In Movies & TV Reviews

The lies have only gotten bigger.

5 takeaways from the "Big Little Lies" season premiere

Get ready for second grade – season two of "Big Little Lies" is here. So without further ado, let's fire up those retro needle drops, burn the school principal's weird otter hat and talk about the big – or little – takeaways from the season premiere.

1. Season two – or a season too much?

The following would likely be music to Madeline and Renata's ears, but "Big Little Lies" was pretty much perfection. Based off Liane Moriarty's novel, HBO's hit was a glass of Champagne television – impeccably crafted, bubbly yet with layers of deep flavor, easily swigged back in less time than expected – served by some of Hollywood's best actresses and a deep cast, somehow all doing career-best work at the same time. (Low-key season one MVP: Robin Weigert as Celeste's therapist.) And as our five protagonists and their children played on the beach, everything felt right – a perfect place to leave these characters and this world.

But to counter the message of Maddie's favorite puppet-starring Broadway show, not everything in life is only for now – especially when Hollywood gets involved and something's a hit. So pack your luxury SUVs and load up a new playlist of classic rock deep-cuts and jazzy hits onto your first-grader's iPod, because we're headed back to Otter Bay Elementary – for better or worse.

You see, while the kids head back to familiar territory, "Big Little Lies" rides into uncharted – and potentially dangerous – waters: off book. Just ask HBO's other big hit of political gamesmanship and fiery wars amongst the elites, "Game of Thrones," which fell apart as it traded the complex scaffolding of George R.R. Martin's novels for just the LEGO version. Or Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale," which should've felt more free in its novel-independent second season but instead felt even more imprisoned by sticking to what they'd already done. What feels special the first time can feel rote after another go-around, what was fresh now forced. "Big Little Lies" told a great story with a perfect conclusion – open-ended, sure, but in a way that felt right. Did it have another one?

After Sunday night's premiere, the correct answer is: maybe?

Partly that's because judging an entire season or series based on a single episode is a great way to regret all your words in a few weeks. But while "What Have They Done?" sets up some interesting plot lines, there's no real hook yet. Season one opened right away with grade school politicking, the murder mystery and the slow reveal that everyone's shiny surfaces were hiding more mysteries underneath. Hook: planted. Season two, on the other hand, seems a little less certain of its overall direction. There's a general vague guilt and fear over the potential consequences for spilling Perry down the stairs to his (much-deserved) death at Trivia Night.

Other than that more rote and expected plot line, plus a few returning pieces – kid troubles with Madeline, marital stress with Renata, tense meetings between ineffectual husbands – with little else to drive matters, thus far we seem mostly here just to hang out once again with these characters, played by great actresses.

Which ... fair enough! If "Bigger Littler Lies" ends up just being that, no one will complain too much. It'd just be a mild shame since season one was that – and so much more.

2. Well, I guess we know who's winning an Emmy this year ...

Even if you weren't sure about a second season of "Big Little Lies," three words could immediately convince you of its necessity: Meryl Friggin' Streep. And Sunday's season premiere did not withhold the Ultimate Actress from us. No, it let its Streep flag fly, early and often – and the three-time Oscar winner, playing Perry's mother staying with Celeste to help take care of the kids, did not come to television and Monterey for vacation. She came to work, putting in some fake teeth and finding a level of passive-aggression that surly teenagers could only DREAM of.

Whether she's screaming at the kitchen table in anger over her son's death, breaking down Reese Witherspoon's Madeline in front of our eyes like she's a feebly assembled LEGO set (she doesn't trust short people) or – and I don't think you appreciated this enough the first time – SCREAMING at dinner with a level of emotion the television medium was ill-prepared for (that's why it's not TV; it's HBO), Streep took over the premiere, stealing just about every scene and reminding you why she's still one of the best in the business. If season two has a hook, it's Streep – either her character subtly sleuthing around the "Monterey Five" or just watching her act and psychologically take apart every person who walks in her radius.

I'll be the first to admit that awards season can often times be too generous to Streep, tossing her Oscar nominations ("Florence Foster Jenkins") and even the occasional win ("The Iron Lady") when they're feeling unimaginative. But in this case, I give full permission to start engraving her Emmy now – and we're just 45 minutes into the show.

3. Bonnie's been better

Of the five leads, Zoe Kravitz was given the least amount to do in season one, so it's nice to see round two put Bonnie more front and center right out of the gate.

Kidman's still feasting on the meatiest role, as Celeste copes with the confusing emotions of losing a husband – even an awful, cruel husband – and attempting to resume living after. (And Kidman's still great.) Madeline's got more daughter drama as she rebels against going to college – sidebar: Madeline would totally Lori Laughlin her daughter into a fancy school – while Renata is living it up and Jane is teaching kids about weird octopus facts at the local aquarium (guess the freelance accounting market dried up) with a cute coworker giving her eyes. And as for all four of the ladies, they're trying to calm themselves about potentially getting caught – especially with Streep now prowling around the city with no signs of leaving soon.

Which leads us to Bonnie, the outsider in season one who now feels even more distant even as a welcome member of the group. While the rest of the Monterey Five has made their best attempt at moving on, haunted Bonnie can't since she's the one who actually killed Perry, delivering the fatal shove. And while everyone else feels comfortable with the lie – that he lost his balance and fell down the stairs by his own enraged doing – Bonnie can't help but wonder if her life, now and in the future, would be easier if she just confessed from the beginning, served what little time she'd owe and move on with a clean conscience.

Let's hope her and Perry's mom don't get to talking any time soon.

4. New hands at the helm

Meryl's not the only new face around Monterey this season. Jean-Marc Vallee, who directed the entire season, handed the reins over to Andrea Arnold for all seven episodes of round two. Some of season one's hallucinatory, mysterious quality seems to have left with Vallee, but Arnold – a great director in her own right with 2016's indie gem "American Honey" and regular gigs on the lauded "Transparent" – has so far replaced that with a bougie paranoia that fits the second season's evolution. And when she does dip into the dreamlike qualities of season one, like Celeste's police lineup nightmare at the very end of the premiere, she hits the mark with eerie effectiveness. I'll be very interested to see what she does with the next six episodes.

5. Laura Dern is a mood

Of all the individual storylines introduced in Sunday night's premiere, the (non-Streep related) one I find most intriguing is Renata. There's really just one short scene of her taking a glamorous "Women in Power" photo shoot on their home's back porch, plus a cutaway to husband Gordon drunkenly sulking afterward with his model trains (?) establishing something's going to crack there – even more so than usual.

But never mind that, because here:

Give me five minutes of Laura Dern just feeling herself to music in maximum mom diva mode – plus five minutes of Meryl Streep verbally undressing people – each week, and "Bigger Littler Lies" will have been utterly and completely worth it.


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