We’re deep into Season 2 of HBO’s critically acclaimed, award-winning show Big Little Lies, and things have gotten darker—mostly because a certain mother-in-law with a bad, Dutch-boy hair-do and strange teeth is stirring up the pot. Will the Monterey Five break?
That mother-in-law is, of course, played by Meryl Streep, who joined the all-star cast this year. Was the greatest actress of all time having a bit of FOMO? Maybe.
“I thought [the series] was an amazing exercise in what we know and what we don’t know about people; about family, about friends, how it flirted with the mystery of things,” Streep said during the Television Critics Press Tour. “What was unsaid, unshown, unknown was sort of the gravitational pull of the piece. And it was so exciting. So, when I got the chance to join the crew, I thought, ‘Yeah! I wanted to do it, to be in that world.”
The Smell Test
But really she joined because the first season was such a cultural phenomenon, encouraging important conversations about domestic violence, bullying, and rape, and the second season passed her “smell” test.
This is how she describes the test: “You smell that it’s necessary. You really feel like it owns its place and you want to contribute to it. You feel like you have something to say about it. This piece, for me, because I have four grown children, I’m playing someone who is dealing with whatever the deficits of her parenting were, and the mysteries in that, and how you can’t go back in time and fix something. All those issues, that was interesting to me. And it felt real, honest, honestly investigated.”
Streep felt the exploration of abuse and its provenance, where it comes from,
why it continues, how people survive it, etc. were in the air. Certainly, the #MeToo movement has shifted the zeitgeist in this direction. “This piece fed something that was a hunger, that was a ready audience.”
More Than Entertainment
In this sense, entertainment has an important role in our culture, Streep believes. She has noticed the influence movies and television can have in helping to expand views and bring about real change.
“I was in this thing called Holocaust really a long time ago, and it was not very critically well-received … [but] It really precipitated a conversation, certainly in Germany. Someone has made a documentary about the fact that seeing the Holocaust was the first time German audiences, young people, had been exposed to the enormity of that time, and looking back at their fathers, their grandfathers. And really, it created a seismic shift. I’m not just saying this. It culturally had a great effect.”
She also cites the impact of Roots, the powerful TV series from the 70s that transformed the awareness around slavery in the country. Roots had a great effect. But I am not sure what comes first, the chicken or the egg. I’m not sure if a piece doesn’t meet its moment because there’s an incipient awareness, or a readiness, or the nerve endings are open to explore these issues.”
We’ll see where the cultural conversation about abuse, grief, and recovery goes after Big Little Lies, and in the meantime we will see how Mary Louise’s entanglement in the Monterey women’s lives plays out this Sunday night.
Susan L. Hornik is a veteran entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She is an expert at making lemonade from lemons.