Big Little Lies: Somebody’s Dead

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, James Tupper, Laura Dern
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writers: Liane Moriarty, David E. Kelley

A review by Stephanie Cooke

If you go to the IMDb page for HBO’s latest series, Big Little Lies, it lists its genres as comedy, crime, and drama. The former of the three couldn’t be further from my first impressions of it after finishing the pilot episode titled, Somebody’s Dead. The latter two, however, fit a lot better, especially with an episode titled as it is. There wasn’t anything particularly funny about it, and I just chalk it up to an error on the site (which would also account for why the men are listed first on the show’s page when the main characters are the women). That being said, don’t go into this show thinking that it’s a comedy, because it’s not. Not even a dark comedy.

Big Little Lies has an all-star cast comprised of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoë Kravitz, and more. No big deal or anything. In the first episode, the primary focus is on Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley as well as their family, specifically (mostly) their children. Someone has been murdered (thus the title of the episode) at a charity event and we travel back to the beginning of when the friction started between particular members of the community.

Reese Witherspoon does an excellent job at playing the community Queen Bee, Madeline Mackenzie. She’s not nasty (at least so far) but it’s clear that she’s involved in a lot and takes her responsibilities very seriously. She’s devoted her whole life to her kids and her kids are growing up fast. Witherspoon puts a lot of emotion behind her character who’s afraid of losing the thing she’s focused on for so many years and the result is an amazing performance so far, that’s not just believable, but compelling to watch.

The same can be said for Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright. The neighbourhood can’t get enough Celeste gossip, talking about how she’s married to a much younger and openly affectionate man (played by Skarsgård). You can see the trepidation that surrounds her, giving you the vibe that her future in the show may not be sunshine and rainbows.

The other character that the first episode focuses on, as mentioned, is Shailene Woodley, a young single mother that’s just moved into the town. She plays Jane Chapman, a name that sounds like it belongs to someone in witness protection. No one knows anything about her, and this becomes another source of gossip, especially after an incident at her son’s school. Woodley has proven herself to be an exceptional young woman in Hollywood and I’m certain that her role in this series will continue to keep people interested in her career.

Like most communities, there is a lot of gossip amongst the people there. Women should support other women but they pit themselves against one another and use their words to poison those around them. Everyone has a story here and a theory as to what really happened and what led to someone being killed. Big Little Lies threw off a lot of vibes that reminded me of the Showtime series, The Affair. The atmosphere that’s built up and how they unveil what exactly is happening within the community is paced very similarly, in the best possible way. In The Affair (specifically the first season), something bad has happened and the people involved are being interviewed by the police. The interesting thing about that show is that the two people being interviewed are telling similar stories that are slightly different and the episode plays out from the perspective of each party, so things change as the perspective changes. A character is wearing a different outfit, someone’s hair is up instead of down. It’s a really fantastic way show with multiple unreliable narrators, but I’ve gotten a tad sidetracked. My point is that minus the different perspectives being shown on screen, the feel of Big Little Lies remains similar to The Affair and if you’re a fan of one, you’ll likely enjoy the other.

The first episode introduces you to the crime, but not the victim. It introduces you to the matches lighting the fire and those that are fuelling it. It presents the players in the game. All that good stuff that you want to see in a first episode and yes, I used a bunch of different and weird metaphors, but whatever, you get the gist.

Simply put: Big Little Lies does a great job presenting the characters, the motives, and the crime. And yet, there’s a lot of mystery here yet to be revealed. Each person seems to have something to lose and a darker side to them and right off the bat, without blatantly pointing the finger at one particular person, you’re already wondering who’s responsible and who has lost their life.

Everyone’s life looks perfect to the other people within the community. There is envy, pettiness, and all kinds of other things that I suspect we’ll see chipped away at the characters as the show carries on.

The Verdict
Check it out!
It’s a smart take on the whodunit classic that’s based on the book by Liane Moriarty. For those who are sitting there thinking to themselves “But I already have sooooooo many shows to watch!” you can jump into this knowing that it’s set to be a 7-episode mini-series that will wrap up at the beginning of April. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that HBO has produced another quality TV series. I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot of Big Little Lies and I’m looking forward to watching the subsequent episodes to see what unfolds.

Stephanie Cooke
Stephanie is a Toronto based writer and editor. She's a comic book fan, avid gamer, movie watcher, lover of music, and sarcasm. She is a purveyor of too many projects and has done work for Talking Comics,, Agents of Geek, Word of the Nerd, C&G Magazine, Dork Shelf, and more. Her writing credits include "Home Sweet Huck" (Mark Millar's Millarworld Annual 2017), "Lungarella (Secret Loves of Geek Girls, 2016), "Behind Enemy Linens" (BLOCKED Anthology, 2017), "Home and Country" (Toronto Comics Anthology, 2017) and more to come. You can read more about her shenanigans over on her <a href="">personal web site</a>.

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