Another year; another miniseries. Such is the way that entertainment is going, with TV taking again many of cinema’s biggest stars and doing something different. In a flip that many did not see (yours truly included), TV now leads the way in original, character-led entertainment whilst Hollywood slogs behind with remake after remake.
So on to the show. HBO have a new dark comedy miniseries adapted by David E. Kelley from the book of the same name. If that wasn’t enough, the show is led by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley as the titular mothers who’s children happen to start their first day at school at the same time.
If two Oscar winners weren’t enough, there’s also Alexander Skarsgård playing Kidman’s younger (and raunchier) husband, Laura Dern as a somewhat antagonist to the motherly trio and Zoe Kravitz as the younger, sexier thorn in Witherspoon’s side (although unintentionally).
The show starts with a murder, much like many shows: make something big happen in the first 15 minutes to grab the audiences attention and then do the boring character/story building (or so they think).
Nonetheless, we have a murder. We do not know who the victim is nor the suspects. We know that it all began with this first day and culminated at a fundraising gala.
This usually is enough for me to switch channels, had it not been for that niggling feeling that made me question why Kidman, Witherspoon and others would have even signed up for this. Aside from money, of course.
Editing-wise, they have employed the technique of cutting from scenes of that first day to police interviews with other parents to fill us in on whom everyone is and their possible motives.
We meet Woodley’s character Jane whom, along with her son Ziggy, is new to this town and on her way to school when they meet Witherspoon’s Madeline. Thus, a friendship is struck.
Madeline is your typical gossipy, self-righteous ambitious mother. She knows everything about everyone, has strong opinions and is easily offended. She wants to be everyone’s best friend but considers Nicole’s Celeste her actual best friend, even if it comes off a little forced. She introduces Jane to Celeste at school and turns her duo with Celeste into a trio.
Celeste on the other hand, outwardly anyway, is very reserved and quick to blush at the abundance of compliments Madeline throws her way. At home however, with Skarsgård, there is a raw lust that others feel crosses the line.
The intrigue really begins when one of the other mother’s daughters (Laura Dern) is choked and she points the finger at Ziggy, Jane’s son. A clash ensues as Ziggy denies having hurt her and the trio butt heads with Dern and her lackey.
Jane refuses to believe her son would do such a thing and the others back her up. However, Jane is most definitely harbouring something yet unknown.
She reveals that Ziggy’s father is not involved nor was she ever in a relationship with him. We also see flashbacks of a woman in a blue dress on the beach and then same woman later looking disheveled, but always from behind, never revealing her identity. Interestingly, Jane also sleeps with a gun under pillow.
Her son, on the other hand, is quiet, reserved and has that Damien from The Omen (1976) look to him. He also does some creepy things like sleep walk to her bedroom and watch her sleep.
Personally, I think Jane is the victim of some sort of sexual assault, of which Ziggy is the result. Now she struggles with the notion that her son may not fall short of the tree that is her attacker.
Witherspoon’s Madeline is dealing with a host of issues from losing touch with her children, Zoe Kravitz’s presence and her being left without a career once her children leave. Celeste on the other hand, whilst seemingly leading the perfect life, shares later an unspoken connection with Jane and encounters a physically aggressive husband on the subject of how to raise their children.