Set in Monterey, California, Big Little Lies follows the lives of three struggling women who become entangled in a murder investigation: alpha mom Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Stepford smiler Celeste (Nicole Kidman), and young mother Jane (Shailene Woodley). Along the way, alpha bitch Renata (Laura Dern) and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), the younger second wife of Madeline's ex-husband, get involved, forcing them into an unexpected alliance.
Also appearing in the show's All-Star Cast includes Alexander Skarsgård as Celeste's husband Perry, Adam Scott as Madeline's second husband Ed, Santiago Cabrera as Madeline's suitor Joseph, and Merrin Dungey as Det. Quinlan, while Jean-Marc Vallée directed the entire first season. Witherspoon and Kidman also serve as executive producers on the series.
Upon its 2017 debut, Big Little Lies was a critical favorite and niche hit, ultimately winning five Primetime Emmy Awards for Limited Series, Directing (Vallée), Actress (Kidman), Supporting Actor (Skarsgård), and Supporting Actress (Dern).
Because of its success, Big Little Lies was renewed for a second season, despite originally being announced as a seven-episode limited series. Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) was tapped to direct, replacing Vallée (who remained an executive producer), while Meryl Streep joined the cast as Perry's mother Mary. Denis O'Hare also features in a recurring role.
Tropes specific to the Big Little Lies series include:
- Adaptation Deviation: Among the most significant deviations from the book is Madeline and Ed's marriage. In the series, Madeline has an affair and their marriages lacks much passion, while the book alludes to no such problems. note
- Adaptation Expansion: Because the first season ended with the book fully adapted, everything from the second season onwards is unique to the series, including Meryl Streep's character visiting Monterey and living with Celeste's family to investigate her son's death.
- Adaptational Heroism: Renata's husband is very loving in the series, while he's barely there in the book and it's revealed he cheated on her for a long time with the French maid Juliette.
- Adapted Out: Madeline and Ed had a son named Fred in the novel, who doesn't exist in the television series.
- Adaptational Nationality: With the change from Australia to America, everyone except Celeste becomes American.
- Age Lift: The kids are first-graders rather than kindergarteners and Abigail is sixteen instead of fourteen in the series.
- The Alcoholic: The series implies that Madeline is one, which isn't hard to see, since she's shown in nearly every scene drinking anything alcohol and gets absolutely smashed during the final episode.
- All Abusers Are Male: Played straight in the series, which omits a scene in which Celeste meets a man who was abused by a woman.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: How Jane's friendship with Madeline started by driving Madeline and Chloe to school when Madeline twisted her ankle.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: We have the blonde Reese Witherspoon playing Madeline, the brunette Shailene Woodley playing Jane, and the redheaded Nicole Kidman playing Celeste.
- Canon Foreigner: Joseph Bachman is an invention of the series.
- Demoted to Extra: Juliette, the Kleins' nanny. She's introduced briefly in the series, but a subplot from the book (where she's sleeping with several of the fathers) doesn't appear.
- The End... Or Is It?: The show originally ended like this, with Madeline, Bonnie, Celeste, Jane, and Renata sharing a beach play date together, bonded by their experience with Perry and moving on with their lives, however, a binocular shot of the group (and Detective Quinlan telling colleagues about her suspicions during interrogations) implies that the police are still monitoring their actions, but the series renewal (and the casting of Meryl Streep) confirmed that the story is not yet over.
- Everybody Did It: Perry started attacking Celeste which caused Jane, Madeline, and Renata to start attacking him in retaliation before Bonnie delivered the fatal push.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: Jane in flashbacks has longer hair. In the present, she has a shoulder length, stereotypical 'mom haircut'.
- Fan Disservice: The series has lots of this, despite starring Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley; there's an intentionally creepy and often physically violent tone to Celeste's Fanservice scenes. And Jane's butt gets an airing as Perry's raping her.
- Fire-Forged Friends: The first season ends with the women sharing a play date at the beach together, bonded by their experience with Perry, especially Madeline and Bonnie settling their differences.
- An episode opens with the sounds of Celeste and Perry's violent lovemaking coming out through the air vents. This shows that Max must have picked up on it that way.
- This exchange from the first episode after Madeline offers to help Jane look for a job, and implies that anyone in the town would have done the same for any newcomer.Jane: You're so nice.Madeline: [casually] This is Monterey. We pound people with nice!Celeste: [shrugs] To death.
- Gossipy Hens: The interview segments from each episode are made up of these talking about the protagonists, from the school principal to the parents of their children's classmates.
- HeelFace Turn: After getting smacked by Jane, Renata realises just how petty she's been. By the finale, she's with the other women protecting Celeste.
- Promoted to Opening Credits: A variation. Laura Dern was put in the And Starring billing in Season 1. After Meryl Streep became to new big name attached to the show, she was moved to being billed behind Shailene Woodley.
- Race Lift:
- Bonnie, described as fair-skinned in the book, is played by Zoë Kravitz in the series.
- Also a minor example with Madeline, who's revealed to have Native American ancestry in the show, something not in the book.
- Setting Update: A slightly unusual example in that the setting is not changed because of a difference in time, but rather of location. The book is set in a fictional town outside of Sydney, Australia, while the series changes this to Monterey, California. Naturally, this involves some Accent Adaptation.
- Television Geography: The locals only drinking game for the series is a sip every time another town on the Central Coast is used for Monterey, a shot every time the viewer has to ask why these kids are going to a Monterey school while living in Big Sur (1-2 school districts away), and a drink every time the show seems to really be better suited to being set in Carmel or Pebble Beach.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The first-grade teacher Ms. Barnes pretty much kicks off most of the plot in the first episode by making the ill-thought-out decision to ask Amabella to publicly name the kid who attacked her. She spends the rest of the series as The Atoner trying to fix the mess she started.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: At the dinner in Bonnie's house, Madeline takes a bad reaction the shrimp and vomits it up three times. The final time, on Bonnie.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The first season ends with no resolution to the affair storyline between Joseph and Madeline, and will possibly be addressed in season two.