Arts, Television

HBO’s ‘Big Little Lies’ Is Realistic, Complex, and Beautiful

How bad can one little lie be? A little girl says a little boy hurt her, a little boy says he didn’t. One of them is lying. Big deal. A little white lie never hurt anyone. Except in Big Little Lies, HBO’s newest drama series. In this show, a little white lie between two small children ends in a woman’s murder.

The theme of Big Little Lies is Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart”. Beautiful shots of the beach and ocean drift across the screen as the song plays. It is soulful and tragic, setting the tone perfectly for the rest of the show. The first episode, appropriately titled “Somebody’s Dead,” opens in the first person view of a crime scene. Blue and red police lights flash across the screen, lighting up the entire building where the murder took place. The audience doesn’t see the face of the person who is present at the scene, all the information they have comes from the heavy breaths they can hear. The breather is a woman, presumably one of the four women that Big Little Lies focuses on.

The show flashes forward to a series of interviews with local people being questioned by detectives investigating the murder. One of the interviewees explains that the root of the crime was Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon).

Texting and driving can get someone killed. Big Little Lies proves it. A teenage girl driving in front of Madeline forces her to stop.Madeline gets out to yell at the driver of the car. She sees that the car is full of teenage girls, one of them being her older daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton). On her way back to her car, Madeline trips and hurts her ankle. A quick flash to one of the people being interviewed states “It’s possible that had she not fallen, nobody would’ve gotten killed.” By the end of the episode, this statement is more believable. Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) is driving her son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) when she sees Madeline fall. She stops to help her. The dominoes begin to fall into place.

The main conflict of the show, the event that leads to the murder shown at the beginning of the episode, starts with Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter. After the first day at school, the teacher gathers everyone in a circle to discuss something that happened that day. Renata’s daughter was choked by a boy in class. She claims that it was Ziggy, but he fervently denies doing it. The mothers begin to take sides. The show should be commended for its ability to turn a seemingly innocuous event into the integral part of the landslide that eventually culminates in murder.

Aside from its strong and engaging story, the acting in Big Little Lies is outstanding. Similar to much of today’s television, Big Little Lies marks the migration of acting talent from film to network programming. As would be expected, each one of these actresses turn in an amazing performance. More importantly, there are a lot of child actors in the show, and all are clearly talented. This is a very important success for Big Little Lies, as most child actors are not very good and it can pull the audience out of the experience entirely.

What is most impressive however, is that all of the characters in the show are just like people that everyone knows. Everyone knows a parent who has focused their entire life on their children and is left empty-handed when they begin to grow up. Everyone knows a parent who works so much that they don’t have time for the children. All of the characters are real people. Each has justified and credible motivations, creating no clear villains or antagonists. Big Little Lies does a phenomenal job of humanizing each character, adding depth and relatability to their every action. These small events that foreshadow an eventual murder are all very understandable, but nothing in the first episode belies the identities of the killer and the victim. 

While every character in Big Little Lies could be on the cover of a magazine, the show itself is gorgeous. The colors are bright and vibrant, and there is a definitive beach-like feeling that permeates the tone and the visuals of “Somebody’s Dead.” The first episode of Big Little Lies signals a strong start for an even stronger show. The acting, story, and visuals are all very compelling, and are sure to bring the viewer back for next week’s episode titled “Serious Mothering.” Quality doesn’t lie, it seems that HBO can’t lose.

Featured Image By HBO

February 22, 2017

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