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'Big Little Lies' Returns for Season 2
June 9, 2019  | By David Hinckley

As addictive as Big Little Lies proved during its first season, it did run the ongoing risk of becoming a high-end soap opera with really famous stars.

Season 2, which launches on HBO Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, shows a few signs of lathering up.

That doesn’t spell crisis, at least not at the start. The show retains its remarkable core cast and adds yet another A-lister in Meryl Streep, who doesn’t do a whole lot of television.

Streep plays a character who isn’t exactly a villain, but also is thoroughly unlikeable. In that sense, she fills some of the void left at the end of last season when the show’s genuine bad guy died.

Season 2 of Big Little Lies picks up soon after Season 1 ended, and to underscore the continuity, it opens with the same idyllic California coastline panorama that set the tone for the first season.

The show is set in Monterey, where the principal of the upscale Otter Bay School sees a cupcake and asks if it is gluten-free.

The premise, which will shock no one, is that beneath the surface of this perfect little town simmer all manner of sins, neuroses, self-doubts and corrosive personal dramas.

What happened last season, to oversimplify, is that Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), the violently abusive husband of Celeste (Nicole Kidman), was pushed down a flight of stairs and died. Those present all swore the fall was an accident and absent any concrete information to the contrary, the police officially accepted that explanation.

So the case was sort of closed, except that one cop, Detective Adrienne Quinlan (Merrin Dungey), suspected there might be more to it and quietly started keeping tabs on the people who witnessed the fall.

As this season begins, she finds new partners in doubt, fanning her tiny spark enough to fire up this entire second season.

The core posse, who were all present for Perry’s demise and none of whom miss him one scintilla, include Celeste, the perfect wife and now the officially grieving widow; Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), her best friend and an angry neurotic under her own perfect upscale Mom and Realtor image; and Jane (Shailene Woodley), an interloper from a lower economic stratum who nonetheless has become a trusted friend.

Also present: Renata (Laura Dern), an obnoxious, entitled and sometimes valued frenemy.

The actual push was delivered by Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz, left), who is married to Nathan (James Tupper), Madeline’s ex-husband, who has a complicated relationship with both Madeline and her new husband Ed (Adam Scott).

Most of the women also have serious issues with their kids who, for some reason, aren’t finding that growing up in a perfect town guarantees a perfect life.

You can see the specter of soap here, and both writer David E. Kelley and new director Andrea Arnold give each character lines and moves that are witty and telling.

The action part of the second season starts with Streep’s Mary Louise. She’s Perry’s mother and unlike everyone else, she misses him. Well, she says she misses him. She probably misses the Perry she wants to remember, who is nothing like the Perry who was.

In any case, she has moved in with Celeste, nominally to help take care of Celeste’s two sons in the wake of their father’s tragic death.

Celeste, who has a propensity for feeling overwhelmed, appreciates the help. Less helpful, Mary Louise turns out to be a bully, a passive-aggressive psycho who gets her kicks from insulting everyone around her with a tone of calm superiority.

The viewer wants to reach into the TV and lock her in the basement, which confirms how well Streep plays her.

Mary Louise also has an agenda. Like Detective Quinlan, she doesn’t believe Perry’s death was an accident, and while she has no proof or leads, she intends to stick around long enough to find out whether either surfaces.

That wouldn’t matter if the truth weren’t eating away at one or maybe more members of the Perry death crowd. But it is, which means that tiny crack in the original case may be creaking open to reveal things that could endanger last season’s more-or-less happy ending.

Sprinkle in the school and kid dramas, plus the sometimes annoying and sometimes sympathetic neuroses of the characters, add the fact you’ve got all these fine actresses in one place, and Big Little Lies should be able to spin another season out of what was originally billed as a closed-end miniseries.

Just keep an eye on the suds.

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