Big Little Lies: Season 1 created by David E. Kelley (HBO, Blossom Films, David E. Kelley Productions, Pacific Standard)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Iain Armitage, and Ivy George.
For Such a Time as This
Our society faces a much-needed reckoning. While many stray moments of light escape through the fissures and cracks, the moment for my genesis of understanding the shifting cultural view of harassment emerges with the release of the Ray Rice video. A star NFL running back, Rice faced some backlash when a domestic violence incident bubbled up during the nascent story cycles of the NFL offseason. As with many instances before this one, the star player admits no wrongdoing, the team issues a statement of support for the player, the player faces a minor suspension, if anything.
But then, VIDEO.
While the concept of domestic violence raises disturbing images of conflict in one’s mind, the sheer violence of the visuals reoriented the entire conversation. Suddenly, a 2-game suspension feels worthless given what we see on the screen.
Even more, the subsequent domestic violence cases raise more awareness. These occurrences can no longer hold the definition of a one-off case. Something deeper to the societal fabric of the athlete demands a change.
Shifting from Bad Apples to Societal Impropriety
And now, the #metoo movement raises more questions about bad men behaving badly. But, the Harvey Weinsteins of the world can safely burden the label of monster and face societal ostracization. But, the conversations recently around Aziz Ansari push the conversation forward in important ways. In the past, we ask, iIs it not a few bad apples? Men behaving badly are worth excommunication. Yet, what if the very fabric of relationship building—the script men and women play in the meet-cute toward the development of lasting feelings—what if the entire process operates on an imbalance of power where men might unknowingly (or knowingly, sadly) contribute to systemic harassment (or worse) of others?
Given this milieu, I finally engaged with the critically acclaimed series, Big Little Lies, and I found the small and subtle ways in which the men in the series behave badly to be more compelling than the clear and monstrous abuse of the true bad guy.
Framing Devices and Relationships
The series operates with a murder as its framing device. From the first shot, the audience understands how the story careens toward this violent end. And yet, the intrigue does not lie in the whodunit premise, but rather the lived-in characters of this affluent Monterrey community.
Madeline (Reece Witherspoon) takes a new mom, Jane (Shailene Woodley) under her influence and a friendship forms as the mothers drop their children off at school for orientation. Tensions flare as Renata Klien (Laura Dern), a CEO and mother, learns her daughter experienced bullying during her first day of school. When asked about the culprit, Amabella (Ivy George) points to Ziggy (Iain Armitage), Jane’s son and the new kid on the block.
Parents draw lines and factions form. In Madeline’s and Jane’s corner, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) offers support. But, Celeste’s home life requires her own attention. Her abusive husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) has trapped Celeste in patterns of dangerous abuse.
No More Normal
While the central story, and the one most gut wrenching, situates on the domestic violence situation with Perry and Celeste, the rest of the husbands don’t offer much value, even when they appear to be allies to their significant others.
Madeline’s husband, Ed (Adam Scott), adores his wife but doesn’t act with any conviction. And yet, in the presence of other women, has a tendency to make off-putting, quasi-sexual comments. Likewise, Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan (James Tupper), spends most of his scenes enacting petty feuds with anyone within his vicinity, often missing the deeper relationships he needs to form to be a contributing member of the community.
Even with the difficult-to-stomach scenes of domestic violence and clear villainy of Perry as a character, the subversive nature of Big Little Lies refuses to let the “normal” men off the hook. We need to operate beyond the rejection of the clearly wrong, the Ray Rice videos of the world. Much Like Aziz Ansari and his bona-fides as a feminist, the Babe.Net story points to the societal assumptions and issues that lead to an awkward and possibly sexual-harassment-like situation. Likewise, the men of Big Little Lies abuse their power in meaningful ways. I hope to see these themes move from subtext to text in the second season. For now, Big Little Lies is worth your time.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5