When you have a series that boasts copious Oscar and Golden Globe winners (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern), dazzling locations (Monterrey, California) and an experienced showrunner (David E Kelly), Big Little Lies couldn’t really go wrong.
On the surface, that award-winning first series was all about the perfect life – beaches, California air, upwardly mobile and affluent women who bicker, compete at the school gates and outdo each other with cupcakes. It was easy to dislike them. Madeline (Witherspoon), especially, with her constant buzzing around and highly-strung demeanour, always expecting to live the perfect life.
And of course, it wasn’t the perfect life. It was far from the perfect life, because a murder at the local school and the emergence of newcomer into the community (Jane, Shailene Woodley) revealed a toxic nest of social anxiety, bullying at the school, affairs and terrifying spousal abuse and sexual abuse, all culminating in the murder of Celeste’s (Kidman) nefarious, violent husband, Perry.
It could have been easily dismissed as a melodrama, but this exploration of familial and friend dynamics provided a dark underbelly. It was terrific.
This second series kicks off with the Monterrey Five (as they find out they have been called) are coming to terms with what they did and how to keep it a secret. Celeste, especially, is finding things tough – like many survivors of domestic abuse, she’s blaming herself for her husband’s demise. Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), who did the murdering, has disconnected with her husband and withdrawn from life. She can’t tell him why. Jane, whose son Ziggy was the result of being raped by Perry, is also nervy.
The real change in this series is the appearance of Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), Perry’s mother. On the surface she looks like a kindly grandmother, but she has a habit of putting her foot in it. Especially with Madeline. Their scenes are hilarious and you never know if Mary Louise is being bitchy or not, whether she has emerged from San Francisco to poke the hornet’s nest.
What she is here for to find out is what really happened to her son. She’s just not buying the whole ‘fell down some stairs’ story, and she surveys all with a beady eye. She’s like a withering version of Miss Marple.
With the cool breeze of the Pacific once again permeating all around, it’s great to have it back and with the addition of Streep, it could hit new heights in this series.