Reese Witherspoon has fast become a powerhouse in television content creation. She shone in HBO’s Big Little Lies as Madeline McKenzie, the ringleader of the Monterey Five, the friend group around whom the story is centered. Last year, she showed up as Bradley Jackson on Apple TV’s, The Morning Show, loosely based on Matt Lauer’s Me-Too scandal and its effect on, Today, the show that Lauer co-helmed for 15 years. These shows are similar in that they depict female characters carving new lives for themselves in the aftermath of sexual violence perpetrated by men in their lives. Witherspoon is also credited as an Executive Producer for both shows. Her new show on Hulu follows suit in both content and creation.
Last week, fans were surprised with the early release of the first three episodes of the eight-part miniseries, Little Fires Everywhere, based on the book of the same title, by Celeste Ng. The story is set in the 1990s in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It shares some themes from the previous two shows: namely: motherhood, sex, and the patriarchy. But, whereas race and class are either muted or absent from the two previous shows, race and class are front and center in Little Fires Everywhere.
Reese Witherspoon plays Elena Richardson, a local journalist married to a lawyer, played by Joshua Jackson. They have 4 [teenage] children, who play significant roles in the overall story. Elena an upper-middle-class mom who prides herself in having every activity meticulously planned and organized, and whose job as a newspaper journalist seems to involve catching up on and spreading gossip. She knows everyone and gets involved in everyone’s business (mirroring her character on Big Little Lies).
Witherspoon is joined on screen by Kerry Washington who plays Mia Warren, a single mother, and self-styled nomad. Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl, played by Lexi Underwood, move into Elena’s rental home, and little metaphoric fires begin to smolder. Mia is a struggling artist, who refuses to take handouts and works for everything she has. She works on her art by day and works part-time at a restaurant at night to help support herself and her daughter.
Mia’s art is dark, and her current muse is her disdain for the rich, white suburban neighborhood she has insinuated herself. She takes a part-time job as Elena’s housekeeper so she can monitor Pearl, who has made fast friends with Elena’s children. Mia tries to impart her staunch self-sufficiency tinged with iconoclasm to Pearl, but Pearl rejects it. Pearl is comfortable talking about serious societal woes with Elena’s son, and his friends. She is also happy in the predominately white, self-serving multi-cultural high school she is now attending. Whereas Elena’s youngest daughter appears to reject the ideals of popularity and the joys of people-pleasing. She appears to bond with Mia, who she seems to relate with more than her own mother. And that is just the first three episodes!
Both Witherspoon and Washington have amazing on-screen chemistry. So too, Lexi Underwood’s seething tension with her on-screen mother, Kerry Washington, is electric. They convincingly bring life to these characters and do justice to the numerous serious themes the show addresses. Big Little Lies and The Morning Show’s, take on motherhood has set a high bar, and Little Fires Everywhere does well to try.
Catch Little Fires Everywhere exclusively on Hulu.