Upper-class suburban life, catty mothers and a homicide with no leads is the premise for HBO’s newest mini-series “Big Little Lies,” which is based on the 2014 bestselling novel of the same name by Liane Moriaty. Following the cable network’s previous hit mini-series “The Night Of,” HBO hopes to strike gold twice with this murder mystery.
The show begins at its climax—the murder scene. Audiences learn right-off-the-bat that someone was murdered during a public fundraiser with various witnesses. The show (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, “Dallas Buyers Club”), obviously does not reveal who committed the crime, but it was impressive to see that the victim was not revealed to us either.
The show then jumps back in time to introduce its characters as they all unite during their children’s first-grade orientation. Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon, “Legally Blonde”) appears to be one of the mothers who is a leader in the arena. Her close ally, Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman, “Moulin Rouge!”), although graceful and soft spoken, appears to have a troubling, perhaps abusive, relationship with her husband (Alexander Skarsgård, “True Blood”). The duo befriends Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley, “The Fault in Our Stars”), who is new to the neighborhood and is not of the same high caliber as all the other mothers believe themselves to be. She and her son start their first day on a terrible note when he gets accused of choking the daughter of the pervasive but independently successful Renata Klein (Laura Dern, “Wild”).
Despite the extensive all-star cast, the actors appear to be appropriately cast and believable. Witherspoon’s performance was a highlight in this episode, and she quickly leaves an imprint on viewers. Her character, Madeline, is a stay-at-home mother who is nosy, strongly opinionated and passionate about what she cares about. Her strong-willed personality can rub others the wrong way. “Bruises heal, stigmas last a lifetime,” is a motto she declares without hesitation. But the show does an excellent attempt making her a sympathetic mother who just wants a fulfilling life and a united family.
“Big Little Lies” sets itself up without boring its audience. It is quick to introduce tensions between characters while not revealing too much about their backgrounds. A favorite segment was the quick, piercing remarks parents in the community proclaimed as they spoke with investigators. One mother was making assumptions about Jane, stating that she did not belong in their world. “It’s kinda like a dirty old Prius parked outside a Barneys,” she says. This was a great method for describing the backgrounds of these characters and allowed for the story to continue without any pauses for prologue.
For those who have not already read the novel, “Big Little Lies” seems promising. Its vagueness in this first chapter effectively sucks viewers in as they begin to learn about these entertaining characters, some of which will be favorites for audiences to hate. If the setting and the mothers’ first-world problems don’t become too obnoxious, then this murder mystery will definitely be a good show for HBO fans awaiting the network’s other prosperous dramas.