Hit or Sh**: HBO’s BIG LITTLE LIES
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Somebody’s dead. This sentence serves as both the title of the first BIG LITTLE LIES episode and the central mystery of the show. The plot may not be thoroughly original (it seems to be a pretty standard murder mystery), but the amount of talent found in front of and behind the camera is hard to match.
After a murder at a school fundraiser event in Monterey, we jump back to where it presumably all began. Through backstory and witness testimonies, we meet full-time mom Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) and her best friend, Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), whose kids are in the same first grade class. The two befriend Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), who has just moved to town with her son Ziggy. During afternoon pickups, however, Ziggy is accused of choking another girl in the class. This kicks off the conflict of the episode and sparks a debate amongst the families in the school yard over responsibility, justice, and bullying, since Jane believes her son is innocent and her new friends jump to her side. It is also implied, through parallel story structure, that this accusation is also what eventually leads to the aforementioned murder. However, neither the identity of the body nor the suspects involved are revealed in the first episode, as an obvious hook for the rest of the season.
Despite her hot-headedness and a quickness to judge, Madeline is a sympathetic character because we identify and understand the stress she faces with her children growing up and her struggles with finding a purpose in her life. Granted, these aforementioned flaws are what ultimately spark the initial drama of the opener, but we easily root for and side with her despite this. The two other leading ladies obviously have a lot about themselves left to reveal, as they give the audience a sense that they are holding something back. Their deeper connection to each other is apparent as Jane opens up about how she feels in her new town, and Celeste seems to understand her on a level that leaves Madeline far behind.
“Wah—my life is so hard and I live in a mansion with this amazing view”
Murder and enigmatic mystery provide an interesting layerl beneath all of the wealthy white woman catfights, but they don’t account for the joy of the show. Beyond all of this, it’s really a treat to watch the immensely talented cast interact with each other. In one particularly great scene, Madeline confidently waltzes her way through the schoolyard at morning dropoffs, dishing out artificial greetings and pleasantries left and right, all the while literally talking behind the other moms’ backs to her new friend Jane. I could watch Reese Witherspoon bitchily mingle with moms all day.
There are also so many other subtle moments and phenomenal little scenes that give us great insight into the characters and tease at the conflicts and secrets yet to unfold. For example, the introductory scene between Madeline and her first grade daughter as they drive to school is both laugh-out-loud funny and indicative of their relationship. Glimpses of the detective, the mysterious woman in the blue dress, Jane calling her mother on the phone, and Madeline connecting with her jaded teenage daughter; all of these pieces make the larger puzzle very emotionally compelling and mysterious.
BIG LITTLE LIES has confirmed my adoration of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman—both of whom, in my opinion, are fiercely underrated. It has also given me a newfound love towards Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley—who I’ve never cared for, but find to be very natural and perfect for these roles.
I mean, just look at her previous “acting”
I don’t have incredibly high hopes for the central mystery (good mysteries are very rare and very hard to write!); however, the cast and production values, and even the script, all keep me intrigued for the future. If the show ultimately delivers on its promised twists, turns, secrets, and reveals, then I am completely on board.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
BIG LITTLE LIES airs on Sundays on HBO