Big Little Lies Sold Me on a World I’ll Never Know
By Bradford William Davis
To celebrate its 45th birthday, HBO is spotlighting on the iconic series at the heart of its history. Dive into HBO’s storied past by discovering (or revisiting) these game-changing shows: The Wire, Six Feet Under, Big Little Lies, The Sopranos, True Blood, Westworld and Game of Thrones. The first episode of each is available for free on watch.HBO.com.
I have never gazed contemplatively at the Pacific Ocean from my beachfront mansion. I do OK for myself, but no, that’s just not the way my bank account is set up. As a matter of fact, there’s almost nothing in my lifestyle remotely close to the world of Northern California luxury inhabited by Madeline, Celeste and the women of Big Little Lies. (Yes, even Jane. I caught myself envying the square footage she somehow secured with her part-time bookkeeping job.)
I didn’t think Big Little Lies would be for me. Good, maybe, but not for me. Until I kept watching and finished the first episode. And then the second. And then all of them.
So why would a middle-class dude from Queens connect so deeply to a show that features Laura Dern coping with the problems of the 1 percent of the 1 percent as she lounges on a patio significantly larger than my fifth-floor walkup?
A few reasons. The hand-curated soundtrack artfully reflects the characters moods, while the cinematography (coupled with those aforementioned vistas) transported me directly into their lives. The trail-of-breadcrumbs clues leading to reveals both large and small had me hitting the play button after every cliffhanger. Most of all, I was drawn in by the acting of the ensemble — highlighted by Nicole Kidman’s Emmy-winning turn as Celeste, a housewife who has a tempestuous relationship with her husband, Perry (a brooding Alexander Skarsgård).
The premiere episode, “Somebody’s Dead,” begins with — you guessed it — a murder. But after that, expectations are subverted at every turn, as characters and relationships reveal hidden depths. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is more than just the queen bee of the PTA, while Renata (Dern) makes the trope of the career woman balancing work and family feel entirely new. Shailene Woodley’s Jane is a bit of a mystery when Madeline takes her under wing — we just know she’s looking for a fresh start. Past the opulence, the second and third glasses of wine, the self-absorbed spats and humblebrags that could only exist in communities like Monterey, Big Little Lies is a gripping character study.
The gorgeous settings, immodest luxury and telegenic leads work as an effective misdirect. Pay close attention to the innocuous dinner table conversations, or even the clues interior lighting provides. Doing so will help you experience the fullness of Big Little Lies’ expert foreshadowing, offering additional glances into character arcs that pay off massively.
The attention to craft in Big Little Lies is what transformed its foreignness to me into an invitation. The lavishness isn’t, as I assumed, a barrier, but an opportunity to examine the interior lives of women crippled by their understanding of perfection.The fears and wants of each character are resonant and relatable, even if I’ll never explore them from the comfort of a beachfront deck.