Witherspoon stars as high-strung Madeline. She's up in everybody's business, convinced she's always right. She's equally convinced that her ex-husband, Nathan (James Tupper), and his new wife, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), are always wrong, and she's not exactly the wife her adoring husband, Ed (Adam Scott), deserves.
Witherspoon said she wasn't sure she was up to playing that character. But scriptwriter David E. Kelley ("Boston Legal," "Ally McBeal"), director Jean-Marc Vallee ("Dallas Buyers Club," "Wild") and Kidman "were, like, 'What are you talking about? You're perfect for this character!' " said Witherspoon. "I don't know if I find that sort of offensive."
Yes, she could. Yes, she did. Without Witherspoon's performance, "Big Little Lies" wouldn't work.
It's not all about Madeline, however. Kidman stars as her friend Celeste, who seems to have a perfect, perfect husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård, "True Blood"), and perfect twin boys — but she's hiding a dark secret.
As the series begins, something happens at the local elementary school. Somebody chokes Amabella (Ivy George), the daughter of Renata (Laura Dern), and fingers are pointed at the new kid — Ziggy (Iain Armitage), the son of Jane (Shailene Woodley).
Battle lines are drawn, with Madeline leading the pro-Jane forces in a war against Renata. And there's a second front in this war: Madeline vs. Renata in a fight over whether the town should support a local production of "Avenue Q." Really.
In the words of the school principal, these are not helicopter parents — they're "kamikaze parents."
This all plays out as a series of flashbacks, complete with other neighbors commenting on the principals, about a murder involving … well, somebody. Through six episodes, not only do we not know whodunit, we don't know who the victim is.
We're assured both questions will be answered in Episode 7, which was not screened for critics.
There's dark humor here, and some extremely dark drama — including plotlines about an abusive husband and a woman dealing with a sexual assault years earlier. All this while the wives and mothers are dealing with 6-year-olds, teenagers, spouses, ex-spouses and more.
"I really related to all of the women in the book," Kidman said. "I mean, there's just such an array of emotions in this piece, and … we were excited to show the lives of these women in a very authentic way, and yet entertaining."
Witherspoon said when she read the novel, she saw herself "in different stages of motherhood all through my life. I was a mom when I was 22, like Jane; and then I was a mom who was 40, like Madeline. I've been divorced, I've been remarried.
"There were just so many aspects of it that were so relatable to the lives of women. It wasn't about them being good or bad. It's just that they showed every spectrum, every color of women's lives."