“The Monterey Five” were in the house at Television Critics Assn. presentations in Pasadena, and that label refers as much to the all-star cast of HBO’s breakout drama “Big Little Lies” as its characters.
Scheduled to return in June, the series’ second season brings back executive producers and stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon along with costars Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz, whose characters all reckon with the aftermath of the death that closed the first season of the series.
What’s also to come, of course, is a new, much-discussed cast member: Meryl Streep, who portrays Mary Louise Wright, the inquisitive mother of Alexander Skarsgard’s character from the first season. When asked what attracted her to coming to TV with “Big Little Lies,” the three-time Oscar winner sounded much like any other fan of the show.
“I was addicted to it, I thought it 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,” she said. “I wanted to be in that world.”
“We looked at Meryl’s demo reel,” showrunner David E. Kelley dryly added. “We hoped and prayed. I think all of us said, ‘Can we get Meryl?’ ”
“She’s so easy to get,” Streep replied.
That said, despite the loud demands for more episodes that followed the 2017 adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel a second season was not assured.
“Everybody up here can get jobs,” said Kelley, who worked on the new season based on a novella that Moriarty wrote to guide their efforts. “We didn’t want to do this unless we could at least have a fair shot of living up to the bar we felt we had all set in year one.”
That effort to live up to the success of the first season was a frequent topic Friday. Kelley spoke of his appreciation for the input he received from each of the show’s actors about their characters. “There wasn’t one [note] that I felt was, ‘Well, I want my role to be better.’ All of them were how do we make the story better, how do we make the show better. That’s exactly the kind of input you hope for,” he said.
“We’re all in it together and we deeply care,” said Kidman. “You don’t get six women in a show and follow all of their lives in a complicated and deep way ... I don’t know another show that has six female leads.”
All of the cast spoke about the lightning-in-a-bottle quality of the first season, which, for all its occasional comic elements, explored the harrowing effects of domestic abuse and violence against women. For Streep, the new season’s investigation of the aftermath of abuse felt just as timely.
“I’m playing someone who’s dealing with whatever the deficits of her parenting were, and the mysteries of that, and how you can’t go back in time and fix something,” she said. “And it felt real, honestly investigated. I felt like I had something to give to this piece.”
“Their lives, like all of our lives, seem very well put together on the surface, but then, the fissures and the fractures emerge,” Kelley said . “There is a big fault line that lies under all of them — once the crevices start to widen, it escalates pretty quickly.”
The new season, which switches to director Andrea Arnold (“Fish Tank”) from Jean-Marc Vallée, was also described as tilting more toward a drama while dispensing with the more comic “Greek chorus” composed of other local parents. Kidman encouraged the TCA audience to resist comparing the new season to the first, but, so far, there are “no plans” for a third.
“We like where our closure is at the end of Season 2, so that will probably be it,” Kelley said.