Big Little Lies is only days away from returning to the small screen for its second season. The series that was originally touted as a limited series -- and swept the awards circuit in that category -- scored a renewal that would take the story beyond the original source material. Author Liane Moriarty penned some new material, David E. Kelley returned to write the new episodes despite earlier misgivings, and Andrea Arnold signed on as director.
The big question was whether Season 2 could be a worthy follow-up to the first batch of episodes that won so many fans. Season 2 brought in Meryl Streep, kept the key members of the original cast, and was hyped by an intense trailer. The second season doesn't premiere until June 9, but critics have seen the first few episodes, and they weighed in.
The consensus based on the first few episodes seems to be that Season 2 is shaping up to be intriguing and well-acted, but not necessarily... well, necessary. Although Washington Post's Hank Stuever positively stated that Big Little Lies "can still work itself up into a delectably roiling state of privilege and anger," he also said this:
If, however, you’re coming back to “Big Little Lies” for a well-honed plot and the tension around the keeping of its biggest lie, then you’ll probably notice some desperation in the first three episodes (which were made available for this review) to prolong a story that wasn’t all that prolongable to begin with.
The second season of Big Little Lies scored an order for seven episodes, so it's possible that it just needs some time to warm up and transition from the killer ending of Season 1 into the meat of Season 2. Vanity Fair's Sonia Saraiya suggests that Meryl Streep is going to win an Emmy for her performance but acknowledges that Season 2 might not be able to pay off with "a satisfying conclusion." That said, she also doesn't "much care," saying this:
Critical blasphemy, I know. But that’s the thing about Big Little Lies: It scratches a guilty little itch, allowing you to peer into the fabulous oceanside mansions of its wealthy protagonists. You rifle through their underwear drawers, snoop through their phones, take a peek into their fridges. It’s unclear what you’re looking for, but you are certain, if you look hard enough, you will find it—a secret shame, a buried resentment, a ragged edge of longing. These seemingly perfect women, and their seemingly perfect lives. It’s a thrill to find the ugliness buried under the costly beauty of this place. It’s a release to watch Big Little Lies expose it.
It sounds like Big Little Lies might not be able to dominate the awards circuit again (especially since it can no longer compete as a limited series), but it's still an enjoyable ride. While Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert didn't exactly sing the praises of Big Little Lies Season 2, he didn't come down too hard on it. Here are his thoughts:
After watching the first three episodes of season two, I’m still not sure I can say that the return of “Big Little Lies” is altogether necessary. But I can say that it promises to be thoroughly enjoyable and smart, with the same conspicuously good acting, the same sharp David E. Kelley writing, and the same spectacular Monterey views that contrast so well with the characters’ dark inner lives. Let’s just say that this seven-episode return to the endless secrecy and the beautiful misery of “Big Little Lies,” beginning Sunday at 9 p.m., is not unnecessary.
Hey, just because "not unnecessary" isn't the most ringing endorsement doesn't mean the review is altogether negative! Vulture's Jen Chaney suggests that Season 2 gets off to a slow start that picks up as the episodes pass. Here's how she put it:
The season premiere does so many of the things that Big Little Lies fans might expect it to do, it initially feels almost like a xeroxed copy of season one. But by the end of the episode, and certainly in the second and third, the narrative settles into a place that takes the story somewhere new while still maintaining the show’s ability to glide from moments of comedy to ones of true pain and back again.
Big Little Lies Season 2 deliver a winning combination: what worked about Season 1 with a new direction that fans didn't necessarily see coming. Darren Franich of EW reserves his highest praise for the acting, especially for Meryl Streep as Mary Louise. Streep has of course shown off her versatility as an actress time and time again over the years of her career, but Big Little Lies' gives her an opportunity to try something new. Here's Franich's evaluation:
There’s a lot to enjoy, though. Director Andrea Arnold crafts a complicated portrait of women trying (maybe failing?) to get along. In the three episodes I’ve seen, Mary Louise is an amateur sleuth, popping up in other storylines via Very Special Guest Star narrative magic. But there’s lingering tension in her ongoing refusal to believe the worst about her dead son — and her corresponding willingness to distrust the women he hurt.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a critic who has anything bad to say about the performances. In the opinion of Alan Sepinwall in his Rolling Stone review, the killer cast is a good enough reason for Big Little Lies to run for a second season. In his words:
But Big Little Lies also has the best argument for coming back. Not only does it reunite that powerhouse original cast of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and friends, but it adds Meryl Streep, in one of the few significant TV roles of her long and illustrious career. Talent doesn’t solve every problem — and there are definitely some bumps and stumbles as BLL reopens a formerly close-ended story — but when you can throw this staggering amount of talent at them, problems become much harder to notice.
"Bumps and stumbles" are undoubtedly not what HBO was going for with Big Little Lies Season 2, but none of those bumps or stumbles sound like they'll come from shaky performances. There's a reason why the cast scored so many acting nominations for the first season and Meryl Streep is already being listed as a likely winner for the second! Variety's Caroline Framke's words were less glowing, although not overall discouraging. Take a look:
Even when Season 2 is messy — and it is, more often than not — the mess at least feels like the point. It would have been easy to leave the story on that beach at golden hour with the triumph of sticking the ending. It’s far harder to imagine what would actually happen the next day, and the next, and the next. Purposefully rooting around that uncertainty and pulling clarity out by its screaming roots is a worthy task that the formidable women of “Big Little Lies” — both onscreen and off — have been preparing to face for a long time.
If the show was going to be messy, at least the mess works! Amanda Bell's summary of the series for TV Guide should be reassuring to fans of the first season who are a little concerned about the second not living up to their expectations. Here's how she put it:
In its second season, Big Little Lies remains the same moody suspense-drama that fans fell in love with during its initial run. There are no jarring formula changes or new gimmicks to keep it going; this is simply the second half of the same story, with a very slight break in time, and it works. Even though it is a bit too heady to truly serve as an avenue of escape for audiences, Big Little Lies Season 2 will still transport you right back to Monterey, wherein the water is warm but the wine is chilled.
CinemaBlend's own Corey Chichizola shared his feelings about Big Little Lies about Season 2, and his review suggests that you should stock up on tissues before tuning in. Take a look:
Are you ready to tune in for Big Little Lies Season 2, or are you feeling like maybe you should watch something else in the summer TV lineup? The critics generally seem to think Season 2 is worth watching, for the performances if nothing else. Fortunately, the wait for Season 2 -- which has been quite long, considering the Season 1 finale aired more than two years ago -- is almost over.
Big Little Lies Season 2 premieres on Sunday, June 9 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.