HBO’s Big Little Lies Bigger Truth


PSA Content made by women is worth watching.

It is now 2018 (insert sigh of relief). Almost a year late to this party, there is a 2017 television show that deserves attention for not only its story of creation but deservedly for its content. Though it’s currently sweeping up at awards shows, there is still so much to say about HBO’s Big Little Lies. While 2017 may have been a shit year for a great many reasons, television arguably remains its saving grace. Because, golly gee (a PG version of what I’m thinking) 2017 produced some damn good content. Not just thematically relevant, timely or minimally diverse – though all those boxes can be checked – much of it is just undeniably “there’s-too-much-good-stuff-I-don’t-know-where-to-set-aside-20-hours-of-my-day-to-watch-next” kind of good. Maybe that’s because some of those boxes are being checked, but hey, I’m just a TV-watching woman, what do I know?

I know this. Of 2017's stellar television programming, the following should be mandatory to watch: The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 7 of Game of Thrones (because obviously), Season 2 of The Crown, Season 2 of Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, and Dear White People (why people aren’t making a bigger fuss about this show is silly and a topic for another article). I hear The Good Place is a good place to invest some time, Season 3 of Outlander is doing a superb job of continuing to show that smart women exist in other time periods, and of course Season 4 of Black Mirror. Technically the latter was released in 2017, but (like me) most people started 2018 off with it and as a result 2018 is already a better year than the last. Of all of this awesomeness, Big Little Lies was one of the best things I’ve seen.

As a disclaimer, my praise of this show is not because they have more women than all the aforementioned shows, as the above mentioned shows are all graced with strong, central and complex female characters. What Big Little Lies accomplishes best is that it proves that content championed, made by and centered around women is as Reese Witherspoon herself said back in 2015, “not a public service project.” It was Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman that in fact optioned the book and began the crusade on getting it made in order to give themselves better parts. While this may seem self-serving, it is also incredibly admirable. Don’t be fooled by IMDB’s sole creator credit going to David E. Kelley, though he did write the incredibly well-paced and witty scripts: this project is Reese and Nicole’s baby. I find this lends the show an authority and authenticity that just further endears it to my heart. The show is based off of Liane Moriarty’s book; yet another women in the mix. Representation in front and behind the camera on top of quality content? I thought it was too good to be true, but then I watched it.

Big Little Lies takes place in the wealthy coastal Californian village of Monterey and focuses on the petty grievances and better-masked conflicts of a group of elementary school mothers. The central three mothers – the high-maintenance Madeleine played by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman’s composed and serene Celeste and newcomer Jane played by Shailene Woodley – offer compelling and complex characters who are that way for no other reason than that they are women. Women who are consumed but seemingly confined by motherhood. Women whose complexity comes not from extraordinary circumstance, but from the little lies and complications that come from leading an ordinary life and fighting to make sure it stays that way. The cast is star-studded even outside of the main three characters. “Career mommy” Renata is played by the charming but grating Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz is underused as the level-headed yoga wife Bonnie, Adam Scott from Parks and Rec was so great despite all he really did was grow a great beard and Alexander Skarsgard’s performance gave audiences chills the same way his character Perry gave his wife bruises. The show keeps the characters' lives precariously balanced at the edge of ruin, and the only thing keeping them together is the need to save face for their kids when they see them at after-school pick up. Such an edge works in tandem beautifully with the shows coastal Cliffside cinematography and its wise and at times cheeky soundtrack of generational hits that validates the parents and ages the kids. If that doesn’t seem clear, it will when you watch. All this set against a timeline of a school fundraiser that ends in murder and a crusade against an unknown elementary school bully.

So if you don’t take my recommendation and watch this show - if you don’t even know me or care about my opinion (that’s fine, but you’re missing out) - know at least that the praise of Big Little Lies and it’s championing of women is not about how many women are in front of or behind the camera. Instead, it’s about sheer quality: it’s there and you’ll only be able to deny it for so long as you don’t see it for yourself.