A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Little Fires Everywhere is a drama about a clash that erupts in a wealthy Ohio town in the 1990s and two families who become embroiled in it. One of the two central families in the story is Black and headed by a single mom, and the other is wealthy and White. Class, race, power, and privilege figure largely into the drama of this series, with the Black family treated more sympathetically and the White family largely coming off as self-satisfied and smug. The show's title refers to a house fire set by an arsonist, but no one is killed in the blaze. A teen self-harms by setting her hair on fire after an argument with her mother. Teens steal marijuana from a mom and then smoke it together. Other characters drink wine frequently, especially at dinner, but no one acts drunk. Cursing is infrequent (expect "bitch" and "f--k"), and a character is called a "freak" because of her sexuality. Teens have sex and one has an abortion, and a mother has sex in the front seat of her car when her young daughter's sleeping in the back seat. No nudity is shown. Teens talk frequently about being popular and accepted (or not).
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What's the story?
Based on the novel of the same name by Celeste Ng, LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE centers on two dissimilar families in upscale Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the 1990s. The Richardson clan is headed by smug super-citizen Elena (Reese Witherspoon) and her tolerant husband Bill (Joshua Jackson), who have a four-pack of teens: perfect and popular Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn), big man on campus Trip (Jordan Elsass), oft-overshadowed Moody (Gavin Lewis), and the youngest and most troubled, rebellious Izzy (Megan Stott). On the other hand, there's the Warrens, mom Mia (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood), who live a more itinerant life due to Mia's profession (artist), as well as past events Mia would prefer stayed in the past. When Elena impulsively rents an apartment to the Warrens, and Pearl begins making friends with the Richardson's kids, these disparate clans are brought into uncomfortable proximity. But when a tragic local scandal erupts over an adoption, things really go up in flames.
Is it any good?
Radiating "quality drama" in every detail from the casting to the sets and costumes to the lush camera work, Little Fires Everywhere is like a slowly unfolding cringe, but it's full of pleasures nonetheless. Reese Witherspoon is the easiest hook to grab on to, her chin firmly set, her self-satisfied efficiency clear from the way she briskly knocks on her kids' bedroom doors to wake them up for breakfast in the first episode (eggs and bacon, of course, no cold cereal for this power-suited mom). She's so sure that everything she's done and is doing is for the best that when she impulsively rents to Mia and Pearl, she can't stop underlining to others what a good thing she's done, and by extension, what a good person she is. Meanwhile, to secretive Mia (as well as to the audience), Elena's micro-aggressions pile up one after the other -- her uncomfortable references to race, her intrusive questions, her tone-deaf advice to Pearl, who's disconcertingly eager to take it. Before long, Elena and Mia are uncomfortably enmeshed and each concerned about the influence the other woman has on her children. Their fragile peace wouldn't last long even in the best of circumstances, and what happens next in Shaker Heights is hardly the best of circumstances.
The race and class issues laid bare by the ensuing drama are often ugly and uncomfortable, but Kerry Washington, Witherspoon, and Lexi Underwood as the wistful and enchanting Pearl are all fascinating to watch. And for viewers of a certain age, the 1990s touchstones are perfect and may spark memories and crows of delight -- Elena's giant push-button car phone, a roomful of teens gathered in the living room to watch The Real World, references to Janet Reno and Jesse Jackson. But what may be the least bearable to absorb is how little we've advanced in terms of empathy and equity, even while Little Fires Everywhere's pop culture is hilariously dated. As a portrait of the past, this drama has something to say about the way things are in our present, even if nobody wants to admit it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about adapting books into TV series. What are some examples of successful and unsuccessful adaptations? Which is usually better: book or TV show? If you've read Celeste Ng's novel, what do you think of this adaptation? Is it faithful to the original story? If not, do the changes serve the show?
Are any of the characters in Little Fires Everywhere admirable? Are they intended to be? Who are we meant to root for/sympathize with, if anyone?
For kids who love family dramas
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