Roush Review: Meryl Streep Shines in ‘Big Little Lies’ Irresistible Second Season

Big Little Lies - Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep

Delivering a sequel to a delicious hit like Big Little Lies requires aiming high. And when your cast already features Oscar and Emmy winners Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern, it only makes sense to reach for the pinnacle: Meryl Streep.

As Mary Louise Wright, a deceptively mousy paragon of passive-aggressive manipulation, the sly Streep wastes no time getting under the perfectly moisturized and perilously thin skins of the Monterey mom brigade she holds responsible for the mysterious death of her golden-boy son, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård, seen in flashbacks and videos).

Unwilling to accept the truth that her offspring was an abusive husband and rapist, she unnerves her damaged daughter-in-law, the nightmare-ravaged Celeste (Kidman), with a primal scream, then goads her: “My grief is too loud for you? Don’t you feel angry?”

She’s even more effective when quietly cutting the town’s obnoxious queen bee Madeline (Witherspoon) down to size with a pained smile: “I pride myself on being a very good judge of character, but you have always presented such a difficult read.”

(Jennifer Clasen/HBO)

There’s nothing these women of privilege fear more than being read — or exposed. The circumstances of Perry’s death remain a dark secret known by Lies viewers but still being kept under tight wraps by the so-called “Monterey Five.”

This neurotic California cabal includes status-obsessed Renata (Dern), working-class newcomer Jane (Shailene Woodley), who’s another of Perry’s victims, and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), the second wife of Madeline’s ex, Nathan (James Tupper). He states Lies‘ theme by declaring, “I have never lost sight of the fact that marriage is fragile” — and he’s not the only one alarmed over Bonnie’s uncommunicative brooding, which necessitates an intriguing new backstory.

As more secrets unravel, with multiple bombshells affecting the women’s emotional and sometimes financial well-being in scenes of mounting hysteria, an ever-watchful Streep lurks on the margins of an irresistible season.

The suburban satire has a blunter edge when things fall apart: Panicked parents attack the school for worrying their kids about climate change — as if that’s what’s causing them stress. “These second-grade mothers, they are Shakespearean,” laments the harassed principal.

(Jennifer Clasen/HBO)

If only we could believe all’s well that ends well.

Big Little Lies, Season 2 Premiere, Sunday, June 9, 9/8c, HBO