Big Little Lies (Season 1) (2017)

I know I’m late to the party on “Big Little Lies,” having missed it during its original run on HBO, but man oh man this is good stuff. It’s the kind of show that tends to slowly and carefully unfurl as its dynamics become crystalized, even as it feels immediately accessible and familiar in a lived-in way. From the distinct, effective opening credits (set to Michael Kiwanuka’s lovely, mournful “Cold Little Heart”) to the beautiful Monterey setting, the show’s cinematic pieces fit together extraordinarily well, establishing an overall tone and atmosphere that are striking without distracting from the show’s unfolding central mystery. But really, none of it would matter were it not for the absolutely riveting cast: This is one of those rare dramatic shows where just about everyone is delivering career-best work. Among many highlights, Laura Dern tears into her fiery role like a lion going through a gazelle, while Shailene Woodley inhabits her enigmatic character with both warmth and distance, making her arc all the more compelling. Ultimately though, this is Reese Witherspoon’s finest hour, and the caliber of her performance here is truly admirable. There are numerous scenes of domestic and sexual abuse so it’s not for everyone, but those who can stomach the intensity will find their patience rewarded in the end.

Rating: ★★★★★ (out of 5)

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