Sequels have come to seem inescapable in movies and TV, where the commercial logic is to keep a franchise going—even if it has nowhere to go. That's why I was leery of Season 2 of Big Little Lies. I'd been a fan of the original HBO series, a sneaky deep blend of satire and mystery that built to a satisfying finale in which its sexually violent villain is killed and the show's five heroines testify that his death was an accident. The story was over. But the show was too successful to end.
And so we have Season 2, set a few months after the death. We're back in the entitled coastal enclave around Monterey, Calif., with its yoga classes, photo-op real estate and overbearing parents who treat the local grade school as their personal fiefdom. As a new school year begins, our heroines—now dubbed the Monterey Five—are dealing with the emotional aftermath of their big big lie about the killing, as well as the littler untruths of daily life.
The tireless busybody Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) has alienated her loving but prickly husband, played by Adam Scott. Nicole Kidman's Celeste is grappling with the death of her abusive husband, whom she can't get out of her head. Jane (Shailene Woodley), a single mom who became pregnant after being raped, must cope with her son knowing who his father really was. Tech exec Renata—a deliciously histrionic character played by Laura Dern—is riding high, until her husband's business dealings go bad. Meanwhile, Zoë Kravitz's new age-y character, Bonnie—who actually did the killing—is in a funk over taking a human life.
The key to any sequel is to keep things the same yet add something extra. In a show like Big Little Lies, that means the addition of Oscar-winning actor Meryl Streep, who isn't about to be shown up by Season 1's tremendous cast. Sporting vaguely rodential teeth, Streep is effortlessly dominating as Mary Louise, the dead man's grieving, slyly aggressive mother, who doubts the official version of her son's death and refuses to believe he was a sexual thug. Mary Louise flutters around the Monterey Five, an unsettling presence who keeps turning up like Lt. Columbo and keeps strewing slivers of glass into everything she says.