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A New Drama From Hulu, 'Little Fires Everywhere,' Provides a Delightful Distraction
March 18, 2020  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Little Fires Everywhere
, a new miniseries premiering Wednesday on Hulu, starts with a big fire.

A great huge old mansion in Shaker Heights, well-earned home of Bill (Joshua Jackson) and Elena (Reese Witherspoon, top) Richardson, gets totaled by a fire we soon learn was apparently fed by an accelerant.

Once the big fire is out, however, and we have seen Elena standing in the snow staring forlornly at the burnt embers, Little Fires reverts to the promise of its title.

It's a character drama, wherein the routine quirks and neuroses of seemingly ordinary people slowly build into problems and crises that spiral out of control. Little fires spark big fires.

In that sense, and other senses as well, Little Fires Everywhere shares some DNA with Big Little Lies, the soap-opera-turned-crime-drama in which Witherspoon also costarred.

We meet our characters in the same sort of affluent community, where appearances matter, and the schools are geared to spit graduates out into the Ivy League.

That's the Shaker Heights the Richardson family embraces in 1997, where the story begins in flashback. Though Elena is a not terribly well-paid newspaper writer, she's on-board with top-line style and manners, and she works hard to instill them in her four teenagers: preppy Trip (Jordan Elsass), Mommy's golden girl, Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn), good-natured and shy Moody (Gavin Lewis), and troubled rebel Izzy (Megan Stott).

Izzy doesn't have much use for the Richardson world, though she doesn't reject its creature comforts. We get a hint of the reasons for her dissatisfaction in an early scene where Elena complains to Bill that after they named her Isabel, she could have picked a pretty nickname like Belle, but instead she chose the rough, harsh "Izzy." Now why, asks Elena, would anyone make such a poor choice?

A screenwriter could probably whip up a soapy drama, or a sitcom, just from the Richardson family. Oh, wait. A hundred screenwriters already have.

Little Fires Everywhere, based on the novel by Celeste Ng, has a different goal.

Mia Warren (Kerry Washington, top) is an artist with a mysterious and possibly troubling background. She travels around the country with her teenage daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood) living for a few months in different apartments, or sometimes in their car, while Mia takes photographs and makes art out of the experience. Then they move on.

If that sounds adventurous and, at the same time, vague and maybe a little suspicious, well, meet Mia.

Anyhow, two black women sleeping in a car is not the look Shaker Heights is after, so after a cop tells the Warrens to move along, they find an apartment – through Elena.

Elena moonlights as a real estate agent because, as noted previously, journalism doesn't pay that well and appearances can be expensive to maintain.

Mia and Elena become the crossroads of the story, and from the beginning, we watch them circle each other. Mia's secrets play a role, albeit one that unfolds slowly, and Elena's neuroses don't mesh well with them.

We get some police suspicion and some white liberal guilt, but as the story moves along, it becomes more about parenting and relationships and expectations, the kind that cut across socioeconomic groups and takes different forms in each.

Witherspoon and Washington, who developed this project jointly, both play their roles well, as does Jackson. The story often directs our attention toward the younger actors; however, as more of the story becomes about them and the familiar teenage habit of sometimes walking too close to the precipice.

The kids also haven't yet developed some of the annoying traits that sometimes make the adults hard to like, though there's no traditional villain here. We don't wish harm to either Mia or Elena. We just sometimes don't see how, given where they have positioned themselves, they can avoid it.

Opening scene notwithstanding, Little Fires Everywhere delivers a nice slow burn. Hulu releases the first three episodes Wednesday, then the remaining five one at a time on subsequent Wednesdays.

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Elizabeth L'Abate
The director of this show just died at 54.
May 29, 2020   |  Reply
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