Fab­u­lous cast, script lift Big Lit­tle Lies

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - Who­dunit

THE SE­RIES: “Big Lit­tle Lies”

WHEN, WHERE: Pre­mieres Sun­day at 9 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Sin­gle mother Jane (Shai­lene Wood­ley) is a new­comer to the tony town of Mon­terey, Calif., and meets one of the lo­cal busy­bod­ies, Made­line (Reese Wither­spoon) be­fore drop­ping off her kid for the first day of first grade. Mother of three Made­line is a pis­tol: Abra­sive, tough-talk­ing and in every­one’s face. She’s mar­ried to sub­mis­sive, stay-at-home dad Ed (Adam Scott), who is re­sent­ful of her first hus­band, Nathan (James Tup­per), now mar­ried to Bon­nie (Zoe Kravitz).

Per­sonal style aside, Made­line still has a few friends, no­tably Ce­leste (Ni­cole Kid­man), who’s mar­ried to the pos­si­bly psy­chotic Perry (Alexan­der Skars­gard), but she needs more. Maybe that’s why she em­braces Jane who un­in­ten­tion­ally draws Made­line into a run­ning brawl with Type A per­son­al­ity Re­nata (Laura Dern). The contretemps was sparked by a mis­un­der­stand­ing (per­haps) be­tween chil­dren.

Mean­while, all that has hap­pened in the past. When the se­ries be­gins in present time, a mur­der — or pos­si­bly many — has taken place at a fundraiser, and (à la “True De­tec­tive”) a cop is try­ing to un­ravel what hap­pened. There are many wit­nesses.

This seven-episode mur­dermys­tery-satire is based on the 2014 best­seller by Liane Mo­ri­arty and writ­ten by Emmy win­ner David E. Kel­ley (“Ally McBeal,” “The Prac­tice”).

MY SAY: Can a city sue for slan­der? If so, then even the sea lions and hump­back whales out in Mon­terey Bay may have a case against “Big Lit­tle Lies.” Rarely has a fa­mous Amer­i­can com­mu­nity been so lav­ishly, sump­tu­ously filmed, yet so sav­agely dis­em­bow­eled at the same time. Through the lens of di­rec­tor Jean-Marc Vallee, this city of 27,000, about 120 miles south of San Fran­cisco, has been turned into an Ar­ca­dian par­adise — or a height­ened ver­sion of one. The greens are emer­ald, the blues cerulean. The rest­less ocean is rarely out of sight, hardly out of earshot ei­ther. Mean­while, the bod­ies — the still-liv­ing hu­man ones — are per­fect. You be­gin to en­ter­tain the il­lu­sion that the lo­cal con­stab­u­lary will be alerted to any per­sons unattrac­tive or — heaven for­bid — porcine.

Nat­u­rally, “Big Lit­tle Lies” is re­ally pre­oc­cu­pied with what lies be­neath. No spoil­ers, but blood, bro-

ken bones and mul­ti­ple vic­tims would ap­pear to be on the other side of this par­adise.

Send-ups of the Cal­i­for­nia dream­scape and its ugly un­der­belly are about as old as Cal­i­for­nia, and pretty much a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the film and TV in­dus­try since at least “Sun­set Boule­vard.” What most of those didn’t have, how­ever, is a cast quite like this. Dern, Kravitz, Wood­ley, Kid­man and es­pe­cially Wither­spoon are phe­nom­e­nal, and usu­ally are, but they also fit as ef­fort­lessly into the frame as the im­mac­u­late homes and wide, open beaches. Their job is to draw you into this plea­sure dome, and along with the dis­tant crash­ing waves, lull you into a not-un­pleas­ing trance. That will be shat­tered — you have been fore­warned — so en­joy the ride while you can.

“Big Lit­tle Lies” isn’t so much a who­dunit as a who-didn’t-do-it.

The line of po­ten­tial sus­pects is end­less, po­ten­tial vic­tims, too. It’s a seven-episode ver­sion of “Clue” that forces view­ers to ask (so to speak) whether Colonel Mus­tard used the dag­ger or re­volver on Mrs. Pea­cock.

Kel­ley wrote this minis­eries and, for the most part, it’s Kel­ley at his scabrous best. Some lines don’t merely cut. They gash. While much of “Big Lit­tle Lies” is deadly se­ri­ous, much is laugh-out-loud funny. Mem­bers of a grand jury or wit­nesses (it’s un­clear which) fill out the fast-for­ward sto­ry­line, and they in­ter­mit­tently break in to com­ment on one of the char­ac­ters as they stum­ble their way to a tragedy only they know about. They’re like the Greek cho­rus in some play by Aristo­phanes — catty, waspish, sav­age.

BOT­TOM LINE: Yes, it can be mean, and yes, su­per­fi­cial, and yes, a lit­tle draggy (al­most a whole episode about a kids’ party, re­ally?). But the cast is fab­u­lous, and the script by Kel­ley sparkles. A win­ner.

GRADE: A-

VERNE GAY HBO,

Laura Dern, Reese Wither­spoon, and Shai­lene Wood­ley in “Big Lit­tle Lies.”

HBO

Alexan­der Skars­gard and Ni­cole Kid­man play gor­geous, rich Perry and Ce­leste in “Big Lit­tle Lies.”

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