“It’s actually more of a question. Is fighting for someone else’s child worth losing your own?”
Who set fire to the Richardson’s home? It’s a question that we must have answered! But when the trailer, nay I say, any promotional images for Little Fires Everywhere arrived, I couldn’t help but think, “oh no. Here’s another drama flying on the coat tails of what Big Little Lies achieved.” I adored Big Little Lies, so I believe I was justified in being a little apprehensive about jumping on the Little Fires Everywhere train. During this pandemic, more and more people flock to streaming services in an effort to remove themselves from reality… myself included. Why not give Little Fires Everywhere a shot, right?
Based on the novel by Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere tells the story of The Richardsons, an upstanding family who live in the predominantly well-off community of Shaker Heights. Living here means you’re someone — you have an automatic path to greatness. Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood), are a quiet family. The two live out of their car, citing Mia’s art career as the reason to keep moving. They have limited funds, but are able to keep going through Mia’s odd jobs and continued art projects. In walks Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), an upper class, journalist for the local paper, who decides to lend a hand and give Mia and Pearl a home rent free. Elena becomes comfortable around Mia as she soon hires her to be the “housekeeper.” Elena’s four children, all in their high school years, take easily to Pearl, and welcome her as an avid visitor to the Richardson home— especially Elena. Elena’s fascination with Pearl only helps Elena with the dissatisfaction with her own daughter, Izzy (Megan Stott). Mia sees how deeply involved Pearl is becoming with the Richardsons, and begins to keep Pearl closely guarded from what Mia believes is a relationship that can go sour. Episode after episode the stress of this so-called “friendship” between Mia and Elena begins to rip apart at the seams. Bringing down the perfect and, otherwise, mysterious lives of several families in the process.
Little Fires Everywhere dives deep into categories of race, privilege, sexual orientation, and gender, as told through these women’s relationship with, not only their children, but more importantly, their daughters. Each mother and daughter’s relationship continues to bend, perpetuating the inevitable break. As you investigate these women you ask yourself, what really makes a good mother? Is it the biological aspect? It is the ability to provide security for your child? Is it the mother’s love? Though the questions here are answered throughout the series, it’s the timing of each question that provides a — fantastic — underlying theme to the story. The workings of a narrative that provokes you to never feel truly rooted in who you’re siding with — slowly revealing the injustices and wrongs of each character.
Each character is portrayed by the strong ensemble of actors at its disposal. Witherspoon, who is no stranger to characters of this complexity, is sheer perfection. However, her excellent work here is not so much her acting, but her work as a producer. Witherspoon’s keen eye for adapting some of the best literature is impressive. Washington, who’s also known for dramatic roles such as these, laid on the waterworks for her character, Mia. Though her portrayal of the artistic single mom was good, it did have some “one-track acting” hiccups. The rest of the cast, including Joshua Jackson as Elena’s husband, are outstanding — especially the young actors. I’m always impressed with the acting from young teens, as they are still a little wet behind the ears. Little Fires Everywhere is, most certainly, an ensemble work. No one character can be ruled out. Can you smell that? I can already smell the awards for their work.
By the end of the series, I felt that I had more questions than answers. Where do these characters end up in their lives? Do some characters eventually have to pay for what they have done? Ng’s approach can be justified if the outcome of the novel was to purposefully not have the answers to the questions in the story. With a group of characters laden in ambiguity, it’s almost perfect if the series doesn’t slap a bow on it and create a picture perfect outcome in the end. In fact, your questions may be that perfect conclusion the series needs.
Little Fires Everywhere is probably one of the best series of 2020. This jaw-dropping, quotable, z-snaps when a character gets sassy, drama, will grip you from the very start. Sure, there may be some missteps along the way, which every other series tends to have, but this one is definitely worth watching.
Little Fires Everywhere
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lexi Underwood, Jade Pettyjohn, Megan Stott, Gavin Lewis, Jordan Elsass, and Joshua Jackson