Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
Big Little Lies – S1E1 – “Somebody’s Dead” | Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, and Adam Scott
What’s It About?
The short version: rich, entitled, (mostly) white people, who are largely concerned with their social status, gossiping, and other cliché things.
Set in the scenic city of Monterey, California, Big Little Lies focuses on the lives of a handful of families whose children attend private school. During what seems to be the weirdest mix of fundraiser event, trivia night, and costume party, someone is murdered on the school grounds. Through interviews with parents – who essentially serve as the most annoying of Greek Chorus’, all pointing their fingers at one mother – and flashbacks to a few weeks prior, we’re introduced to the key suspects.
Madeline (Witherspoon) is a stay-at-home mom – she has a part-time job but it “doesn’t count” – who takes newcomer Jane (Woodley) under her wing during their children’s school orientation day. As Madeline introduces Jane to the moms of Monterey, so too, are we introduced to this highly clique-y world. “Battle lines” are drawn between stay-at-home moms like Madeline’s BFF Celeste (Kidman) and working moms like Renata (Dern.) As is typically the case, there’s more to these women than meets the eye.
Madeline may seem like she has everything together, but she struggles with the reality of her children getting older, and with the fact that her ex-husband has married a younger woman Bonnie (Kravitz.) Celeste’s family looks idyllic, but she hides the fact that her husband Perry (Skarsgard) has a disturbingly abusive side. Jane, who may be the closest thing to “real” out of anyone, clearly has demons from her past, as she seems to be hallucinating and also sleeps with a gun under her pillow.
The identities of the murderer and the murdered are left a mystery, to be slowly (and likely very sluggishly rather than delicately) unveiled over the next 6 episodes.
The cast; these high-profile actors certainly help to elevate the material they’ve been given. The amount of talent in all departments associated with this project make it baffling to comprehend how this isn’t the best show on TV. Witherspoon is the highlight thus far, with her aptitude for moving through a bevy of emotions in just one scene. Her portrayal can make you momentarily forget that nearly everything surrounding her is basically nonsense. Darby Camp, who plays Madeline’s youngest daughter Chloe, might be the only reason to give this show a second shot. If you’ve seen The Leftovers you already knew what she was capable of, and this role only helps to solidify that she’s got range.
The cinematography; the visual beauty of this show is indisputable. From the picturesque ocean scenery, to the lavishly decorated beachfront properties, right down to the character’s wardrobes, everything is a feast for the eyes. Like much of the acting, the cinematography is on a different level than the story itself. But rather than adding much value to the show, the visual splendor is merely a (much needed) distraction from the dull subject matter at hand.
Where do I even begin? The story; the tone; the pacing; the long, drawn out scenes; the even longer, even more drawn out stares; the juxtaposing of past events with the parents’ interviews; casting Alexander Skarsgard as the asshole; I could go on.
It’s unfortunate, to say the least, to see just how catty and childish these women are. If I want to watch teenagers fight over status and worry about what people think of them, I’ll watch Mean Girls. Watching women be at odds is a stale concept, and we deserve something so much better. How nice would it have been to see Madeline and Bonnie actually get along? There would still be plenty of room for tension from a variety of other relationships, and a friendship between those two women would have brought something very fresh and unexpected to the show.
What’s most disappointing is that Big Little Lies gives us glimpses of some great, relatable material – specifically the realities of motherhood, domestic abuse, and family life in general – but all of it is overshadowed by the ridiculousness of the elitist bubble they’re living in. I mean, aren’t we dealing with enough (white) entitlement on a day-to-day basis in the real world already? Perhaps if there were an attempt to satirize these people’s lives, even in some small way, Big Little Lies would be a bit more tolerable.
It’s also entirely possible that I’m out of fucks to give for rich white people dealing with their first-world problems, alongside a backdrop of aesthetically pleasing scenery, while a murder mystery lurks in the background, and I have The Affair to thank for that.
Oh, and what teacher in their right mind has a student who’s been injured point out the student who injured them in front of EVERYONE? That’s traumatizing for all parties and completely unrealistic. I bet that scene is going to have some kind of tie-in with the larger mystery at hand; everyone seems to be blaming Madeline, but I bet she’ll be wrongly accused, just like poor Ziggy.
Nah. Don’t be fooled by the star-studded cast and high production values; based on this premiere, Big Little Lies is not worth your time. If you’re inclined to let the episodes pile up on your DVR, however, this show may prove to be better suited for binge-watch viewing. Avoiding lengthy wait times between episodes may help to reduce the fatigue brought on by the show’s molasses-y slow pacing. Then again, watching that much privilege in one sitting may cause you to scratch your eyes out. Proceed with caution.
Watch This if You Like:
The novel this show is based on, also called Big Little Lies. A good deal of the positive response to this show has come from people who enjoyed the book and are (so far) enjoying the adaptive choices. Also, it reminded me somewhat of The Slap, which, coincidentally (?) is another Australian import. Season three of The Affair.
Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies S1E1 “Somebody’s Dead” | Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, and Adam Scott