Season two of HBO’s Big Little Lies tells two stories, one unfolding onscreen, the other offscreen. One is about female friendship, complicity, and conspiracy in a world dominated by men. The other is a behind-the-scenes melodrama about the entertainment machine that cranks out high-end dramas like the show you’re watching; its existence was revealed by an IndieWire story in which unnamed sources close to the show’s producers accused two of the series’ executive producers, showrunner David E. Kelley and first-season director Jean-Marc Vallée, of redoing the work of Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey), a filmmaker they’d hired to helm all of season two.
The onscreen and off-screen stories merge in the mere fact of a second season’s existence. Big Little Lies season two is a genial yet blatant attempt to turn a popular, award-winning stand-alone, adapted from Liane Moriarty’s same-titled novel, into an ongoing TV series, even though the story felt complete at the end of season one. Adapted for television by Kelley (The Practice) and Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Sharp Objects), season one told the fragmented, elliptical story of a group of (mostly) rich women in Monterey, California, who come together to end an abusive man’s life. The victim, Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård), beat his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), and had previously