Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pilot Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies (HBO)
Premiered February 19 at 9pm

I’m really doing my best to watch every single new series that premieres this year, whether it’s defined officially as a miniseries or a regular series meant to return for season after season pending a renewal. This HBO miniseries certainly has a stacked and crowded cast, and, if nothing else, there are a lot of players involved and plenty of room for drama. It’s interesting to see who the top-billed actors are since they all come from different backgrounds and different mini-eras of popularity. Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar a decade ago and used to make many movies, and now isn’t doing quite as much but fits the role of a mother with a teenage daughter, while Shailene Woodley, who is nearly fifteen years younger than Witherspoon, is the kind of mother who could easily be confused for the nanny because of her age and appearance. Laura Dern played Witherspoon’s mom two years ago in “Wild” and she and Nicole Kidman are both the older moms, actually only about a decade older than Witherspoon. All four have contended for major awards and are more than qualified for the roles they’ve been given, demonstrating great talent in this premiere installment. The men include an interesting array of mostly TV names – Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard, James Tupper, and Jeffrey Nordling – none of whom seem to have nearly as interesting parts to play given this pilot. There are a number of others in the supporting/recurring cast, like Sarah Baker, Sarah Burns, Kelen Coleman, Merrin Dungey, all of whom I remember from impactful supporting or guest TV roles in recent years. Beyond the cast, this show has an intense documentary format that I don’t necessarily love, inundating viewers with interviews interrupting almost every moment. We don’t yet know who it is who has been killed, and I sincerely hope that it’s not a child given the brutality described when the details of the murder are described. The contradiction between the seeming simplicity of this premise and the clear complexity of its characters is alluring, and I’m curious enough to come back for at least a second round.

How will it work as a series? I’m hopeful that it won’t take forever to figure out what happened, though I know that’s sort of the point, and that what we’ll learn in the meantime will be immensely interesting. There’s so much talent here that it has to work out well, and it’s just a matter of if the pacing and if the denouement will prove to be satisfying.
How long will it last? It seems like the show has received pretty good reviews, and the first episode did well in the ratings, besting pretty much everything HBO has premiered recently except for “Westworld,” which was a huge smash. I don’t know if there’s material available for a second season, but I have a feeling that this could run more than the seven episodes for which it’s been initially commissioned.

Pilot grade: B+