Big Little Lies Review: A Town's Identity Crisis Leads to Murder

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Big Little Lies is the upcoming HBO miniseries based on the book by Liane Moriarty and starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley.

As three mothers who meet while dropping off their children the first day of first grade in Monterey, Big Little Lies illustrates the enormous damage lies can inflict and how fluidly they flourish throughout a community.

The star-power alone would be enough to set this one apart, but it has a lot more than that to offer.

BLL Review  - Big Little Lies

Full disclosure: I haven't read Moriarty's book, although I fully intend on picking up some of her others after watching the first six episodes of this series.

From my understanding, the book is lighter than the HBO offering, but with David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) writing every episode, the wit and comedic undertones present themselves no matter how momentarily dark this small-town murder mystery dares to go.

From the onset, the one thing we're made aware of is that there's murder afoot in the affluent, backstabbing and clique-ruled town.

One by one, every character is revealed to be reviled by at least one, if not very many, of their neighbors. If they knew what was said about them behind closed doors, maybe they'd be nicer to each other. Probably not.

Madeline (Witherspoon) was born to play Madeline Martha Mackenzie, the wisecracking, droll town meddler who always finds herself in the middle of someone else's dirty laundry, but discovers a heap of her own to play in when she meets Jane Chapman (Woodley).

It's almost too much to bear for Jane, who's come to Monterey to start a new life...or to flee another. After six episodes, I'm still not wholly convinced I know the answer to that yet.

Madeline's at a turning point in her life, too. Her marriage to Ed (Adam Scott) is growing stale, her eldest daughter is bonding with her ex's (James Tupper) homegrown food lovin' new wife (Zoe Kravitz) Bonnie, and her youngest is off to the first grade.

As Madeline has always lorded her 20-hour work weeks in the faces of the other Monterey mothers as some sort of mommy prowess, where does that leave her now?

It leaves Madeline with plenty of time to look after Jane and her young son, Ziggy, who gets into an unbelievable situation at Otter Bay Elementary School's first grade orientation day. Seriously. It's unbelievable, and I don't want to spoil your slackjawed response by writing about it here.

It's impossible not to share that moment with Madeline's friend, Celeste (Kidman), and it gives the three of them something to talk about while the rest of the town talks about them. Because, yes, the entire town of Monterey was either there for the incident or privy to it within moments, ghastly and as inappropriate as it was.

Celeste Wright is mired in her own battle, which includes being the envy of Monterey for being too lovely, too confident, and apparently, too lucky in love. That doesn't happen to real people, does it? Not according to the people of Monterey.

And they should know. Monterey is fighting over its identity, where its been and where it wants to go, while the people residing in it are afraid to admit they don't represent the ideals they claim to hold so dear. Who is it fighting? Madeline. Jane. It depends upon what topic is up for discussion on what day.

Renata Meets Jane - Big Little Lies

The town itself is represented in two ways, up close and personal by way of Renata Klein (Laura Dern), another mother at Otter Bay, and the townsfolk themselves, who are being dragged in one by one by the police to discuss the aforementioned murder, which they reference far less than they do the women of whom they all glare jealously, hoping their downfall will be as painful as the pitiful lives they're suffering daily.

Every character has both beauty and ugliness, and you can't help but want to smack them one moment and hug them the next. They can all probably use a little counseling, but can't we all?

It's not difficult to pin down which performance is best, as Witherspoon is easily the standout, with Dern earning a strong nod in the supporting roles. Darby Camp (The Leftovers) stuns among the children as Madeline's daughter, Chloe.

From the male perspective (let's here it for the boys!), I'm throwing down for Jeffrey Nordling as Gordon Klein, as he has the least amount of time to express himself and makes the most of it.

There is something of all of us in every character because the biggest lie is the simple veneer everyone in the town wears, whether it’s the quick-witted barbs of Witherspoon’s Madeline or the cool, confidence of Kidman’s Celeste...seeing isn’t believing.

You can watch Big Little Lies and merely enjoy it. You don't have to find the deeper meaning hidden the lies each character (and the town) wears like a veil. It's crafted in such a way all types of viewers can get the most enjoyment out of watching.

The mystery is well hidden (and we don't know if it's going the way of the book), the pacing is perfect and the tale? It's downright addictive. You'll fall in love with HBO's newest anti-heroines by the end of the premiere.

The most important thing is to be there Sunday night at 9/8c when Big Little Lies premieres on HBO. For the next eight weeks, it's going to be one of the best bets on TV.


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Big Little Lies Quotes

And bring me something chocolate that won't make my ass look fat.


Come meet my knight in shining armor. She rescued me like a wounded dog in the street. And you know what else? She's funny.