Who would've thought that sitting down Elle Woods, a Moulin Rouge cabaret performer, and a dying girl from a John Green adaptation would create magic?
Of course, this show is not an unusual fan-fiction that no one really wants to read. I prefer to describe it as a show which reveals the dark, bitchy, toxic lives of (mainly) the women who live in middle-class houses by the beach. A desirable location, but not a desirable lifestyle. It reminded me of how American Beauty did the same with the suburban lifestyle. It looks pretty, but it isn't beautiful at all.
The show begins with a middle-aged blonde woman named Madeline Mackenzie, played by Reese Witherspoon and right away, her character shone through. Through her fast-paced dialogue and her rapid movements, I could tell she was something of high maintenance. I decided that I enjoyed her stage presence from the moment she got out of her car to confront a stranger using their phone whilst driving. She was clearly a woman who wanted everything to be smooth and perfect.
After tripping over and twisting her ankle, a young mother named Jane Chapman comes to her service, introducing us to another one of our main women. Through her seemingly bleak complexion, I suspected that this woman was damaged and had a dark past. In hindsight, I can see that this gives the actress great credibility, as she clearly kept her character's past in her head throughout her performance, and allowing us to see that the events of the time frame which we see within the show is not the only thing we should be thinking about. Even more surprising to me was that this Jane was played by Shailene Woodley, someone who most of us would know from The Fault In Our Stars. There seems to be some sort of curse within the entertainment industry involving teen drama and romantic movies because it pigeon-holes a lot of performers and cuts off the opportunity for them to show their versatility. However, Woodley broke away from this, and pretty easily at that, because after this performance she'll have no problem avoiding type casting.
Playground scandal is one of the main themes of this show, and we see it in the first episode when Jane's son, Ziggy (if this reminded you of David Bowie's alter-ego I applaud you) is accused of strangling another child. Ziggy denies it, and the audience, I hope, believes him. However, the mother of the strangled child, Renata Klein, thinks otherwise and inappropriately chastises Ziggy in a vicious manner. Madeline, along with any decent-minded viewer, would deem this unacceptable behaviour, and as a result, the battle lines between Madeline and Renata are drawn. This begins to build tension throughout the show, and our mouths water as we wonder how it leads to an unnamed victim losing their life.
Renata, in a way, becomes the enemy of the show. But despite this, I loved her. She came across a professional working woman who was proud of not being a stay-at-home mother, unlike the other mothers in the town. I believe that this has gone to her head, as she seems to always use it as a reason for her being "not liked." Played by Laura Dern (who has played the mother of Reese Witherspoon in Wild and Shailene Woodley in The Fault In Our Stars) gives the best performance I have seen this year. I may be biased because I love when someone plays a bitch so well and so authentically.
A paragraph is needed for Nicole Kidman's character, Celeste Wright, who I had the most sympathy for. She is married to Perry Wright and they have a pair of twins between them. Celeste has given up her life to be with her husband, including a respectable position as an attorney. Despite this, Perry has a short fuse and physically takes this anger out on his wife. In a nutshell, they have an abusive relationship. To label Celeste simply as a victim of domestic abuse, however, would be a complete disservice to the performance of Kidman. She has many sides. Sometimes she fights back, sometimes she fails to do so, and sometimes she considers leaving him. The most tragic thing about her is that she never tells her friends about the abuse. She seems to see it as something that's just part of her marriage. The couple goes to marriage counseling and Celeste even covers for her husband during it. It may be out of fear, or it may be out of love. In my opinion, it's out of love for her children. It's difficult to admit, but Perry is a fantastic father to his children. But it's not enough for me to overlook his vile treatment of Celeste. Celeste doesn't want to take her children away from their father because they adore him, which is a hard-hitting fact. The performances from both of these actors are captivating, emotional, and real. Kidman states that she felt the frustration of her character so truly that she threw a brick through a window in her hotel. I believe that is the truth because she literally was the character.
Many would say that the show is powered by the women, but I see the children as more of a focus. Madeline's defence of Ziggy and Renata's defence of her daughter creates tension, and Celeste's love for her children keeps her in a terrible position she would most likely walk away from if she weren't a mother. As well as this, Madeline's attempts to keep her daughter from her divorced-from husband is another huge part of the show. We also learn that Ziggy was conceived as a result of rape, making the viewer fear that Jane's child may have a violent nature within him.
The nonlinear structure of the show is fantastic. We see clips from witnesses throughout, and we know that someone has died at the Audrey and Elvis-themed fundraiser. Really, any one of the characters could be the victim, and you'll lose your mind guessing. You'll be guessing right up until the victim is revealed.
The thing I love about this show is that the characters are difficult to describe. Madeline isn't just the "high-maintenance mother" because she's more than that. Celeste isn't just the "abused wife" because she's more than that. And Jane isn't just the "raped single mother" because she's more than that. It shows us that people are complex, and people cannot be defined easily. People also have something going on that you aren't going to know about, and that is why respect is so important.
In conclusion, if anyone calls this show a "murder-mystery", they haven't paid attention, because it is so much more than that. It's so well written, directed, and acted. And if it doesn't win big at the Emmys this year, I'm demanding a recount.