July 18, 2019

"Big Little Lies" Collapses In on Itself

“The first season of Big Little Lies was a clever trap. The show took what would have otherwise been an easily satirized narrative about affluent women and complicated it with their trauma; The Week’s Lili Loofbourow succinctly called it “a kind of double helix of satire and sincerity” in her review. The success of this structure hinged in part on the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards, the withholding of information, and the inclusion of misleading police interviews with gossipy neighbors. By shining a light on the audience’s superficial presumptions about the “Monterey Five,” Big Little Lies, in the end, proved its own point.

The second season, then, might seem superfluous. We already know the backstory to the murder of Celeste’s husband, Perry, and it was long ago revealed that nothing in Monterey is as simple as it seems. No longer needing to twist the viewer’s presumptions against them, Big Little Lies has lost the earnestness that helped balance season one. In doing so — and as was especially evident in Sunday’s third episode — the series has caved into parodying itself.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Big Little Lies is not fun to watch anymore; it is maybe even more so because it surrenders at times into complete fan service, complete with a meme-ready Laura Dern and a mousey and dangerous Meryl Streep. Largely, though, Andrea Arnold — the accomplished English director who took over this season from Jean-Marc Vallée — dispenses with the structural tools of her predecessor save for a handful of flashbacks. Yet even these are returns to scenes that we’ve already seen and that (at least so far) have revealed nothing new. Instead, Big Little Lies’ second season is focused on the central question of if “the lie” is going to catch up to the women involved.”

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