‘The Undoing’ uses the formula ‘Big Little Lies’, but it’s not working


HBO’s The Undo it is less exciting for what it is than for what it can portend. The new limited series, which premiered on Sunday, stars Nicole Kidman as a casually blessed Upper East Sider and was written by David E. Kelley, the television titan who made the smooth transition from procedures like Chicago Hope for Peak TV’s most polyglot variety. The cast of The Undo it ranges from late-life movie legends (Hugh Grant, Donald Sutherland) to respected actors (Lily Rabe) and exciting promises (Matilda De Angelis). The director, Susanne Bier (Bird Box, The Night Manager), it is a name big enough to add prestige, but not so much that it overwhelms the beautiful people and great presentations that are the main attraction.

So yes, The Undo is an obvious and blatant echo of Big Little Lies, the successful miniseries featuring Kidman as part of a cast that led Movie Star TV from nascent curiosity to an infinitely replicated business model. Parallels only multiply when you delve deeper into the real graph. Kidman and Grant play Grace and Jonathan Fraser, a wealthy and successful couple whose happy facade, if you can believe it, is not everything it looks like underneath. Their son attends an elegant private school, where a new, younger and less prosperous mother named Elena (De Angelis) gains suspicion from the malicious gang that she disturbs. A crucial scene in the pilot takes place in a fundraiser for that institution. The central devices of the plot, of course, are murder and the implicit contrast between the educated social norms of the rarefied elite and the brutal violence that pierces its bubble.

More strands of Large small Lies DNA appears in style and structure. Bier is not as happy as Jean-Marc Vallée, but she still finds every conceivable angle on Kidman’s quivering eyeball as his character’s life falls apart. And like BLL, The Undo is adapted from a novel: Jean Hanff Korelitz You should know, 2014. Kidman, of course, serves as executive producer, following Reese Witherspoon’s model of leading both in front and behind the camera. (Another executive producer, Bruna Papandrea, partnered with Witherspoon on Pacific Standard, her company before Hello Sunshine.)

The Undo it’s not HBO’s first attempt at bottling BLLin lightning and hit it two, three times and beyond. There were spiritual consequences, such as Sharp objects, and literal sequences, like the second season of BLL since last year. Sharp objects it was a beautiful southern Gothic in itself, but suffered a little with the expectation that BLL levels of fireworks and foam. Actual monitoring for Big Little Lies a new story was missing; you simply stretched the old one until you could drive a Range Rover through the holes in the terrain. (From Witherspoon Small fires everywhere, in Hulu, equally disappointed; Kidman and Kelley are working on another adaptation of Liane Moriarty for the streaming service, co-starring Melissa McCarthy.) But that hasn’t stopped HBO from moving forward with The Undo in the hope that the third time is charm.

It is not, although an adjusted version could easily be. Jonathan is a pediatric oncologist, a vocation so virtuous that he simply needs to be an idiot at heart; Grace is a therapist, a career she probably pursued for love instead of money, given her father Franklin’s fabulous wealth (Sutherland). (Franklin’s money can also explain the Frasers’ palatial mansion on East 63rd Street, a mansion that the most discerning eye can say is more “rich Logan Roy / Russian oligarch”, not “two wealthy wealthy medical professionals”.) His The wedding explodes when Jonathan apparently disappears on the day Elena is found dead from terrible head trauma in her artists’ studio in Harlem, an event that reveals Jonathan’s infidelity, personal disgrace and, perhaps, murderous intent. From there, The Undo shifts from social satire to psychological thriller and legal drama while Grace has to confront how inappropriate her husband really is, even when she wonders if he’s as bad as everyone else seems to think.

When Grace hires an expensive lawyer named Haley Fitzgerald (Noma Dumezweni) to handle her husband’s case, she asks if a particularly provocative statement is a joke. No, Haley replies. “I am not funny.” The same goes for The Undo, a key tonal distinction of Big Little Lies that doesn’t pay dividends. The Undo he is severe and serious, even when he tries to undermine the seriousness of the Frasers and their ilk. “It’s what rich and noble people do when threatened: they hide the horrible truths to protect themselves,” says Haley. “And they think they can get away with it because they are rich.” It is fair, but not the most ingenious way for Haley or Kelley to present their point of view. Later, a TV announcer opposing Jonathan’s trial notes: “As much as we like to think that we would do this to the rich, in the end we don’t. We never do. ”She is talking about Jonathan, but also about a program that claims to reveal 1 percent empty lives, even if it doesn’t resist Sutherland’s towering ceilings or Kidman’s luxurious coats – a contradiction Big Little Lies embraced and The Undo it simply incorporates.

It is also slow, even in episodes of just six hours. In the fifth chapter, the last one provided to critics for review, the audience has only a little more information than in the second, both about the central mystery and the characters who participate in it. There are elements of character study, especially in Grant’s role as a charming saint who believed in his own hype. On the heels of A Very English Scandal and Paddington 2, The Undo Grant’s stellar run continues, deconstructing his persona as an icon of the rom-com. The confused stutter of Grant’s early heyday was built on self-deprecation and ignorance of his own charm; his most recent characters are what happens when men are very aware of its effect on others and let it go to their head. (Grace and Kidman’s performance are what another character diplomatically describes as “stoic”, to better contrast with Emmy-ready freak-outs.) But The Undo it cannot equate Grant’s insight with an equally absorbing story, rather than extending the action with disheartening revelations and redundant pieces of evidence.

With so much time between new developments, The Undo leaves ample space to speculate which is the most successful version of the show – and the entire post –Big Little Lies gender – it might seem. There are glimpses of this at the premiere, where a fundraising committee meeting features a circle of snipers to place BLLin interviews with scenes of shame, led by Janel Moloney, with tight lips and neutral clothes in good taste. Before the murder mystery really starts, we have the tempting possibility that The Undo will end up being Big Little Lies: East Coast Edition, avoiding redundancy simply by changing the location.

After all, the customs of wealth can be curiously regional. Big Little Lies happens in a wealthy public school that flatters the liberal self-image of Californians, The Undo in a private school where dynastic wealth treats scholarships as a favor. Big Little Lies soundscape of crashing waves is replaced by The UndoSymphony of car horns and sirens, a chaotic world that always threatens to invade a cloistered oasis. Big Little Lies mothers use Lululemon; The Undo mothers wear plush camel coats. The difference between the two locations may represent the narcissism of small differences, but small differences are enough to satisfy the wishes of an ordinary voyeur, at least if the package was fun enough. For a proof of concept, just look at the final study in microclimates of extreme opulence: Bravo’s Real housewives franchise, introducing us to America’s most distant socialites, one metropolis at a time.

The Undoadherence to a model is far from a disadvantage. In fact, it’s where it deviates from BLL playbook that the show tends to do worse. That’s not the problem The Undo try to channel Big Little Lies, but it does so without success. Even in its flaws, however, The Undo made me dream of a world where TV could crack the code, transforming BLL in the scripted version of Housewives Empire. The formula is simple: award-winning actress + scenic setting + humiliation of bitches = more awards. Zoë Kravitz as an antivax influencer at the Westside of LA! Laura Dern giving dinners in DC! Viola Davis in court in Chicago! Imagine the possibilities, even when The Undo can not.


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