Jeff Simon: 'Big Little Lies' -- 7 terrific episodes and goodbye - The Buffalo News

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Jeff Simon: 'Big Little Lies' -- 7 terrific episodes and goodbye

Come now. You know very well who the corpse is on this weekend's finale of "Big Little Lies" on HBO. You've known since episode two when one of the cast members started doing things so foul and heinous to a beloved movie star that no soap opera candidate for murder could possibly have been improved upon.

We've known since the seven-episode beauty began that there was both a corpse to be revealed and a killer responsible for it -- and that we would find out the identities of both when it came time to wrap things up. That time is at hand.

We're also going to find out the answer to the other mystery strung along for these weeks: the identity of the kid in school who has been abusing little Annabella. And, as per Liane Moriarty's novel, there's a way to tie up every single plot line in one appallingly neat little package.

So neat that all those intricate plot Legos fit together so precisely that they're, in fact, completely antithetical to everything that made "Big Little Lies" so very, very good up to now.

This star-packed series wasn't only about STORIES; it was about a plausible satiric texture for obscene privilege in America, where the inhabitants of Monterrey, California's wing of paradise try to function with some kind of humanity in a world of inhuman beauty and wicked socioeconomic advantage.

We're watching a classic 21st century American community where everything has been designed to ensure the welfare of the children. A dead adult causes less consternation than a first-grader telling people someone bit her.

What we've watched for the six previous weeks are talents used with optimal suavity in American cable television: Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Robin Weigert and, most importantly by far, writer David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallee.

On my scorecard, "Big Little Lies" is far and away the best thing Kelley has done in a long creative life -- a wickedly involving portrait of American class entitlement chasing its own tail into misery snatched from the jaws of paradise.

For so many years, trained lawyer Kelley hammered out hugely entertaining, funny and involving TV shows on all networks while warming up prime time for the invasion of absurdity and tumult which Shonda Rhimes was going to bring with her.

But here, with accompanying choruses of voices to remind us of the kind of empty "knowing" commentary one finds on Internet commentary sections or talk radio, we were watching people of enormous social and emotional intelligence work their way through knots of their own devising.

In a world where some children starve, we are shown kids whose parents were worried about the colleges they would get into. In a world where kids suffer unfathomably, we watch a society fretting over proper pre-teen candidates for their kids' play dates.

And while Kelley is showing us all this, director Vallee ("The Dallas Buyers' Club," "Wild") and cinematographer Yves Belanger are giving us a cast where happiness is thought to be an entitlement and vileness is a snake that couldn't possibly be hiding behind the microwave, could it?

Give Witherspoon credit: She found Moriarty's novel, and, by the force of a female-led production from her own company, helped assemble a cast of women ready to be terrific on cable-TV in a vest-pocket version of the way those amazing Italian-American actors were in "The Sopranos." In this case, though, we're talking about proven film performers.

For all the talent and natural beauty and mystery and secret suffering we were watching, it was Kelley's and Vallee's brilliance that showed us how pitilessly those people were being stalked by banality. That's what made "Big Little Lies" so good.

Showtime's "Billions" on the other hand -- that other cable TV hallucination of obscene wealth on Sunday nights -- shows us a world of people who think they're spending their time accumulating money, power and primacy but are actually accumulating ways to wound each other with words and secrets.

What "Billions" has done that "Big Little Lies" will never have to do is figure out how to function in a second season. It's the ancient cable television problem: a first season so good that a second season looms as a TV necessity, even though all creative inspiration has been used up.

Look how "The Killing" fared on AMC. And "True Detective" on HBO, which collapsed when writer Nic Pizzolatto followed up a story that took him 10 years to complete with one he had to improvise in months.

What is happening to "True Detective" is that HBO has married Pizzolatto to David Milch. As shotgun weddings go, I will always hold out all hope for the success of my former friend and classmate Milch. But in his mature creative life, he hasn't exactly flourished in marriages of putative equals. Look at what happened when HBO thought it was a lovely idea that he collaborate with Michael Mann on his racetrack series "Luck." Even Dustin Hoffman couldn't save it.

The beauty of "Big Little Lies" as it concludes is this: Unless HBO has misconstrued everything good about it and insists on a second zombie "season" of a story that should have been told, complete, in seven episodes, the mini-series did what it needed to do, all with a vest-pocket all-star cast in too much demand to be hauled back for some tortured inanities from writers who have been advised that money remains to be made so get busy.

The truth about "Big Little Lies" is that it was terrific. And if we're lucky, that will always remain past tense.

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