We learn a lot about HBO’s newest miniseries “Big Little Lies” in the very first episode.
In the episode, appropriately titled “Somebody’s Dead,” someone has been murdered within a skinny, rich and gossipy Monterey, California, community. We meet the series’ main characters, Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) and Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley).
The series is based on a novel by Liane Moriarty and attempts to upset us by throwing a murder into a picture-perfect community with mysterious, dark secrets.
Our story begins when Madeline, who is driving her young daughter to her first grade orientation, trips in the middle of the road after getting out of her car at a stop sign to yell at some teenagers who were texting and driving. Jane, a young single mother also on her way to drop off her son, Ziggy, at first grade orientation, stops to help her. A voiceover, which flashes to some ambiguous community member in what appears to be a police interview saying that no one would have died if Madeline had never tripped.
Moments later, Madeline is gleefully limping around outside the elementary school with Jane in tow, introducing her to other mothers, then adding her own character comments once they are out of earshot. Here we are also introduced to Celeste, a beautiful strawberry-blonde with twin boys. Another police interview voiceover reveals many Monterey community members are grossed-out by the open displays of affection Celeste and her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), share. They also allude to the fact that Celeste must have a talent of the boudoir, as she is older than her husband.
After dropping off their children, the women head over to a cafe, where Madeline exchanges happy words with the owner, and we pick up on a kind of mysterious vibe from newcomer Jane.
More voiceovers and interview clips reveal some more vague details about the murder.
When it’s time to pick the children from orientation, everything seems fine, right up until the first grade teacher calls the attention of all the parents and proceeds to deal with a discipline issue in the worst way humanly possible. She announces that one little girl in the first grade class was hurt by an unknown boy. The girl doesn’t know the name of the boy who hurt her, so she can’t tell the teacher, and no one else saw the alleged assault. But the girl has marks on her neck and also happens to be the daughter of the one of the more uppity, you-know-what kind of mothers, Renata Klein, played by Laura Dern. So the teacher asks the little girl to just go ahead and point to the boy who did it, right there where everyone is watching, on the first day of first grade orientation. And of course she points to Jane’s son, Ziggy.
Now, what follows are some pretty predictable, but still watchable, events. Ziggy denies touching the girl, and Jane believes him. Renata demands Ziggy apologizes, Madeline and Celeste take Jane’s side and say Ziggy doesn’t need to. As one voiceover comments, “Lines were drawn right then and there.” The community tenses, and though we don’t know how or when or why yet, we know someone is going to die.
For the rest of the episode, as one might expect, we also get more insight into just how un-perfect everyone’s seemingly perfect life really is. Madeline is still hung up over her ex-husband, who left her for the younger, more bohemian Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz), who also happens to have a daughter in the same class as Madeline’s. Celeste and her husband have one pretty light argument that results in Perry grabbing her arm in a very domestic-abuse kind of way. Jane is sleeping on a pull-out couch with a gun under her pillow.
It all seems a bit stale, if you ask me. Skinny rich moms who love gossiping and wine have their worlds rocked when somebody dies and suddenly all their dirty secrets are exposed. I’ll keep watching this show, because it’s pretty and they live by the ocean, but I’m interested to know how “Big Little Lies” will stand out.