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Review: 'Big Little Lies,' Season 2


The second season of HBO's hit drama "Big Little Lies" begins on Sunday. And this time around, Meryl Streep joins Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon - all three of them Oscar winners. But NPR TV critic Eric Deggans isn't sure the second season lives up to the big-name cast. And a quick note, this piece has spoilers from Season 1.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: If the producers of "Big Little Lies" were going to lure Meryl Streep to television, they'd have to offer her a seriously juicy role. So it's no surprise that her character, Mary Louise Wright, is a bit complicated. Here she is insulting Reese Witherspoon's Madeline Martha Mackenzie.


MERYL STREEP: (As Mary Louise) You're very short.

REESE WITHERSPOON: (As Madeline) Excuse me?

STREEP: (As Mary Louise) I don't mean it in a negative way.

WITHERSPOON: (As Madeline) Oh.

STREEP: (As Mary Louise) Maybe I do. I find little people to be untrustworthy.

DEGGANS: Yeah, Mary Louise uses politeness like a weapon, keeping people off guard until she's ready to drop a cutting remark. She's mother to Perry Wright, the character played by Alexander Skarsgard last season. Perry was an abusive husband who attacked his wife, Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, at a school fundraiser. To stop the attack, a friend of Celeste pushed him down a flight of stairs, and he died. The five women who witnessed that fall lied and told police Perry fell on his own, but his mother isn't buying it. And she confronts Celeste about it.


STREEP: (As Mary Louise) You left some things out, didn't you? The fact that he fathered another child, you left that out. That you plan to move, that you rented an apartment, you left that out. You learned of his infidelity just 10 seconds before he went falling down a flight of stairs to his death. Oh, you left that out too.

DEGGANS: I think Mary Louise is going to be a problem. "Big Little Lies'" second season centers on that lie about Perry's death. The five women, all friends, are mostly wealthy, privileged moms living in Monterey, Calif., but their lives are coming apart as they struggle with the weight of their secret - especially Kidman's character, Celeste, who shares her guilt with her therapist.


NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Celeste) I guess I still feel responsible.

ROBIN WEIGERT: (As Dr. Reisman) For?

KIDMAN: (As Celeste) For the accident.

WEIGERT: (As Dr. Reisman) Even in death, his message lives on.

KIDMAN: (As Celeste) What message?

WEIGERT: (As Dr. Reisman) That you're to blame; that you're always to blame.

DEGGANS: Buried inside this season's sprawling stories is a compelling drama about surviving abuse, mostly focused on Celeste. She's torn between love for her dead, abusive husband, concern that she contributed to their violent relationship and worry that her twin sons have been damaged by it all. Other stories are a little more predictable.

Reese Witherspoon's busybody Madeline has marital troubles. Laura Dern's high-strung corporate executive Renata has money troubles. And Zoe Kravitz, as Bonnie - who actually pushed Perry down the stairs - mopes around in a funk, telling Madeline she can't handle the guilt.


ZOE KRAVITZ: (As Bonnie) Sometimes, I wake up at night in a sweat with this feeling. It's going to get us. It's going to get us all.

WITHERSPOON: (As Madeline) Who are you talking about?

KRAVITZ: (As Bonnie) The lie.

DEGGANS: It's so obvious, I'm surprised they didn't say, here's the big little lie from the title. A lot feels unrealistic here. Celeste is in therapy, but her kids, who are fighting all the time, are not. And characters drop lines that underline their every feeling, as if the audience wouldn't get it otherwise.

"Big Little Lies" was supposed to only have one season, but the show turned into a massive hit, so fans will probably still enjoy the second go-around. I'm just hoping the series eventually avoids the easy jabs at clueless, wealthy suburbanites to offer a deeper look at characters worthy of the stars playing them. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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