Big Little Lies – television at its very best

If you haven’t watched Big Little Lies already you probably should. No, seriously. Stop reading this now and watch it. Now. Do it right now.

Big Little Lies‘ perfection begins with Jean-Marc Vallée. The director, celebrated for Dallas Byers Club and Wild, creates moving pictures that are rich in emotional depth and thematically brave. This television mini-series, adapted from Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, boasts a phenomenal a-list ensemble and welcomes fresh young talent too. It’s a collaborative masterpiece that reads more as a feature-length film than usual series fare, a trait that works in its favour.

Essentially a series of conversations and betrayals amongst a group of women in the picturesque coastal town of Monterey, California, Big Little Lies seats us in a serene paradise that juxtaposes the actions of its people. The lives of five woman unfold over seven episodes as their first-grader children embark on their first year of school. Bullying, domestic abuse, marriage and friendship are all presented to us in brave and bold new ways with an explorative eye and level of intricacy perhaps unseen before.

Whether it’s in the knowing looks shared between two friends, or the layered and fragmented relationships seen between four married couples, writer David E. Kelley and his director Vallée explore the exasperation and tribulations these mothers feel and the secret brutality of their apparently perfect world as it crumbles around them. Much of the narrative focuses on Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry ( Alexander Skarsgård). At first this pair seem blissfully – and passionately – happy in their million-dollar home by the sea with two cute-as-a-button boys. This facade is quickly shattered by the realisation that they share a dark secret; Perry is a violent and psychotic husband who frequently beats Celeste, repenting with flowers and expensive jewellery. The abuse escalates as the series goes on and these scenes, directed with an uncomfortably intimate lens, depict domestic abuse in an unnerving and realistic plot-thread that works to remind us that this is a deadly serious (and often silent) issue in society.

The total isolation of Kidman’s Celeste is portrayed in aching moments of sadness in a doctor’s office and her inability to acknowledge the depth of her martial situation effectively points to the stigma surrounding physical abuse behind closed doors. Celeste isn’t weak, in fact she’s an accomplished lawyer, loving mother, and friend-to-all who is slowly losing sight of her self as her controlling husband tightens his psychological grip. Kidman and Skarsgård are both revelations here, particularly the latter, as he showcases what broad talent he really does have under his fluffy cinematic roles, while fearlessly embodying Perry and his brewing malevolence. The scenes shared between the two aren’t an easy watch but this serves a bruising, thought-provoking purpose.

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies.

While the series is an ensemble piece, Reese Witherspoon often takes lead. The Oscar-winning actress is a sensation as Madeleine; intelligent, cutting, sharp, self-aware and, actually, a champion of what it means to be a mother and a woman. She is flawed and imperfect, while from the outside perspective of fellow parents she appears to define what it is to be an upper class woman in contemporary America, she’s perhaps the most complex character in the story we see. Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern also star, each battling their own demons in the confines of Monterey. The location becomes a character too which, despite its aesthetic beauty, is rammed with ugly secrets.

The seven episodes are accompanied by an emotive soundtrack which includes Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and Leon Bridges that serves the narrative so well, it’s a treat on the ears while the show itself is often tremendously tough on the eyes. Each episode escalates in its many engimas while questions are slowly answered and secrets unveiled, before the final You Get What You Need ties up loose ends. This cathartic episode represents the unbreakfable bond between women and their utterly inimitable strength too.

Big Littles Lies is an incredible landmark in contemporary television. I would say it’s a rare example of what the small screen can achieve, but I hope it will be one of many sharp, witty and significant pieces of art to come that shouldn’t – and surely won’t – be forgotten. This is flawless drama at its honest best.

True Blood season 7; the series so far

The final season of what, at times, has felt like an over-long, drawn-out television series has arrived. I often defend True Blood, classing it as one of my favourite T.V shows, but what started as a quite compelling show, with thrilling and original story lines came crashing down in season six with a just too out there plot line. If you are up-to-date with the show like me, then you’ll be aware of the Nazi-esque prison camp which was the main setting for season six, with experiments on both vampires and humans taking place. Bill (or Billith as he became referred too), became some kind of malevolent Vampire God, and the trailer trash government of the South put in place plans to exterminate all Vampires. Putting all the weirdness aside, it was at times an entertaining ride (courtesy of Alexander Skarsgard’s Eric, as is often the case), and came to an end which put viewers firmly on the edge of theirs seats eagerly awaiting the arrival of the seventh and final season. Season seven is now in its fifth week (apologies for such a late post), and it took until last weeks Death is not the End for True Blood to finally return to its shining form of seasons one and two. The death toll is high in this final season, cutting loose ends (and characters who have been long disliked by audiences’). New Vampires have arrived, both normal and crazed (True Blood likes a heavy dose of both), and one in particular has quickly become a firm favourite of mine. Jessica’s new boyfriend James (Nathan Parsons), who was introduced in the camp in season six but replaced by a different actor for this final showdown is quite simply, one hell of a cool dude. He’s sexy, humane, and his friendship (perhaps relationship come the end) with the outrageous Lafayette is one of the most interesting elements of the season.

Opening with a super stylish battle between a  group of crazed Hep-V infected Vamps and the humans and healthy vampires of Bon Temps, season seven promised good things to come. Tara, a veteran of the show was killed off in the first moments of episode one, but that doesn’t mean shes gone forever in a show which celebrates all things supernatural. Starting so superbly, I was left disappointed as the rest of the opening fell short, with little happening apart from conversations between various couples about the state of the South, who have all been but neglected by the the rest of America. Episodes two and three were nothing special, with a long-winded display of how bad things have got for the small towns of red-neck America, and little screen time for firm favourite’s Eric and Pam. Finally episodes four and five came and saved the day. Death is not the End saw some rather hilarious flashbacks to how Fangtasia came to be, and Erics reunion with Bill, Sookie and the rest of the gang was a sweet reminder of the glory days of True Blood. Lost Cause, the shows latest offering saw the apparently now recovered town partying away their woes, with goodbyes to relationships and loved ones, and a shock relating to the deadly Hep-V. I wont say too much more, as I’ve gone pretty spoiler crazy but  lets hope the rest of the season is of similar taste.

Putting aside the violence, sex and hill-billy motifs, True Blood has pretty much always been focused on the love story between Bill and Sookie, whether that was lingering in the background or shoved in our faces. The final promises to draw to a close unfinished business for both the characters and the audience, who if are still hanging on in season seven deserve a rather fantastical ending. Known for its frantic energy, and at times bizarre plot lines, True Blood is showing no signs of giving up on delivering a scorcher of a final, returning to its former glory days and perhaps giving us all closure on who, if anyone, Sookie will chose.