A Limited Look: Big Little Lies
We focus primarily on film here at Above The Line as one would easily figure out based on our weekly movie reviews and podcasts. However, recently we have genuinely enjoyed several limited series, which made me think that maybe we need to explore some of these incredible mini shows. Jonathan and I have both become fans of limited series since they give more time to develop characters and plot without committing to multiple seasons and countless hours of watching. So, with that in mind, we want to break down and recommend a few limited series that have made big waves either initially after their release or shortly thereafter.
So, let’s begin with a limited series that actually went on to gain a rare second season, which premieres this weekend: HBO’s Big Little Lies.
The series is based on the novel Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and it focuses on a community in Monterey, California. While it primarily follows three women- Madeline, Celeste, and Jane- during a murder investigation, it also includes the other moms whose children are in the same first grade class. Each of these women have troubled pasts or circumstances surrounding them. The seven episode series jumps backward and forward in time a lot to showcase the events leading to the murder investigation and the unique situations of every parent and kid in the class. It does not actually reveal who has been murdered until the final episode, which is another nice touch.
Madeline Mackenzie- Played by Reese Witherspoon, Madeline is the bossy queen bee with a strong will and personality for days. She works with the community theater and has a teenage daughter named Abigail from her previous marriage in addition to her daughter in first grade, Chloe. Madeline is branded as always being in the center of a conflict, but she cares deeply for those in her life. She struggles with her ex-husband and his current wife Bonnie, especially since their marriage ended badly. Celeste is one of her few friends, and she befriends the newly relocated Jane in the first episode.
Celeste Wright- Played by Nicole Kidman, Celeste is a quiet individual that keeps to herself. She is a retired lawyer, who gave up her career to raise her twin boys, Josh and Max. While she is friends with Madeline and later Jane, Celeste is extremely private and does not reveal much of what is actually happening in her life. While her life looks perfect from the outside, she has a complicated relationship with her husband, Perry.
Jane Chapman- Played by Shailene Woodley, Jane is another quiet and extremely private individual. She has just recently moved to Monterrey (and the series eventually tells us why), and she has a secret of her own. Her son, Ziggy, is accused of hurting another child in his class in the first episode, which sets a lot of the other events of the show into motion.
Renata Klein- Played by Laura Dern, Renata is a hard-working professional who struggles to maintain a balance between her professional and personal life. She is a force of nature and another strong personality who often clashes with Madeline. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for her daughter, Amabella, and she often has a complicated relationship with her husband, Gordon.
Perry Wright- Played by Alexander Skarsgard, Perry is the husband of Celeste and a businessman. He often travels for his job, and his relationship with Celeste is volatile. He is often complimented as being a good dad to his twin boys.
Ed Mackenzie- Played by Adam Scott, Ed is married to Madeline. Chloe is his daughter, and they both share a great love of music. He owns his own company and is often billed as a bit of a nerd. He loves Madeline dearly, but he often struggles with the amount of time she focuses on Nathan and Bonnie.
Nathan Carlson- Played by James Tupper, Nathan is Madeline’s ex-husband and currently married to Bonnie. They have one daughter, Skye, who is also in the same first grade class as Chloe, Josh, Max, Ziggy, and Amabella. It is referenced often how terrible of a husband he was to Madeline, but he seems quite different toward Bonnie. He struggles to understand the women in his life, and he and Ed have a contentious relationship at best.
Bonnie Carlson- Played by Zoe Kravitz, Bonnie is a yoga instructor and relatively calm person. She is often the one keeping the peace between Madeline and Nathan, and she struggles to navigate her role as stepmother to Abigail for fear of stepping on Madeline’s toes. She is protective of her daughter, Skye, and wishes for her daughter to have a good relationship with Madeline’s girls. She also tends to bring out the best in Nathan despite his negativity.
Where It Excels
One thing the series does incredibly well is slowly reveal information about the characters, thus keeping the audience invested in each one. Each character is complex and carefully crafted, and while each one makes decisions that are both good and bad, the series leaves you interested in the outcome of all of the characters. There are moments that are raw and emotional, and there are also many moments that will leave you laughing. The women that lead this story are dynamic and layered, and the show is better off for focusing on them and all of their secrets and inner lives.
The structure and pacing of this show is part of what makes it so intriguing. The show begins with the knowledge that a murder has occurred at a school event for parents, and that investigation is carefully crafted into each episode. We see the different parents, bystanders, and school employees talk about the events of that school year up until this point, and it gives a lot of insight into the personalities of each main character and others’ perceptions of each one. Bits of information are revealed at the perfect times, and I think that it’s brilliant that we don’t see the victim or that fateful night until the final episode. It might seem like a drawn out process, but the truth is that every episode prior to the final episode sheds light into the culmination of these interactions between the characters.
You can mostly thank Madeline’s daughter, Chloe, for the awesome tunes that are played in every episode such as “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and “River.” However, Chloe is not the only one responsible. The opening song during the title sequence sets the tone for the show, and each song that is played integrates into each episode perfectly.
The main focus of the show might be trying to figure out who was killed and the subsequent murder investigation; however, the show explores a lot of other concepts and themes. It looks at the responsibilities of being a mother and all of the pressures present in that world. It explores the topic of abuse both within and outside of marriage and the effects it has on an individual. Most importantly, it explores the toll that little lies can take over time, and everyone on this show has some kind of secret they are hiding.
In conclusion, this series has an outstanding cast, well-crafted characters, and some serious twists and turns with a fabulous soundtrack playing in the background. This is why we enjoyed it and are excited to begin watching season two this weekend.
So, have you watched Big Little Lies? Are you excited for a second season?
Comment and let us know! And in the meantime, look out for next week as we discuss another limited series worth exploring.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.