Before getting into any conversation about all the ways Big Little Lies was a big, big disappointment, I want to be crystal clear that I appreciate the show’s handling of the topic of domestic abuse. If for nothing more than that raw, precise storyline, the show deserves applause and recognition.
That being said, Lies continues its charge through award season this month with six Golden Globe nominations and four from the Screen Actors Guild. That follows eight Emmy wins (including the creative arts awards) last fall out of 14 nominations. And I just don’t get it. I mean, I understand the high-wattage star power going on here, but (I think) it’s not enough reason to hand out statues. Let’s chat about it. Here are my complaints.
It has no discernable plot
Much has been written about the promising start to this series. It’s a murder mystery! But that pretense, played out in brief scenes of a detective speaking at a press conference, was all but dropped by the second episode. To remind us we were supposed to be waiting expectantly for the big reveal, we received jarring cuts to what we’re supposed to understand are police interviews of people in the community. And every one of those interviews told us these women were bad, haughty, odd people and any of them might be the killer.
The storyline of an investigation drawing ever closer to one of the characters we’ve come to know and who might be hiding a secret would have made for compelling TV. But I never even remembered it was happening until those bizarre close-up interview segments would interrupt an episode.
Instead, we have a series of women doing… things. Nothing super-important, really, aside from trying to stop a bully at school. They’re trying to put on a play. Now they’re Googling names (spoiler alert) to try to find Jane’s rapist. Now they’re having breakfast with their kids. None of these actions, except maybe Celeste trying to come to grips with leaving her marriage, are compelling enough to warrant a full season of a TV series. The writers needed to remind us in a more interesting way there were life and death stakes. And also give us a soundtrack. All those long, silent shots weren’t moody, they were creepy.
Its characters are unrelatable
Kudos to Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in their roles as producers for wanting to bring meaty roles for women to the screen. They chose great actors, and it’s not their fault the characters evolved the way they did. But perhaps the characters worked better on the pages of the novel that inspired the series.
First of all, I don’t know any moms, especially of small children, who get up every day and put on full makeup and dresses. I’m sure you’re out there, and props to you for your energy, but for most women, nope. It’s jeans or yoga pants for comfortable, moveable practicality. That makes Shailene Woodley’s Jane, the working-class mom struggling to find her place, the most accessible character of the bunch.
But Zoë Kravitz’s Zen yoga guru, Reese Witherspoon’s mothering fireball and Laura Dern’s angry executive are all inaccessibly perfect. They’re beautiful, wealthy, successful and passionate about doing the right thing. And setting aside the abuse angle of Nicole Kidman’s character, how can we identify with someone while also coveting their house?
Getting serious for a minute, though, if you do relate to Celeste’s abuse story, please take one step today and contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1?800?799?7233. It’s safe and confidential and there’s a whole world of people ready to help.
It’s all talk
As a woman, I can handle a lot of talk, but BLL is literally all talk. We’re talking at the coffee shop; we’re talking in the kitchen; we’re talking outside the school; we’re even talking during yoga, Madeline. Isn’t there some kind of screenwriting rule that for every page of dialogue you need a page of action? The only action that broke up the chatfest was the disturbing sex life of Celeste and Perry, which, by the way, was confusing since she never claimed their chemistry was a reason she wanted to stay, so why make that so prevalent?
Aside from Madeline’s occasional jokes that lightened the mood, most of the talk and the long stretches of gazing out windows at the ocean were pretty weighty. And if you’ve read my opinion on This is Us, you know how I feel about shows that lack levity: They’re snoozefests.
I get that dramas are generally talk-heavy and that convention can produce some really great results. But in this case, it might have worked better as a two-hour movie than a seven-episode series.
Clearly, the powers that be disagree with me, because in a move that really angered the people who run the award shows, they’ve announced Big Little Lies will be returning for a second season. Presumably, we’ll follow the fallout of the investigation into Perry’s death and Celeste’s new life as a widow. But will she be able to stop her bullying son? Will Madeline and Nathan ever successfully co-parent? Will Adam Scott’s intense Ed reveal secrets of his own? HBO’s tease is that Season 2 will “explore the malignancy of lies, the durability of friendships, the fragility of marriage and, of course, the vicious ferocity of sound parenting… relationships will fray, loyalties will erode [and] the potential for emotional and bodily injury shall loom.” Here’s hoping for all that and more.