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With 'The Undoing,' We See How Quickly Life Can Change
October 25, 2020  | By David Hinckley

Hugh Grant wants to take all those beloved, cheerful, endearing rom-com characters that he's been playing forever and toss them into the dustbin of cinematic history.

The Undoing, a dark crime drama that explores the unsettling flip side of feel-good romance, lets him do that rather emphatically.

The Undoing, which premiers Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, flips a lot of things around.

For starters, the happy romance comes at the beginning, not the end. Jonathan Fraser (Grant, top) and his wife, Grace (Nicole Kidman, top), seem to have the perfect marriage and the perfect life, with one cool kid, the young teenage Henry (Noah Jupe, top).

Jonathan is a star pediatric oncologist with infinite affection and time for his young patients. Grace is a high-end therapist. They have one of the luxurious high-ceiling New York apartments that exist primarily in the movies and on TV, and Henry attends the prestigious Riordan School.

Grace and Jonathan exchange playful teasing banter that only underscores how deeply they seem to care for each other. For example, he whines about a Riordan fundraiser that everyone knows he will dutifully be attending, in his tuxedo.

Partway through the fundraiser, whose organizing committee naturally includes Grace, Jonathan gets a text that he apologetically reports will require him to leave. Seems the lungs of one of his patients have filled with fluid, and his presence is necessary to deal with the crisis.

As this comes with the territory for doctors, similar situations have clearly happened before, and Grace understands. She shoos him along, knowing he also must rise early the next morning to fly to a pediatric oncology conference in Cleveland.

If all this doesn't sound like the foundation for a dark crime drama, you'll have to take our word that it does. Providing any further specific details would, alas, spoil the setup for the rest of the series.

Okay, we can offer one detail. Someone dies. Someone who at first seems peripheral and soon turns out to be central. Let's also reveals that some of the characters get various pieces of startling information at the same time as viewers.

Being that crime is involved, we naturally get cops and, in particular, Detective Joseph Mendoza (Édgar Ramirez).

He's an unusual cop in that we don't immediately learn of a dozen traumas that have recently ripped his life apart. He seems to be focused on the case he has caught. What plot device will they think of next?

While The Undoing repeatedly slaps around and bloodies up Grant's rom-com persona, in a lot of ways, the series is more Kidman's show, and Grace Fraser will, at times, remind viewers of Celeste Wright, the character she played in Big Little Lies. That's a compliment.

Kidman nails Grace, whose perfect life becomes less perfect rather quickly. She also has a friend in the script, written by David E. Kelley from the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

Lives are dismantled with swift, cascading brutality that barely gives the owners of those lives a moment to think and absorb.

Sweet it's not. Good, it is.

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