TV Review: Big Little Lies Offers Big Thrills

Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in "Big Little Lies."
Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in "Big Little Lies." Photo: Courtesy HBO

HBO’s limited series adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel Big Little Lies has aired three of its planned seven episodes, and we’re hooked. The series, which follows a group of moms in sun-soaked Monterey—a beautiful beach town not unlike what you’d find in the Hamptons, with bespoke shops and great cars lining the streets—is funny, sad and rather addictive.

Madeline (a fiery Reese Witherspoon) is a full-time mom with two daughters, one a teen and the other in elementary school, and a loving husband, Ed (a charming Adam Scott). Her best friend, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), has twin boys with her younger and sexy husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). Jane (Shailene Woodley) is a young, single mom who has just moved to Monterey. After striking up a friendship with Madeline and Celeste, Jane is overwhelmed when her son, Ziggy, is accused of trying to choke a little girl at school. Getting off on the wrong foot with the little girl’s mother, Renata (Laura Dern), it quickly becomes apparent that Jane doesn’t fit in with the other power moms in Monterey. Meanwhile, Celeste’s marriage to Perry is slowly revealed to be as volatile as it is passionate, with Perry’s intensity translating to physical abuse. Madeline is increasingly frustrated with first husband Nathan’s (James Tupper, who played Revenge’s David Clarke) young wife, Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), who is bonding with teen daughter Abigail. Ruined birthday parties, school projects and family feuds begin to build, leading to a murder at a school fundraiser. The twist: we don’t know who the killer is, or who died.

Adam Scott and Reese Witherspoon in "Big Little Lies."
Adam Scott and Reese Witherspoon in “Big Little Lies.” Photo: Courtesy HBO

With a truly powerhouse cast, Big Little Lies’ characters feel fully fleshed out and painfully real. Dern and Witherspoon’s icy rivalry makes for great television, as does Kidman’s often frightening scenes with Skarsgard. The show’s framing device—parents talking to the police after the murder—is funny and ironic, and the central mystery of who dies and how is sure to get people talking (though if you read the book you already know the excellent twist). Early comparisons to Desperate Housewives are unfounded, save for the intensity with which the women interact with one another; Big Little Lies is a drama first, with its comedy coming from the often painful moments between the characters.

Big Little Lies airs on HBO Sunday nights. If you’re planning on reading the book, we’d suggest you wait until after the series airs, so the big reveals aren’t spoiled.

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