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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Big Little Lies is a drama with mature themes, including domestic abuse and a sexual assault that sets the series' events into motion. One character flashes back repeatedly to a rape (not seen on-screen); another is physically abused by her husband, who pushes and strikes her. An offscreen murder is referred to, and the man's bloody, gory wounds are shown quickly as they're described by law enforcement. Couples are seen having sex, occasionally with graphic nudity, sometimes directly after violent abuse. Sex is referred to in vulgar expressions ("blow jobs"). Strong language includes "f--king," "dammit," "hell," "ass," "s--t," and "dick," and a first-grade girl says "motherf---ker." Adults drink liquor and wine at dinner and parties; the alcohol contributes to the eventual murder. A man makes a joke about a teen smoking pot. One character smokes cigarettes. Characters are generally kind and supportive to one another, as well as being thoughtful and caring parents. Ultimately the snobbish and gossipy don't come off well in this drama, and the kindhearted triumph in the end.
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What's the story?
Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty and written by David E. Kelley, BIG LITTLE LIES is set in the wealthy coast-side city of Monterey, California, where there's a new mommy at the upscale Otter Bay first-day-of-school orientation. Jane (Shailene Woodley) is different from the other moms. She's younger, she's poorer, she's not wearing designer clothes to drop-off. Despite friendly overtures from fellow Otter Bay moms Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), one of the school's movers-and-shakers, and the shy, withdrawn Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane immediately becomes a target of scorn when Jane's first-grade son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) is accused of bullying the daughter of take-charge career woman Renata (Laura Dern). Battle lines are quickly drawn, with parents and children alike choosing sides. But no one knew just how far the conflict would go until a school fundraiser spins out of control -- and someone ends up dead.
Is it any good?
With lovely visuals standing in stark contrast to its characters' discontent, this beautifully crafted drama transcends its beach-read origins. When the opening scene of the school-fundraiser chaos splinters into witness interviews at which parents sneeringly reveal bits of gossip to investigators, it briefly seems that Big Little Lies will descend into pure soap opera, the compelling kind you keep watching but feel guilty about later. But soon a scene brings the series' themes into focus, as Madeline, Celeste, and Jane stop for a post-drop-off coffee and chat.
The other Otter Bay moms don't have it so easy either, no matter how shiny their designer packaging: Celeste is being abused at home and suspects her husband of even darker deeds, Renata worries that her high-powered job makes her an outcast amongst the stay-at-home moms, and Madeline is having problems with her teen daughter (Kathryn Newton), not the least of which is Abigail's burgeoning friendship with her insufferable stepmother (the wife of Madeline's ex), Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). Jane's problems are just more visible. As she navigates the piranha-filled waters of Otter Bay's social scene, she slowly discovers that no matter how ideal her new home seems, her past has followed her -- and won't let go.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Big Little Lies' Jane shows self-control and perseverance in moving to a new town, attempting to fit in, and looking for the man who raped her. Is hers a hero's journey? Why, or why not?
Families also can talk about bullying. What instances of bullying exist in this series? What different forms can bullying take? What role does technology play in bullying now?
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