“Big Little Lies” hits every drama sweet spot

Anna Gowin, Features and Entertainment Editor

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The world of nannies, private schools and extravagantly themed fundraisers hardly feels like the typical setting for a murder. But that is exactly what HBO’s new series, “Big Little Lies,” sets out to do. The show is structured around the retelling of events leading up to a murder in the wealthy community of Monterey, California.

Except the show doesn’t tell you who’s been murdered. It leaves you trying to piece it together through vignettes of interviews conducted by police, mostly centering on three high-powered families at the center of the conflict. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Jane (Shailene Woodley) all seem to be moms at the center of controversy in their kids’ school, a fact echoed time and time again from the other parents in their interviews.

Take the lingering suspense of an unsolved murder, mix in a feud with fellow power-mom Renata (Laura Dern), new-age arm candy (Zoe Kravitz) and a production of “Avenue Q” on the chopping block of the community theatre—and stir. What results is a surprisingly successful drama that sparks with tension at every turn.

Every performance works on two levels, the social interactions that must maintain a forced decorum, and the deeper private moments where you realize that any character is capable of anything. Even the cast of child actors is believable, a real feat honestly. The main trio of women is electric, Witherspoon especially, and the result of their interactions is an uncertainty that transfers to the viewer.

Not knowing what lies around the bend actually results in an experience that is unexpectedly scary. That fear makes the heartfelt moments in the show that much more of release. The audience winds up as grateful for the break in action as the characters caught in it.

Not to mention, “Big Little Lies” is undeniably beautiful. The color palettes have a warmth and intimacy that ends up enhancing the drama. And the soundtrack is well curated (propelled by a first grader with impeccable taste, played by Darby Camp). Any piece of media that can expertly use Leon Bridges’ “River” is alright in my book.

However, it can be easy to feel like the show’s writing is exploiting the mystery of the big “whodunit”. With a mini-series sized season of only 7 episodes, it’s hard to believe that anything can feel dragged out. But it’s undeniable that the lack of resolution gets a little…annoying, even with only two episodes left to premier. And in 2017 the show’s overwhelming whiteness is hard to ignore, even in a show about out-of-touch rich people.

But overall, “Big Little Lies” is overwhelmingly successful in what it sets out to do, following a trend of recently impressive HBO shows. Every week it manages to keep me so engrossed I don’t look at my phone for a full hour, which in this day and age says a lot.

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“Big Little Lies” hits every drama sweet spot