What to Expect from “Big Little Lies”

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Fans have been patiently waiting for HBO’s adaptation of the bestselling book “Big Little Lies” by Australian writer Liane Moriarty, and it looks like the new comedy-drama miniseries is going to be must-watch television starting on February 19. The seven episodes feature a star-studded cast, some gorgeous cinematography of California, plenty of twists and thrills and one big unsolved mystery. So here’s what you can expect from “Big Little Lies.”

#1: An unsolved mystery

The major premise of the new HBO show is that a lot of “little lies” have led to something “big” – what appears to be an unsolved murder at a California school. But here’s the thing  – we don’t know who’s actually dead until the very end of the series. Episode 1 (“Somebody’s Dead”) leads off with a police investigation into a suspected murder that has taken place at an elementary school fundraiser in Monterey, California. But we’re not shown any of the evidence, there are no clues, no police officers showing up at houses, and there is no moment when the murder is discovered.

All we’re given are segments of police interviews with parents from the school. As viewers, we need to determine who’s trustworthy and who’s not, and what pieces of information are really central to discovering the truth behind the mystery. As HBO has told us, “it’s the little lies that are the most lethal.”

From the trailer that HBO has released for “Big Little Lies,” it looks like there is a gun involved, a very mysterious 40-something woman (played by Nicole Kidman), a dangerously abusive husband (played by Alexander Skarsgard) and lots of hyper-competitive, wealthy parents who are using their young kids to climb the social ladder. Again, HBO teases us: Is this a murder, an accident or just parents behaving badly?

#2: An amazing, first-rate cast

The big selling point of HBO’s new “limited dramatic series” are all the big-name actresses involved: Reese Witherspoon (as Madeline Martha Mackenzie), Nicole Kidman (as Celeste Wright), Shailene Woodley (as Jane Chapman), Laura Dern (as Renata Klein), and Zoe Kravitz (as Bonnie Carlson).

The show is really the story of how all these moms interconnect and get along (or don’t get along) together. Reese Witherspoon plays a Type A mom who takes a new mom at the school, Shailene Woodley, under her wing. Nicole Kidman plays a woman full of secrets who may or may not be the victim of domestic abuse by her husband. And Laura Dern plays a high-powered Silicon Valley executive who seems to be in control of everything – except her daughter.

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#3: A narrative featuring lots of twists and thrills

The storyline at the heart of the police investigation directly involves two of the moms – Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. We’re told that Woodley’s son Ziggy (played by Iain Armitage) has been bullying the daughter of Laura Dern. That bullying eventually led to her being choked in school. But can we believe this narrative? There’s a social dimension involved here – Shailene Woodley is a new mom who seems to be quietly observing everything that’s happening around her. Laura Dern, in contrast, is more of a high-powered hotshot (on the board of a major tech company) who absolutely won’t stand for the fact that her daughter is being bullied.

By taking a closer look at the trailer video for the show, it’s possible to piece together some of the key moments of the seven episodes – there’s going to be a (literal) cliffhanger (as a young woman out for a run suddenly veers off a cliff), a gun, a sexy costume party, biting jokes about the age of certain moms, and plenty of mystery and intrigue about the Nicole Kidman role (it’s impossible to tell if she’s happy, sad or somewhere in between with her life).

#4: The perfect life that’s not so perfect

In the original bestselling novel, the action took place in Australia. In the HBO miniseries, though, all the action takes place in Monterey, California. As a result, we’re shown amazing ocean side homes, beautiful people, great schools and lots of “lifestyle porn.” Everything just looks so amazing. This is the way you’d imagine living a super-wealthy life in sunny California. It’s perfect enough for a postcard.

But that’s where all the twists and turns are involved. Some reviewers have called this HBO show “twisted and dark” – and for good reason. The most obvious example is the character played by Alexander Skarsgard (Perry Wright) – he’s handsome and young, but he’s also violent and a little scary. And it’s clear that almost all the moms at the school are not opposed to telling a few “little lies” if it helps them move up the social ladder.

#5: Relationships on the edge

Some have tried comparing “Big Little Lies” to “Desperate Housewives,” and while there are some similarities, the new HBO show is really more of a sexy mystery-melodrama that’s targeted to women over 35. As a result, the show includes insights into all the problems faced by women in this age range – trying to raise young kids at the same time as they are trying to move a career forward; dealing with marriages on the brink of failure; and trying to find meaning and mission in a life that seems to have no clear direction.

In many ways, the children of the moms are “proxies” for solving these problems. They enable the moms to deal with various aspects of their work, family and social lives that need to be fixed. The only question is: How far will they go in fixing their lives?

Already, the buzz around “Big Little Lies” has been very positive. The show has picked up a rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Since this is HBO, it’s a safe bet that this show will turn out to be as addictive and fun to watch as all the other HBO shows that have debuted on a Sunday night. It seems to have all the right elements to make it a success – lots of top talent, a great screenplay based on a bestselling book, wonderful scenes of California, and plenty of dark, twisted thrills. We can’t wait to see how it all turns out in the end.

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