The first thing the second season of Big Little Lies does for itself is firmly establish every good reason for having a second season at all. When the original limited season ended, it ended at the point Liane Moriarty’s book ends, which meant to many viewers that, despite how much we all loved those scheming, troubled women of Monterey, there was no good reason to beat a dead horse by attempting to continue the story. We counted ourselves among those who didn’t want to see a second season. Sometimes, a TV event is so perfect, it should remain singular and without any attempts at continuation. To do otherwise is to risk ruining the story or the characters. But there were too many awards won, too many huzzahs and memes, for anyone involved in the first Big Little Lies to truly be able to walk away clean from a possible second season. And once they cast Meryl Streep as Nicole Kidman’s mother-in-law, even we had to admit that the case had been made for a second look-see into the lives of Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Renata, and Bonnie.
This spoiler-free review is based on the first three episodes made available for screening, which means it’s entirely possible things go off the rails for the second half, but from what we saw, it shouldn’t be hard for most fans of the original to settle in happily to watch the followup. While the stakes feel considerably lower this time around – no one seems to be in danger of being killed, for one – the story feels organic while not seeming like it’s simply rehashing the previous season. This is what happens when five women keep a deadly secret in a town that has a knack for obsessing over secrets. Every one of the main characters is working through a problem that progresses naturally from their stories and arcs of the previous season. This isn’t some wacky new adventure featuring the same characters. It’s the same story. It’s just that it wasn’t over. It turns out you can’t kill a man, cover up the particulars of it, and walk away without a care in the world. It turns out the emotional fallout of a decade of sustained physical and emotional abuse doesn’t just evaporate when the abuser is permanently removed from the picture. It turns out that secrets of the kind these women have been keeping can tear families and communities apart if they’re discovered by the wrong people. It turns out, we really did want to know what happens next after all.
Despite the heaviness of the undertones and the sinister implications of being found out, the first three episodes were highly entertaining. You might even say there’s a bit of fan service going on here. We have to say, we really didn’t mind. There’s no thrill quite like seeing Renata completely lose her shit or Madeline scream something so hilariously self-absorbed and shallow that you can’t help but burst out laughing. The show never loses sight of the idea that at least some of these people are, well … a little silly. Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, having become living memes after their first-season performances as Madeline and Renata respectively, go full-bore on the comedic aspects of their characters. Meryl Streep, because she’s Meryl Goddamn Streep, manages a perfect balance of heartache, grandmotherly affection, and a sinister, narrow-eyed suspicion of everyone around her. Her scenes with Kidman and Witherspoon are like a rap battle of acting. She bounces exquisitely off each woman’s distinct performance style. It’s a delight to watch them all play off each other so well. All of the actresses are doing high-level work (Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz have never been so good), but if we had to predict, we think Witherspoon, Dern and Streep are all going to be pushed hard for Emmy consideration, based on the types of crowd-pleasing performances they all so handily deliver.
As we said, the stakes appear to be significantly lower this time around and stylistically, it’s not quite as hypnotic as that first season, but every actress brought their A game and the writing so far fully supports and justifies another drive around Monterey, listening in from the back seat. While it may be rich with more laugh-out-loud moments than you might have expected, it’s hard not be completely entertained by it all.