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Big Little Lies

"I am blown away by this miniseries." -Michael R

"Laura Dern's Renata is crazy but she reminds me of several professional women that I know in the San Francisco Bay Area." -Jono

"Loved the jarring editing this week, and the reveal of what Perry did with the toys..." - DJDeeDay

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« Would you rather...? | Main | On This Day: Globes for two goddesses. Plus a non-jolly green giant »
Friday
Mar102017

Big Little Lies MVPs: Episode 2 "Serious Mothering"

by Nathaniel R

previously: episode 1

Top Ten MVPs of Big Little Lies. Episode 2 "Serious Mothering" 
In episode 2 we learn that Celeste's husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) is abusive and even their love life is violent. Meanwhile Renata and Madeline get into a screaming match in a restaurant over an upcoming children's party, and Madeline's two husbands -- the ex Nathan (James Tupper) and the current Ed (Adam Scott) -- rub each other the wrong way. 

A list of ten wonderments from this installment after the jump...

10 Harry the Hippo
09 "Mommy and Her Boys"
That scene where the first grade teacher introduces Harry the Hippo to the classroom is bliss. The kids all seem both too old for it and totally into it depending on the split second and/or the kid in question, We can only hope that Harry the Hippo -- who we are assured LOVES being touched, a trait not shared by several of the cast members -- becomes yet another object of tension between the moms and a projection device for all the amazing child actors this show found.

The first episode did a brilliant job introducing all the moms and this one passes the torch quite passively aggressively to the husbands. Ed objects to Madeline's sole possessive "my daughter" and Perry makes a tetchy comment about being excluded:

You wanted that moment all to yourself, mommy and her boys".

Future aside: What if these twins playing Nicole Kidman's boys grow up to be actressexuals? Are they going to be so weirded out that a literal screen goddess was constantly hugging them and playing with their hair when they were kids?

That's enough naughty boy.

09 Phone Sex
Truth time: I'm not entirely sure what to make of Nicole Kidman's performance in this series thus far. Possibly too opaque? I'm both into it and not, which is unusual for me with Nic'. This scene when she flashes her boobs, but then sees the bruise her husband left and goes cold and then, just as abruptly, switches to maternal with him, is rich with psychosexual drama. "Mommy and her boys" includes her husband. 

I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets. 

07 Quotables
You want 'em. Reese has got 'em.

06 Clap Off
This brilliant gesture! Ed is an old reliable but sometimes he just can't with his relentless wife. He claps off the light and shuts down the scene faster than the cut to black edit when Madeline shrilly asks "did you hear me?" 

05 'Getting her drink on with the girls'
Not quite a rival for the "incident" scene in the first episode but this night out is a terrific script moment. It begins with Madeline and Celeste having a cagey but fundamentally honest conversation about fights with their husbands (the total puzzlement on Reese's face at the notion of make-up sex after a fight!!!) when Renata, overacting her buzz, enters to invite them to a fundraiser. 

See, Madeline has tended to this particular grudge more than any other and this pet is now a monstrous beast. A "friendly" conversation turns profane and threatening. 

Actually in my graduate thesis I coined the term 'helicopter parent.' These gems... they're fucking kamikazes.

04. The Principle
Can we have a round of applause for P.J. Byrne as Principle Nippal. Though the interview scenes are grating as a structural device they do emphasize one rich point of this series' circus of characters: everyone thinks they're personally above the drama but they're all part of the narcissistic circus.

03. Ensemble Cast Blocking
Bless Jean-Marc Vallée for his insistence on cramming multiple characters into shots. This is a lost art in movies, let alone television, and it can often yield hugely rich rewards in terms of both acting and story dynamics: The Harry the Hippo scene manages to cram all the key children into one shot (and thus we see multiple characterizations as they respond); Every meal time scene in the Mackenzie house benefits from the wide shots with Reese always at the head of the table which cleverly only has one side to make every scene about both Madeline's feelings about her entire brood and their feelings about her; Plus it's just fun to watch actors play with each other in the moment as in the coffee house scenes.

02. Madeline's Potty Mouth
Very early in this episode Reese lays into her coworker at the theater with the following speech on the phone:

I'm a lady and I've never said this to anyone in my entire life but I'm going to say it to you. You can go fuck yourself on the head!!!"

"On the head?" Other things she's surely never said to anyone in her life being a lady (yeah right) that we hear in this episode alone.

Get laid, bitch.

C**t, why don't you get fucked.


01. Adam Scott
He's on fire with three dimensions in each scene, so much lived-in history, so incisive about how his patience has been frayed, so much left unsaid even when he's laying it all out there in the beachside monologue or his chest-puffing (sans puffing) rehearsed threat to Madeline's ex later in the episode. Male actors never get any credit for being great in female vehicles but Scott deserves it (think Parks & Recreation, Bachelorette, etcetera... he's always amazing with women). Name a better male performance you've seen recently within a female centric drama than his.

I'll wait. 

 

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Reader Comments (29)

Adam Scott is always a wet towel. This included. It's gross that you put him on top over the women.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScotty

Scotty -- this is one particular episode. not the full series. Obviously Reese is #1 but she got that for episode #1 so no need to repeat this time. agree to disagree on Adam Scott who i think is a great actor.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"What if these twins playing Nicole Kidman's boys grow up to be actressexuals? Are they going to be so weirded out that a literal screen goddess was constantly hugging them and playing with their hair when they were kids?"

They'll probably wish that Reese or Laura Dern played their mom.

(Oh, I couldn't resist!)

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

This show is terribly written; the line in the first episode about HAMILTON was almost a parody of itself.

Love Reese, but my God, the writing...How are her character's children supposed to be real? They're straight out of Garden State.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Recently, Nathaniel? Well, there's Billy Crudup in his two recent actressy outings...

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

And Lithgow, Dillane, Jennings and Harris in The Crown (cheating just a little). But I do agree that Scott is as usual excellent in this.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Wow, I completely disagree with you about Kidman. She's giving us everything in this series and I looked forward to hearing your glowing reaction.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

If you're not into Nicole's performance after episode 3 (she has two *outstanding* moments), then this performance probably just isn't for you. Celeste is opaque by design and while what Witherspoon and Dern are doing is AMAZING and soooo much fun, I'd argue that Celeste is the most difficult character to pull off and I think Nicole is slaying. If you're a fan of her work in Lion but not this by the end, I'd be surprised lol. They fit together nicely I think, just in terms of the subtly displayed.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVanya

Can't wait to devour these recaps because EEK I still haven't watched

March 10, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

@Nathaniel

I find it interesting that you are devoting so much time to this plebian miniseries.

Is it because of your love for Kidman? Just curious😊

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJill

I'm loving Big Little Lies! Renata's awkward, disingenuous "I was over there with my girlfriends, getting our drink on," reminded me so-o-o much of Helen in Bridesmaids, what with her "drunken Saturday nights at Rockin' Sushi, okay?" I couldn't help but LOL, and hard...until I got to ep. 3. Wow, my whole impression of basically every character flipped after that one.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Adam Scott is so very good in this. Totally working with his natural gifts and against them in that good guy appearance he always has. It would be easy for his character to get lost among the women, but he finds a way to make an impression among the ensemble by not explicitly standing out but working with it perfectly. Love him.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Jill -- i couldn't disagree more. Plebian? I'm LOVING it so far. Covering it mostly because it's so actressy with multiple goddesses

Mareko -- great comparison point. I haven't watched episode 3 yet. hopefully tomorrow though i'm letting a new contributor write that one up because i have to get back to some other articles.

Glenn -- thanks. I'm not alone!

Hayden -- i look forward to enjoying her more in episode 3 which people are saying she's great in.

Suzanne -- i walked right into that one.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I have to support Nathaniel. Adam Scott was great in his scenes. I don't like the imprint of adults on children but that helps to make it vaguely creepy. The police investigation angle is a missing part of the writing. The chorus of neighbors are a lazy device. I love Alex.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

@Nathaniel

Yes plebian. Look it up

Common
Or
Commonplace

Are big words unacceptable on this site?
I just last week began coming here. So I am just
Getting my feet wet. Hope that phrase is understandable!!

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJill

Jill: He clearly understands the term, but your use of it here makes little sense and you come across as kind of a troll. BLL is a popular and critically praised program with a lot of excellent/award winning female movie stars involved. Discussion about it makes total sense for and is a welcome addition to the site!

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDrewB

@ Drew B

That shows your ignorance... Don't worry about me... I did not realize this was a fag-based blog and I won't be trolling it in the future.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJill

A fag-based blog? Good lord, now I have seen it all! Nurse!

But seriously, she was here for a week and didn't realise it was populated by gays?

Helen Keller, sashay away.

(Don't shoot, it's a joke :D)

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMorganb

Casual homophobia and pride in being a troll shows a general decline of our culture. Goodbye Jill and good rIddance.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

Jill we will really miss you. Really really miss you.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

i'd like Madeline to go potty mouth on Jill right about ... now.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Seems like Jill is REALLY missing the IMDB Message Boards...

This starts in the UK on Monday and I cannot wait...

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

I think theres something weird between Adam Scott and his stepdaughter in this show. He's always creepily looking at her.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrezz

Episode 3 should definitely make you feel better about Kidman. I love Nicole to death, but I agree that Reese is the series MVP so far. I don't know if I'd say Adam Scott is #1, but he's definitely doing great work.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Nathaniel , you ll love Nicole in episode 3. She slays it.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

I'm in love with this show. It really takes what is an ordinary lackluster story and elevates it with exceptional casting choices and performances. It really is a beauty to behold.

Reese and Nicole are MVP. They shine brightest. They are both taking personas they are famous for and delving deep resulting in immensely watchable performances.
Reese's character is easy to judge and so easy to get wrong. And Nicole builds a character from the surface down like no one else in Hollywood can. There is literally no other actor in Hollywood who can play sexual and cold in one movement the way she does. And after you watch episode 3 you realize that she is not giving Celeste any easy breaks.

Adam Scott and Alexander Skarsgard (Nicole has been abuse by both father and son Skarsgards at this point) are very very good in this. They are also very brave to take on these roles. They really need to step up their games to keep up with the women and they do rise to the occasion. They are also frequently very likable and desired (for various reasons) men who are playing a version of their onscreen person that is immensely unlikeable. People who appreciate the art of cinema will like them more for it but some of their fans will be put off.

The series' best moments are in the looks. There is a lot that is said and screamed and there are outbursts peppered along the way (courtesy of the ever reliable Laura Dern who delivers in a major way in the third episode) but may favorite moments are when whole stories are peaked into via brief look exchanged (Shailene and Nicole in first episode, Adam and his stepdaughter in the second episode, Nicole and the therapist in the third episode....and I can go on forever). Vallee has trusted his actors to really bring it and he is just shining a lens onto their genius and letting them play. At this point, I could not care less who got murdered and who murdered them. I want to watch these people conflict forever.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

Jill... Stein, is that you?

Anyways, glad you're writing about this series, Nat. I've enjoyed it so far. So pleasantly surprised you put Adam Scott as #1 for ep2. He's so underrated as an actor. He should've have a couple of Emmys for Parks and Rec alone. Reese is my everything so far though. (I still don't get Woodley).

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

omg, I jumped when I saw Adam Scott at number 1. I thought I was the only one who noticed. I've never seen a character jump right into the thick of a plot line, with barely any exposition, and give if so much context without overacting. I find his portrayal to be such a unique take on modern masculinity, his delivery so memorable.

Loving this show. I get a sense that the combined talent has set such an unattainable expectation that no matter how good it gets it will always fall short in the eyes of some - and the sample of reactions to your article show just that. I hope it doesn't end up where Looking did, a small under appreciated gem more known for its divisiveness than its inherent quality.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

TOTALLY agree on Adam Scott in this episode. SO lived-in and specific.

But... no mention AT ALL of that amazing Laura Dern scream "I SAID THANK YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU"?!?!? I. DIED.

March 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

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