David E. Kelley, Lianne Moriarty and Nicole Kidman Back Together: It’s Almost Perfect
Nine Perfect Strangers Reviewed
Yes, it’s that time of year again: when David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman get together to adapt yet another bestseller into yet another limited series. We’ve been on this track before with Big Little Lies and last year’s The Undoing, so it’s natural to assume that when Kelley and Kidman decided to adapt yet another Lianne Moriarty best seller — Nine Perfect Strangers, a story where the title group get together for a mystical health and wellness retreat run by the mysterious Masha (Kidman, this time wearing wigs and with a trace of a European accent) that we’re in more of the same. Indeed, this novel actually adapts better from Australia to California, where we all know the third largest source of income is the self-improvement and wellness industry. (Something like that)
Like The Undoing, but unlike Big Little Lies, I actually have a better comprehension of what the Hulu adaptation is more likely to be like. (Is it possible Kelley will take the story in the completely different direction he did with You Should Have Known? Hard to know; I’m only at episode 2.) There’s the usual all star cast, besides Kidman, all playing different roles. There’s Melissa McCarthy (playing a character not that far removed from the one she did in Can You Ever Forgive Me?) a romance novelist, whose latest book isn’t being published and just got through being scammed by a fake internet relationship.). There’s Tony (Bobby Cannavale, continuing his Peak TV renaissance) as Tony, an ex-jock who is going through an addiction to pills. There’s Ben and Jessica (Melvin Gregg and Samara Weaving) a married couple clearly going through issues they can’t Instragram away. There’s Carmel (Regina Hall, finally giving a performance in a TV show I like) obsessed with the idea of self-improvement for reasons that aren’t clear yet. And most tragically is the Marconi family: Napoleon (Michael Shannon), trying so hard to be cheerful, Heather and Zoe, a family still trying to get over the death of their oldest son a year ago. Lurking in the background is Lars (Luke Evans) who seems completely an enigma.
Masha claims to have all the answers and that she has gathered these people together ‘to help themselves’. But she watches them constantly through closed-circuit TV and seems far too detached for the clients and frankly, her staff to be fully confident in. At the end of the second episode, she announced that it was time to begin ‘the protocol’, something that alarmed even the devoted Yao (Manny Jacinto). Having read the novel, I have a pretty good idea what it’s going to entail, but for now let’s just say, it makes digging your own grave look likes child’s play. And as we will learn, Masha’s own story is far more complicated than she is willing to admit to herself.
Now I’m fully aware that there are a lot of people out there who are reluctant to go down this rabbit hole. So here’s one big spoiler I think you should know going in: No one dies at the end. There’s going to be a lot of trauma and anguish, but in all honesty Moriarty’s novel was actually far more optimistic and almost light-hearted in comparison to some of what we’ve been down before. And as always the cast is more than up for the challenge. Kidman continues to find more ways to shine, but I have a feeling (at least based on the novel) that the ones with greater moments ahead of them are McCarthy and Hall. I’m also expecting great things from Shannon, who finally seems to be playing a character who is far more human than any of the ones we are typically used to seeing him play.
People may joke about the oeuvre Kelley seems to be in these days, but the thing is, these limited series work. He has resumed his place in the television pantheon of being one of the great writers for actresses of basically any age and considering how long it took him to get away from his old milieu (a previous article dealt with my frustrations with it) I’m more than delighted to see him produce works like Nine Perfect Strangers. It’s not a masterwork, at least not yet, but it is a bubbly joy.(That being said David, are we going to get a third season of Big Little Lies? I’d just like to know.)
My score: 4.25 stars.