When we first heard that Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon were teaming up with David E. Kelley to adapt Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies into a TV series, well, we naturally couldn't help be curious. Neither of these Hollywood A-list ladies has really ventured into the TV landscape before but they were doing so alongside a veteran of the genre, with a best-selling book as their raw material.
The premise of the show at first seemed like nothing new - three wealthy American mums, all hiding secrets of their own out in suburbia - let's be honest, we were all thinking it was just a revamped Desperate Housewives, but that's sadly more of a reflection of how few female-led casts there are in TV dramas these days.
Underestimating Big Little Lies, however, was our first mistake.
The opening credits alone featuring the sprawling landscape of California's Monterey County, along with the melancholic voice of Michael Kiwanuka, make it clear that there is a much darker undercurrent to this picture-perfect lifestyle. The show wastes no time in landing us straight into the plot in sporadically placed flash forwards that tell us there has been a murder, but it will be some time before we work out who was killed, and why. The second mystery of the show is also introduced in this opening episode as we see new kid Ziggy, son of Jane (Shailene Woodley), is accused of bullying by a classmate but denies it.
The show has already done enough to hook us in - we need to know the answers to these questions - but as the series carries on, we realise we want to know the answers to so much more.
The turbulent relationship between Celeste (Kidman) and husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) has become a major talking point of the series, so much so that it's led many to rediscover the acting chops of Nicole Kidman, who we have no doubt will be collecting ALL of the awards for her performance. It was their relationship that had Australian author Liane Moriarty most concerned about the TV adaptation, telling The Sydney Morning Herald: "Originally I was a little worried that they would oversimplify the abusive relationship and that's what I said to Nicole. That was my only stipulation when I very first met her. I said it's really important that you hit back so that your character feels complicit in the abuse and so that we show that it's a really complex relationship – it's not just, 'oh, here's a horrible man hitting a pretty woman.' She played that perfectly."
Reese Witherspoon also proves once more that she is far more than just a love interest in every noughties rom-com. Her character is a zero bullshit lady who doesn't take no for an answer and strives for perfection in her life, but is also happy to let that facade down with close friends and family, and delivers some quality one-liners that only endear you to her more - when Reese Witherspoon says "You can go fuck yourself on the head", you know she means it.
Shailene Woodley would be known to many for The Fault in our Stars, but she is all grown up now and holds her own amongst her fellow acting heavyweights. She plays the instantly likeable young single mum Jane Chapman, who we also know pretty early on is hiding a dark secret of her own.
We haven't even mentioned the fantastic Laura Dern or Zoe Kavitz here, as well as a strong supporting cast from the men (isn't it nice to to be able to say that for once?) with Alexander Skarsgard proving he is far more than the blood sucking vampire we saw in True Blood and Adam Scott showing he can handle much more than Leslie Knope's quirkiness in Parks and Recreation.
It was Kidman who initially made contact with author Liane Moriarty back in 2014 about getting the rights to her book, and went on to co-produce it with her Blossom Films production company, bringing on board Reese Witherspoon and her Pacific Standard production company. This collaboration of these two female forces in Hollywood to create something as impressive as this is fantastic to see, but we don't know want to patronise anyone here. The fact is, it is great to see a female-led drama that is as smart and engaging in this, but don't get us wrong, it's not just a pat on the back for the ladies, this show is exceptional by any standard.
We acknowledge what Sex and the City did for female representations on TV, and for how Lena Dunham took the baton, but in a golden age of television dramas we are long overdue women to be more than the supportive wives of power hungry husbands, or it taking a prison to justify a strong and diverse female cast. The talent is there, the appetite is there, and Big Little Lies has shown us all that we dare not make the mistake of underestimating or boxing off television dramas filled with multidimensional women.
It was a collaboration of many elements though, and a great deal of credit must go to the wonderful visual storytelling ability of director Jean-Marc Vallee as well as the tight script writing of David E. Kelley. The storyline may hinge on a murder mystery, but as the show weaves on, this almost becomes the least compelling element as we are drawn into the drama of these characters that are somehow so easily relatable despite their glamorous lifestyles.
This series has the perfect amalgamation of wonderful acting, a solid script filled with suspense and foreshadowing, and a cinematography that really has set a new touchstone for prestige TV. We heaped praise on True Detective for the eye-opening performances of its leads, a suspense driven murder mystery plot and the incredible direction that saw the landscape incorporated into the bleak feeling of the show, and Big Little Lies does all of that, and more. Yes, these shows are two completely different beasts, but their merit is equal.
We have a feeling that Big Little Lies has set a new benchmark for women on television, and that - hopefully - underestimating a show like this will no longer be par for the course.