Clarence shines the Emmy Spotlight on Season 2 of HBO’s Big Little Lies. In a post-Game of Thrones Emmy season, will Andrea Arnold’s sophomore effort attract Drama Series heat?
If you casually perused Twitter last night as I did (I’m Twitter incognito, you see), then you undoubtedly ran into 52,000 tweets about a Sophie’s Choice for TV viewers of a certain persuasion. Tony Awards or Big Little Lies. Truly a conundrum, apparently, for many. But those who watched the premiere of HBO’s Big Little Lies Season 2 raved about it. Performances were praised. Memes were formed. Streep was crowned Emmy winner nearly a year-and-a-half early.
But it wasn’t just a Twitter thing. Critics are, so far, raving about the new season. On Rotten Tomatoes, Season 2 received a 99 percent certification over Season 1’s 93 percent. Metacritic ranks Season 2 with an 82 over Season 1’s 78. Granted, in both cases, Season 2 has fewer overall reviews, and they are based only on the first three episodes screened for critics. Anything can happen over four episodes. But right now, Big Little Lies appears poised to emerge as a very strong 2020 Emmy contender in the Drama races.
It’s not an unprecedented feat. Most famously, PBS’s Downton Abbey Season 1 competed in the then-titled Outstanding Miniseries or Movie category (the Limited Series race) which it won. Season 2 then switched into the Drama races where its remaining five series all received nominations for Drama Series, failing to win another series Emmy. So, it’s completely reasonable to assume that the Television Academy won’t hold the category chicanery against the show.
The highest praises from audiences and critics both center on the performances. Side note: it’s completely time for the Television Academy to embrace the idea of awarding a series’ overall cast (not just Casting). Not every actor in a Game of Thrones or Big Bang Theory or Veep or Chernobyl can be nominated despite giving excellent performances. But a body of actors can work flawlessly together and merit Emmy attention. In the Big Little Lies front, Nicole Kidman walks away with top honors over the first three episodes screened for critics. Sure, Meryl Streep’s attention-grabbing dinner scream was the buzziest moment (the meme-iest moment), but Kidman’s subtlety and emotionally devastating performance stands an excellent shot at winning another Emmy – this time for Best Actress in a Drama Series. Particularly if they carry Kidman’s Celeste into the very dark territory hinted at by the end of episode 3.
For my money, Reese Witherspoon again deserves serious contention in a role I feel she was born to play. Not since Election have I seen her in a role that so perfectly speaks to her innate talents. Sweetness on the outside. Rage on the inside. Witherspoon wraps it all up and layers soul-churning guilt over it (to explain would be a spoiler). Both actresses merit Actress nominations, and both will likely receive them.
The Supporting Actress race gets uglier. Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz both deliver performances far stronger than their Season 1 equivalents. And Emmy-winner Laura Dern’s Renata Klein has a showier (if that’s even possible) and attention grabbing ferocious second season performance. It’s a great performance, but it’s also one that (in my opinion) is saddled with some questionable character motivations and development. Renata is the one character not truly tied to the Perry Wright incident that closed Season 1. Season 2 focuses on the fallout from that event, so writer David E. Kelley needed to construct a new narrative for her. Personally, it’s not a narrative that I fully buy. I’ll have to see where it goes.
And then there’s Meryl Streep. Already a 3-time Emmy winner, Streep should start clearing that already very heavy mantle for a fourth, according to Twitter. Her performance as Mary Louise Wright is one of the more fascinating pieces of work she’s done in a while. Fitted with rat-like teeth, Streep shuffles between characters, confronting them with disarmingly honest appraisals of their lie-buffered fronts. It’s a challenge to enter a series with an already established and beloved cast, but if anyone could do it, it would be Streep. And, again based on the reaction to the premiere, Streep will receive another Emmy nomination and is already the front runner to win.
I mean, it could all go crashing down at the end of the series. I do feel that, based on the first three alone, it does seem unlikely. This is a terrific and terrifically smart group of actresses governed by a talented female director in Andrea Arnold. It may be soapy, but it’s damn good soap.
Guaranteed Nominations (2020 Emmy Season)
Nicole Kidman, Actress in a Drama Series
Reese Witherspoon, Actress in a Drama Series
Meryl Streep, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Laura Dern, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Various Craft Nominations
Zoe Kravitz, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Shaileen Woodley, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Adam Scott, Supporting Actor in a Drama Series