Streep adds zest to addictive 'Big Little Lies'

STAR POWER: Nicole Kidman, left, and Meryl Streep in HBO's Season 2 of "Big Little Lies."

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: At the end of the first season — which told the full story of Liane Moriarty’s book of the same name — Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård) was pushed down a flight of concrete stairs, killing him instantly. His mother (Meryl Streep) arrives in town to help her daughter-in-law Celeste (Nicole Kidman) with the children, but really to find out what happened to Perry. She’s a piece of work and instantly clashes with another, Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon). Meanwhile, Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz) and Celeste are deeply conflicted about his death — and the big lie behind it — for different reasons, but not Renata Klein (Laura Dern). She’s on top of the world, for the moment anyway.

While Streep had a small role in “Web Therapy” back in 2012, this is her first major TV role since “Angels in America” in 2003.

This review is based on the three episodes HBO made available.

MY SAY: By adding Streep to the cast, “Big Little Lies” threatened to supersize the superteam. At least in theory anyway, supersizing carries unintended risks. For example, the on-screen chemistry could get out of whack, or maybe LeBron James — Streep — could turn out to be a ball hog, or maybe the showrunners could hand her the ball more often, at the expense of the other huge stars crowding the paint. Or …

Enough already with the basketball metaphors. There’s nothing to worry about. Streep fits in perfectly, her momzilla just one more in a crowd of them. She does tend to grab the screen when she appears, then devour whole scenes in memorable gulps. But that’s just Streep. She can’t help herself.

What’s so good about her prim and slightly chilly Mary Louise Wright is that she’s another variation, or refraction, of everyone else. She too has secrets and she too has perfected the art of shrouding them with lies. She’s encased herself in an air-and-water-tight illusion, that Perry was a wonderful boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, much less Celeste. She’s a head case, but a particularly engaging one.

Besides Streep, what’s best about this second season is that David R. Kelley — back to write this season without a book as a road map — and “BLL’s” new Oscar-and-BAFTA-winning director, Andrea Arnold, have embraced the oldest of show biz rules, albeit one inconsistently applied: Do not fix that which is not in need of fixing. Monterey and Carmel still provide the narcotizing backdrop of spectacular seascapes along with the hushed roar of the surf. The characters’ inner emotional lives still drive the story, abiding by another old show biz rule, that if the characters are true to themselves, then the story will be true to them.

And so it is. Celeste is forced to explore what drew her to the abusive Perry in the first place. Jane has to decide when or if to open up her heart again, long after Perry had raped her. Madeline has to face her own deep seated insecurities, and Renata has to face hers — but in the only way Renata knows how, with manic fury.

Everything is in place, and everyone, and what’s prevented this from turning into a heightened camp version of Wisteria Lane is that now-supersized superteam. To a woman, they’re still super.

BOTTOM LINE: Still fun, still addictive, still (yup) pretty much the same.

Recommended for you