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Published On: Thu, Feb 6th, 2020

Big Little Lies Season 2: Family issues and great cinematography highlight the season

While the traditional major networks may do a great deal of work to present programming that is entertaining, stimulating, and unique, there is practically no way they can compete with the intensity of the programs available on premium channels.  It’s not about vulgarity. It’s more about “reality” and the raw side of humanity. For example, I’m a fan of Grey’s Anatomy.  I loved binging on the show’s multiple seasons last summer and appreciated the wide range of topics they addressed and how they portrayed the drama behind very real issues.  But, the death of a major character can only be explored in the shallow end of the pool. We know what happened and that folks are upset, but the story has to move along quickly.  Premium channels can take you to the scene of the accident but then also into the therapist’s office as surviving characters remember and reveal the true depths of their relationships with the deceased.  The entire spectrum of human relationships can be explored in a way that just isn’t acceptable for mainstream primetime viewing.

If you are prepared to dive into the deep end for a more intense experience, consider the HBO original series Big Little Lies.  The cast alone is an indication of what lies ahead.  Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern are back with Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz to move on with their lives after the “accidental” death of Celeste’s (Kidman) husband (played by Alexander Skarsgard).  Who would expect to see an ensemble cast like that in a television series?!?! But they are joined in Season 2 by the incomparable Meryl Streep playing Kidman’s mother-in-law! You can almost hear Emeril shouting “Bam!” as Streep first appears on screen in a role that was written with her in mind.

The entire cast delivers amazing performances.  In Season 1 we got to know the “Monterey 5” who probably mirror a number of moms we all experienced while getting young children through school:  the rich working mom who throws lavish children’s parties to compensate for her time away from her daughter, the bossy mom who loves to poke at the working mom to compensate for her own insecurities associated with not having an identity aside from her children, the beautiful mom that all the other moms envy because of the palpable sexual energy surrounding her and her unreal husband, and the younger moms which are either into everything new-age and earthy or just doing their best to survive in this judgmental circus of elementary school activities and functions.  As diverse as these ladies are, it takes just one horribly traumatic event to bind them together.

But Season 2 focuses a variety of family issues and how these friends support each other through their individual stories.  The depictions of family violence and abuse are uncomfortable in their realism. Infidelity is addressed with cheating spouses of each gender and the spouses who are willing to work things out versus the spouse that wants to take a baseball bat to the situation.  Parent-child relationships explore those of both young and adult children as they either deal with the results of traumatic events or struggle to minimize them. It’s challenging to think of many family dramas that aren’t touched on, however gently or not, in this season.  The writers covered all these topics with intense stories that ring very true and not at all contrived. There are frequent surprises and gasps to keep the drama moving at a good pace.

The camera direction of this season is also note-worthy.  The lens is used as a tool to pull the viewer into intimate and personal moments in a way that stresses that our perspective is voyeuristic and private.  This is a component that has never stood out to me, but it seemed to be of heightened significance in watching Season 2 as it seemed to almost make the viewer a character in the show as well. 

The one disappointing element of the DVD set is that there is only a single bonus feature which is presented as a conversation amongst the 6 lead females.  I believe a conversation involving writers and directors would have been absolutely fascinating given all the complicated family issues that played a part in Season 2’s episodes.  The incorporation of additional bonus elements would have made the DVD set a much more desirable element in a viewer’s personal collection.

REVIEW: 7 OUT OF 10 STARS

AUTHOR: DEBBIE SAGE

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