HBO’s Big Little Lies finished airing earlier this month and the possibility of a second season has already been dangled out there by the show’s creators. As much as I enjoy a great one-off miniseries, the temptation of at least one more season gives HBO an opportunity to explore something different on television: a well-produced suspense drama where an ensemble cast of women dominate the small screen.
Big Little Lies does not waste time in teasing its most important moment: a murder. Interrogation scenes begin in the first episode, but the audience is given no hint as to who the victim is or who perpetrated the crime. It is the start of a seven episode-long breadcrumb trail, but the murder is not what ultimately defines the series.
The show perfectly intertwines the lives of several different characters in posh Monterey, California. A uniquely female-heavy lineup features impeccable acting from Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, and Laura Dern. The cast and director Jean-Marc Vallee immerse their audience in each character’s life, with even the most important scenes revolving around something as simple as picking children up from school or sitting in a coffee shop.
Sometimes even the milquetoast normalcy of their daily lives serves a simple reminder: we all have stories. Big Little Lies takes a look at a handful of women who are trying to exist in suburbia despite very dark stories.
The slow-build format of the show allows for a frighteningly visceral look at domestic abuse and the PTSD following sexual violence. Unlike a movie or broadcast network show, the length and style of an HBO production allows for an opportunity to explore those issues very deeply. Alexander Skarsgard plays Perry Wright, an absolute monster who has managed to foster the illusion of a too-perfect marriage. He routinely turns his wife, Celeste, into a battered victim who is terrified of a husband whom she still tries to believe in. Not only does Big Little Lies portray the bruises, scars, and brutality, but also her emotional trials as she struggles to just exist as Mrs. Wright.
Shailene Woodley also plays a complicated character, Jane, that undergoes important daily struggles. Jane is trying to cope with the trauma of surviving a rape while also raising a child as a single mom in an uptight community that is not particularly welcoming to the less-economically elite. She attempts to find herself while interacting with a cause-seeking divorcee whose own marriage is less-than-perfect, an executive whose child is being bullied, and a stepmom trying to be a mother and friend to her teenage stepdaughter. The occasional creepiness and temperament of the men in their lives do not prove to be helpful. Each of these women go through at least some isolation from their male counterparts that allows greater focus on their characters.
All of these stories are real parts of everyday life, even in Monterrey. Big Little Lies may be an important moment in television because the show tells stories that are not depicted often or well enough on television. Hopefully, HBO will give these characters one more opportunity to provide a voice.