try to throttle Amabella? And was it the “m” that pushed him over the edge? (I think the answer is no, to all of the above. I haven’t read it, but I don’t think I’d be enjoying Big Little Lies any less if I had).
Anyway, sides are taken, factions form, and suddenly what looked like perfection is cracked and flawed. Life, for the ladies of Monterey, is not quite as it seemed, but an epic power struggle, a raging sea of jealousies and insecurities.
It’s not just through the one-way mirrors in the interrogation room that people are being watched. You get the feeling that everyone is, all the time, in different ways and for different reasons, mostly bad ones. The police, incidentally, are themselves a window into a different world, a less glamorous one, where kitchen islands aren’t the size of actual islands in the sea. Ah, there’s another crack, you see, between rich and poor, potentially as volatile and dangerous as the San Andreas fault.
Madeline has lost her husband to a younger, suppler (she’s a yoga teacher) woman; now she’s worried she is losing her children, too, and that her purpose in life is over. Even nice, relatively normal Jane has darkness in her past, something she’s running away from – the thing that brought her to Monterey in the first place. And under all the lovey-doveyness, Celeste’s Mr Perfect turns out to be an A-hole.
Someone’s going to end up in a hole in the ground. Because you know where it’s leading, even if you don’t yet know why or who. The flashing backwards or forwards, and the flashing police lights, takes it beyond Desperate Housewives territory, adds a satisfying darkness to the comedy, pulls it inexorably like a riptide in the ocean below towards the inevitable: death.
Incidentally, and appropriately, Big Little Lies came about via a sort of power struggle. Both Kidman and Witherspoon loved the novel and tried to option it through their production companies. In some ways, it would have been more perfect if they had fought over it, destroying each other in the process. But instead they settled for peaceful collaboration (both are listed as executive producers as well as co-stars). And that’s OK too, because it’s rather fabulous.