Big Little Lies season one found a decent splash in the online world, and I followed along as the season played out. I even read the book by Liane Moriarty afterwards, a wonderful companion to the show. However, season two was announced with little fanfare beyond the addition of the legendary Meryl Streep. I am not even sure I realized the season aired and passed, there was so little conversation surrounding it.
But now I’ve watched season two, and I am shocked at the lack of acknowledgement the series received. It’s pretty freaking good.
The lack of acknowledgement could probably be ascribed to the negative association viewers make with a series extending beyond where a book ends, or the series declared it would go. Everyone still feels the sting of Game of Thrones after the point where George RR Martin’s laziness took over and there were no more books to base the show on. And we all fell asleep during the first episode of True Detective season two, and were told we should try season three, because its ‘actually pretty good.’ And we transpose that malaise in our reaction to series like The Flight Attendant, where our excitement for the quality of the series was diminished by the fear of a second, significantly worse season. I would guess, something similar happened with Big Little Lies, the unexpected announcement of a second season was met with indifference, since the quality of any addition to a set story seems dubious.
But this does not explain why, as the season played out, the quality of the show did not raise it into the public discourse. This may be because not as many people watched it, like me, because of low expectations. The story seemed complete, and in a world with tons of TV shows to watch, nothing compelled me to begin season two. This may also be because the series is heavy, focusing on tough issues like rape and adultery and family abuses. The series has its moments of levity, but they only serve to break up the harshness overall. Couple these aspects together, and it could make a case for most people not continuing with the series.
However, I began wondering most about what this might say about me, that I like this show disproportionately, probably, to most others.
There may be a few reasons why. I am a big fan of psychology narratives. Not psychological thrillers, but movies and books that focus mostly on a character and their story in order to explain some extreme, but also mundane and everyday, actions and behaviors. Big Little Lies is mostly introducing a bizarre behavior, spousal abuse, adultery, an interaction that seems off, and then telling the stories of those characters in a way that makes sense of that behavior. Then the whodunnit nature of the first season and the detective role Meryl Streep’s character plays in the second season, are bolstered and sometimes eclipsed by the story’s presentation of the psychology of the characters, even if it doesn’t lead to who committed the final act.
I also love this cast so much, and it only got better. Not only did they add the greatest actress of all time, Meryl Streep, but they doubled down on Nicole Kidman. And since Streep plays Kidman’s mother, their interactions are electric. They also added Crystal R. Fox, who dominates her role, and elevates Zoe Kravitz’ performance as well. This was, in season one, and still is one of Reese Witherspoon’s best performances. And no one can possibly say enough about Laura Dern. Seeing her as an over-the-top, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar, helicopter mom is delightful, but the conflict her character traverses in season two puts her acting prowess on full display. And I cannot say I have loved Shailene Woodley’s work in the past- I have not seen much of it, and that which I have were in movies I was destined to dislike (although she was terrific in The Descendants)- but she is perfectly cast and brings a different emotional tone to the series as a character who is vastly different from her co-characters.
These tour-de-force of actresses add weight to a show all about the complex issues unique to women in marriage, motherhood, and work. We often walk into movies, connecting the actor or actress to the character they play. Most movies or shows try to overcome this predisposition, however, sometimes the movie or show want the actress to lend weight to the character. This happened in Red and Wild Hogs and Bucket List and others to varying degrees of success. Big Little Lies does this well. In an era where the exploitation of women in Hollywood is on full display, this series brings a cast that runs the gamut of the female experience, and whose fame and history does not draw the audience away from the story but helps tell it.
So I am not sure why more people are not talking about Big Little Lies, but maybe I just really like this kind of stuff. If I am not alone, let me know in the comments. The show deserves more conversation.
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