First Impression: Big Little Lies

I read Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies during my hangover from reading the unforgettable The Girl on the Train. It scratched some of the same itches, zeroing in on a murder mystery solved mostly through getting to know different women on a deep, psychological level. It wasn’t quite as good, but it was page-turning nonetheless.

But while The Girl on the Train‘s cinematic adaptation was just OK (despite Emily Blunt being in it), it appeared that HBO was going to give Big Little Lies a much more stylish treatment. After watching Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train both flop when brought to life on screen, I was excited for at least one of our psycho-thriller pop reads to get due justice. Big Little Lies is certainly the most colorful/least bumwave of the three books, and based on the preview, it looked like HBO was going to push that relative lightness in an interesting direction.

While the book was set in Pirriwee, Australia, the show is set in Monterey, California, an upper-crust town built on some dramatic cliffs. Writer David E. Kelly and director Jean-Marc Vallée have built their own twist on the story using this setting to foreshadow the drama at hand. Couple that with the show’s ultra-cool music and stellar cast (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Zoë Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, Laura Dern), and we have something incredibly fresh on our hands.

I watched the pilot on Sunday, and liked it even more than I expected to. First of all, I love almost anything involving Reese Witherspoon, Zoë Kravitz or Laura Dern. They are fantastic, and I particularly loved Laura Dern as a high-flying board member of PayPal frustrated by the powerlessness of parenthood. The characters in the book were a bit one-dimensional, usually gossipy, secretive or uppity, but the ones on screen are much more compelling.

Overall, my favorite thing about the pilot was how well it added an electric charge to the extremes of these women’s lives. They’re not just rich; they’re enjoying aged wine on a beach in their backyard rich. They’re not just frustrated, they’re bolt upright in the middle of the night terrified. The New York Times’ TV reviewer expressed distaste at how much the show focused on the women’s inner lives over its murder mystery, but that’s exactly what I love about it. (Oh, and I could write a whole other blog post about how annoying that review is … never once did it occur to me to compare this show to Desperate Housewives, and I recently rewatched a couple seasons of that—don’t ask me why! Also, I genuinely don’t think the writer realized the series was based on a book.)

I hope the whole season carries on the momentum of the über-stylish pilot. It just may be become one of my favorite HBO shows.

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