Recess reviews: HBO's 'Big Little Lies' explores the complexities of the female experience
Breathtaking shots of Monterey Bay. Real, complex female characters discussing real, complex female issues. The most empathetic and musically precocious six-year-olds you will ever meet. HBO miniseries “Big Little Lies” offers all of this and more.
When my roommate first told me to watch “Big Little Lies,” I was skeptical. A show about moms and their kids didn’t sound all that appealing to me, and neither did a typical murder mystery. It was only when I found out that the viewer didn’t know who both the murderer and the murdered were that I became intrigued. I already had the sense that the show was going to transcend any usual genre.
The basic premise of “Big Little Lies” is this: the show focuses on an upper-class community in Monterey Bay. The children of Madeline McKenzie, the town busybody, Celeste Wright, a seemingly perfect wife and mother and Jane Chapman, who is new to the area, are all entering first grade. The show follows the lives of this trio and their struggles with relationships, work and motherhood. Each episode also contains flash forwards to the aftermath of Trivia Night, where an undisclosed killer has murdered one of the attendees. Much of the commentary on the protagonists and the culture of Monterey Bay comes from police interviews conducted with other characters on the show after the murder takes place.
Although I started to watch “Big Little Lies” to figure out what happened at bloody Trivia Night, I stayed for Jane Chapman, Madeline McKenzie and, most of all, Celeste Wright. This trio of protagonists carries the show out of any typical mold and provides the show with its sincerity as well as its drama. None of the three mothers are typecast as stereotypical suburban moms and each woman is allowed to grow and confront her own problems over each of the seven episodes. Yes, all of the mothers fiercely love their children and participate in the upper-class culture of Monterey Bay, but this doesn’t make them boring characters. Rather, it makes the viewer care about them and their families and become even more emotionally invested in the show.
One of the key strengths of “Big Little Lies” is its focus on female characters and more typically female issues. Almost all of the main characters on the show are women. As a result, issues that many women experience but are rarely discussed on television appear. Domestic abuse and struggling to leave one’s abuser is a prominent issue on the show, as is discovering how to move on from past relationships and embrace new ones. All of the mothers struggle with the balance between work and family, as well as the question of whether being “just a mother” is enough. Rather than being shown as overly dramatic or backstabbing women, characters on “Big Little Lies” resemble real women with real problems far more important than relationship or friendship drama.
As with any show, “Big Little Lies” does have its fair share of drawbacks. The season (and possibly series finale) wrapped up some issues too nicely while leaving countless questions unanswered. The character of Madeline McKenzie became a little repetitive and irritating over the course of the show. I am still perplexed as to why so many six-year-olds enjoy curating playlists with music by Alabama Shakes and Sufjan Stevens. These slight faults do not detract too much from the quality of the series, as every show is bound to have some less than perfect characters.
All in all, “Big Little Lies” is a near perfect show that any viewer can become invested in. Whether you come to the show for its scenery, its memorable soundtrack or because you’re finally giving in to your roommate’s wishes, “Big Little Lies” will keep a hold on you far past its last episode. The sincerity behind the characters and their lives makes the show stand out in an era of fake news and reality TV. It will make you cheer for the protagonists, laugh over first grade antics and keep you on the edge of your seat until the final episode fades to black.