“Big Little Lies” Recap/Review, Part 1 (Eps. 1-3): Motherhood Machinates Monterey Murder

By Daniel Reif

“Mom” is a big word. Affectionate or burdening, “mom” carries weight to all. And in our present, “mom” is no universal image either. More than ever, moms work away from their kids, play away from their kids; fathers share the slack. Nevertheless, if you ask most moms, the “woman” behind her is as little as any past. A lie sits quiet behind the empowered image of modern motherhood.

To manipulate a moving portrait of “mom”, Big Little Lies marks field in Northern California’s melancholic Monterey. Reeling in the seaside scenery, series director Jean Marc Vallee compliments a confounding class of star talent. Writer-creator David E. Kelley has plenty experience (Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, Boston Public) penning ensemble TV casts, but Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoe Kravitz serve as a principal force to not reckon with. They make the maddening mothers of Kelley’s cliffside Monterey; the ferocious rocks unshaken by the folding sea.

No cast comes this correct for a bookclub. For one grade school’s jungle of smother-mother elites, murder is about to stun the minivan masses. Long lingered tensions will consume a group of women, erupt the gossip-gabbing town around them. These tensions bolster Big Little Lies to an elite popcorn soap opera, but more impressively, stretches scandal to collect a perspective circle of taught, trite, tough and tormented women.

Murder. Mayhem. Monterey. Misogyny and male interference marry tenfold as the misses behind the madness reel you into a mystifying multi-arc unavoidably melded with the men who measure them as well. Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard, James Tupper and Jeffrey Nordling ink this story with blood in an all-out war for upper-class parental righteousness.

Before the blood can shed, the soldiers must be read. In the first of a two-part recap, here’s a roundup review of BLL’s introductory eps.


Ep.1: “Somebody’s Dead”

HBO. 2017.

At a graciously-funded “public” grade school, Madeline Mackenzie (Witherspoon) is mama bear. A Barbie-faced flag-waver of housewife maternity, Madeline has her rebellious 16-year old “Abby” (Kathryn Newton) to embody the years of PTA reputation. Back in action for the first day of first grade, her newest know-it-all knucklehead “Chloe” (Darby Chapman) is ready to make mama proud. And Chloe will need to, because this class fires her mother forefront into the gossip gorge of Monterey’s elite. “Nathan” (James Tupper), ex-husband and Abby’s father, moved lips marrying the young and bohemian “Bonnie” (Zoe Kravitz), and their daughter is Chloe’s newest schoolmate. Jaws are revving engines at the prospected sight.

Maddie confidant and mom to twins, “Celeste” (Kidman), is there to back her girl. The two build a fort fast as they adopt single parent and new Santa Cruz-transplant “Jane” (Woodley) into their circle. CEO mother “Renata” (Dern) is the working-woman archenemy. After a shocking flash-forward of a soon-to-commence killing, day 1 rumbles the schoolyard upon an incident to set the inevitable divide.

In 2014’s Wild, Jean-Marc Vallee and Witherspoon stupendously delivered dark humanism behind a true-life fuck-up. Kelley’s Big Little Lies is fiction and more frank in its focus of the female perspective, but (including Wild’s co-star Dern) his new series is perfect material to re-team a proven collaboration. The Northwest scenery, overarching scandal, sexual repression and a melancholic milieu of loneliness must’ve wet the appetites of the talent here because the first hour of this sumptuous tale about what lies beneath the surface wets yours for what comes next.


Ep 2: “Serious Mothering”

HBO. 2017.

Following the critical success of BLL, fans raved Emmy consideration for Nicole Kidman. No false decree, because as we dive deeper into the moms’ spaced seaside dwellings with pondering patio views and cold white walls which hint at kept secrets, Celeste’s closed-door troubles surface and Kidman is silently electric in face of her husband’s (Alexander Skarsgaard) haunting bedroom anger.

Second ep. side orders include a strong turn from Adam Driver as “Ed”, Madeline’s present husband and father to Chloe. Madeline’s laundry of loud chaos includes clashes with Renata, Bonnie and Abby, and your head turns to Ed and Nathan when they pick up the drama baton and ensue a feud.


Ep. 3: “Living the Dream”

HBO. 2017.

To Jane.
By episode three, Madeline is deep into all troubles both personal and social. In midst of reigning a controversial school musical production and weathering a hurtful decision from her older daughter, Jane reveals a past to pause all Mackenzie drama. Woodley is next to break hearts as the layers of primped makeup continue to grippingly wash off this series.

Over the next 4 episodes, voices continue to emerge in front and behind the camera. The soldiers have been read, but their story is just beginning.
Part 2 recap coming soon. Until then, I hope you catch up with this powerhouse production!

All episodes written by Robert E. Kelley; Directed by Jean-Marc Valle – 2017 – HBO – TV-MA

April 19th, 2017

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