An Exploration of Motherhood, Subliminal Racism and Internal Struggles.
In this eight-part adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel, we see the series start out with the burning of Elena Richardson’s (Reese Witherspoon) perfect suburban house in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This opens the rest of the series to explore who is to blame for the fire and why it happened.
Starring; Kerry Washington (Mia Warren), Reese Witherspoon (as mentioned above as Elena Richardson), Joshua Jackson (Bill Richardson), Lexi Underwood (Pearl Warren), Megan Scott (Izzy Richardson), Jade Pettyjohn (Lexie Richardson), Jordan Elsass (Trip Richardson) and Gavin Lewis (Moody Richardson), they each give a stellar performance in this show. I don’t usually name more than two or three of the central characters but in a show like this, it would be a disservice not to name them.
Facts on the Show
- Available on: Amazon Prime, originally released on Hulu.
- Episodes: 8
- Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington were producers on the show
- The ending of the show is different to the book because Reese and the creators wanted the reasoning behind the fire to be less obvious and more confusing to the viewer.
Set in the 1990’s the show explores a myriad of themes from motherhood, colour blindness, sexuality, interracial couples, racism and jealousy (to name a few). It is within this that some critics have said a few [of the themes] have failed to ‘land’ when it comes to highlighting them effectively. In my opinion, the show accurately portrays, in its short eight, one hour episodes, the turbulent atmosphere in such a picturesque town. To put it blatantly Shaker Heights takes on the classic trope of a horror film where such dark secrets are kept within what seems a picture perfect scene. Appearing at first that no one can do anything wrong, especially the Richardsons.
I must admit the show took a while to get going, in that my attention was not gripped until the final 4 episodes. In saying that, once you reach these final episodes everything clicks into place and the ‘evidence’ placed in front of you at the start all makes sense.
It is hard to write a review on such a complex story, in that I truly don’t know where to start. Do I begin with the blatant racism and colour blindness that Mia and Pearl have to face, or the struggles of Izzy and her sexuality alongside her negative relationship with her mother, or the court case about the rights to May Ling Chow (alongside the coverage of economic hardship on adoption and the reasons for giving up a child, the rights to be a mother and xenophobia). Then there is the relationship between mother and child which encompasses everyone in the show alongside abortion, interracial couples, lies and their consequences and honestly the list goes on.
However, it is at the mercy of the creator Liz Tigelaar, the directors; Lynn Shelton, Nzingha Stewart and Michael Weaver, the writers and producers that they managed to pull off all of these sentiments in such a short space of time. In fact, the way they were interwoven made the whole show extremely interesting and important. In my opinion, I don’t think this show could be released at a better time.
It is important to appreciate in this eight-part series the use of art as symbolism. The importance of Mia expressing her true self through her art was something so heartwarming and without realising it, it gave you so much more than just a picture. It gave you description, pain, suffering and information without it being spoken. To add to this the art with the combination of fire made it, even for those who struggle to appreciate art, a sight for the eyes. Without spoiling anything, the final piece of art was enough to convey a whirlwind of emotions; if that does not intensify or justify the appreciation of the art in the show I do not know what will.
To partially comment on the acting in such a series without dragging my heels and going on for too long, I have to mention both Lexi Underwood (who played Pearl) and Megan Scott (who played Izzy). Both being characters who had troubled relationships with their mothers, both for different reasons, Izzy’s arguably worse. The fact both children sought solace in each others mothers perfectly presented the blindness each had to the people that were comforting them. It both confused and manipulated the viewer into hating (particularly Elena) but appreciating them at the same time. Of course both had completely different outcomes, and rightly so.
Underwood created (I say this in the sense of her performance) a character who was, in parts, unaware of the struggles she was going to face because of the societal injustices put upon her because of her race. This allowed the viewer to grow with her as the curtain dropped from her eyes in such a short space of time. It was not just an important, well thought out performance on her part, but a character who taught the audience (from a white females perspective) a lot about subliminal racism in schools and the way her upbringing was dramatically different because of the colour of her skin.
On the other hand Megan Scott’s performance was, without sounding too harsh, a surprise. Her character grows on you from the beginning but the way it is portrayed means you are constantly battling whether to like her or not. Like a lot of other cases in the series she fights a mental battle which is only unravelled towards the end of the series. Every piece of frustration, anger and sadness comes across as genuine and it is only as the series moves forward that you begin to appreciate the way she is and why she is like that.
If you couldn’t tell Little Fires Everywhere highlights the hardships each and every character faces in the series. The way each character is interlinked, while their struggles are not necessarily always touching the person next to them, perfectly showcases how secrets and hardships faced by one person is not always known by the person sitting next to them. What simply looks perfect from the outside is not what it seems on the inside. In fact those with what looks like an ‘imperfect’ life, is what should be the most desirable, because it is filled with love.
The only reason I can not give the show 5 stars is because I don’t think a lot of people could sit through the first 4 episodes without losing their concentration on it. Which makes me sad to think someone is missing out because I promise it is worth the watch.
If you’ve watched the show let me know what you think, if not I hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try.