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Big Little Lies: Series 2 (Episode 1) - Review

Big Little Lies

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HOW do you make an already great show even better? Add Meryl Streep.

The Oscar-winning actress has entered an ensemble that already boasts the formidable likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz and Laura Dern. But her presence elevates this gripping drama to even more excitable levels.

In the first episode of the sophomore season, Streep entered and immediately made her presence felt… not in a Mamma Mia or It’s Complicated lightweight, ‘it’s nice to have her around’ kind of way. But by bamboozling the characters around her, toying with them, prodding their emotions. There were hints of the darker Streep inherent in The Devil Wears Prada and Doubt.

Her character is Mary Louise, the mother of Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) abusive late husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), who has arrived in town to both help raise her now fatherless grandchildren and find out what really happened to her son.

But she’s not head on. She suspects foul play but she’s patiently reading her ‘enemies’, while giving them – in turn – plenty to chew on.

An early exchange with Witherspoon’s Madeline was an expertly executed a character assessment [and assassination] that Killing Eve‘s Villanelle would be proud to pull off on her own.

Streep’s weapon of choice was words, belittling Madeline for her size and suggesting it made her untrustworthy. It was highly amusing, even at its most cutting, especially as you could argue that its intended victim had it coming to a certain degree.

She later apologised, of course. But even that apology came with its own takedown. And given the wily nature of her interactions with the friends in Celeste’s life, you fear for Celeste as well. One wrong or false move could blow the whole thing open, especially since Celeste is suffering from vocal nightmares – screaming out about rape and killing people.

Make no mistake, Big Little Lies continues to offer an acting masterclass. But where season one contained a mystery over someone’s death and a rape; season two looks to be exposing the repercussions of these violent crimes.

Guilt plays a big part. For Celeste, it’s not having the courage to have walked away from an abusive marriage sooner, while still coming to terms with feelings of love and loss for her late husband. While for Bonnie (Kravitz), is about coming to terms with actually having been the one to push Perry to his demise. She occupied the episode like a ghost; a shell of her former confident self.

It looks set to be a fascinating journey for each and every one of the women at the centre of proceedings, as well as some of their husbands. Adam Scott’s Ed, for example (Madeline’s current husband) had a couple of choice scenes of his own.

Andrea Arnold’s direction built on the elements that made Jean-Marc Vallée’s original work so appealing, not least highlighting the paradox between the seemingly idyllic coastal surrounds of the Californian world in which these women live, and the reality of their everyday existence (which carries the same stresses, strains and challenges of those living in Peckham, albeit with heightened privilege).

Admittedly, there are times when the self-serving nature of certain characters threatens to run amok and derail any sympathy we may have for the characters. But that – in turn – only makes Streep’s straight ahead way of dealing with them all the more delicious.

Thus far, Big Little Lies offers up a veritable feast for anyone who likes their TV to offer up strongly defined characters and challenging material.

Big Little Lies airs on Sky Atlantic on Monday nights from 9pm (from June 10, 2019).