Friday, 26 July 2019

What’s Good and Bad About “Big Little Lies”

Available on Showmax.

I confess that I don't love the HBO series Big Little Lies, though I watch it with fascination, and find it really interesting and somewhat entertaining. Much of what there is in the show that I don’t like comes from television conventions. The story is spun out in ways that are designed to luringly drip information onto viewers just too slowly for us to stop watching, and the emotional tension is kindled misleadingly until the conclusion reveals that the point of the suspense doesn’t even matter to the story. The approach to and execution of the plot’s structure are dismayingly manipulative and overdetermined. Conversations are cut off; the characters get many good chances to hurl their feelings and barbed comments at one another, but conversations only go so far and characters exist only so deep as the plot requires, and don’t develop into a fuller story lived out by fuller people.

What I do like about it are unique and specific to the show, and come to the fore in Season 2, which, as my viewing companion Sizo agrees, is much better than the first season. Season 1 depended on flashbacks and artificially stoked suspense and intrigue to deliver viewers from the story’s beginning to its tragic (yet supposedly cathartic) end. Season 2 jumps off of that, and observes the characters as they navigate the aftermath of the homicide that closed Season 1. There’s no longer a specific end point to which we’re being ushered, and (again, as Sizo perceptively pointed out) the development of the characters is now the very substance of the plot. What they think and feel, and what it leads them to say and do, is what takes the story from the start to end of each episode.