Reviews TV + Movies

Little Fires Everywhere: A Timely Story Set In The Past

Little Fires Everywhere, based on the book of the same name by Celeste Ng, is produced by Reese Witherspoon’s company Hello Sunshine. The show features her and Kerry Washington in leading roles. Reese as the suburban journalist Elena Richardson with a privileged and problematic perspective of the world is convincing and engaging, and Kerry as the enigmatic queer artist Mia Warren with a calculated but passionate disposition is a pleasure to watch in every single frame she occupies.

It is the vast differences in the parenting styles of these women and the relationship that they have with their children that the show highlights- while constantly making us aware that these decisions aren’t random, but caused by a combination of personal choices and social and economic privilege- or lack thereof. While Mia is compassionate and protective of her daughter Pearl, often spotting ways that she is going to get hurt before she does, Elena has a different bond with each of her children. Lexie, who she sees herself in is her favourite while Izzy who she has trouble seeing eye-to-eye with because she doesn’t fit into the perfect picture of the suburban White daughter gets told “Do you think I wanted a daughter like you? I never wanted you in the first place.” The fact that Mia and Elena’s daughters find comfort in each other’s mothers makes for a great arc, but the show makes it feel organic and believable.

Written as a mystery within a mystery, the show begins with the Richardson’s house lighting on fire and the police trying to figure out who did it. Their youngest daughter, Izzy, who has run away from home is the prime suspect- after all hasn’t she never really fit in all this while? This police investigation gives us the space to go back in time to the moment where Mia and her daughter Pearl first met Elena, and thus the second mystery of Mia’s past starts unfolding as Elena investigates it. To purely categorize this show as a thriller, however, would be a mistake because the beauty of the show is less in its reveals and you-didn’t-see-that-coming moments, and more in the interactions between the characters. In one scene, Mia tells Elena,“You didn’t make good choices. You had good choices. Options that being rich, and white, and entitled gave you.” When before has a show been self-aware enough to critique its characters through each other’s perspectives without sounding too preachy or Ted-Talk like? The characters are written and performed in such a way that you do not constantly find yourself picking a team or sticking to it. The choices in front of the characters are as grey as real life is- and they have to stick with the long term consequences too.

The show is at its realest, however, every time Elena and Izzy interact. While Izzy’s identity is never explicitly mentioned in terms of her sexuality, she is definitely a fourteen-year-old who is struggling due to the homophobia of the children in her school- along with the internalized homophobia of her ex-best friend. Megan Scott captures this feeling of constantly feeling like she is ‘different’ perfectly, down to the moments when she is just looking at her parents in the hope of them loving her anyway- even as they keep failing because in Elena’s eyes her ‘different’ prevents the family from being picture-perfect. The show does not gloss over the fact that Elena so desperately cares about images more than she cares about Izzy. Other actors may have been tempted to tell us through their portrayal that Elena is just worried about protecting Izzy from the world, but not Reese Witherspoon. She captures the spirit of mothers who see their children as nothing more than extensions of themselves meant to help them shine better in society to perfection- and in Elena’s case, there are four. Also beautiful are moments when Mia is not holding herself back- being her artistic self, finding the balance between being compassionate and drawing boundaries, or having heart-to-heart conversations with her daughter. I do not want to give any spoilers, but it is actually worth investing in all the characters because the story rewards you more and more with every episode.

Time is almost like another character in the show, which is set in the late 1990s. However, instead of using the temporal background as an excuse to get away with characters, dialogues, and themes that would be unacceptable today, the show instead uses it as a vehicle to send the message that some things have always been problematic, no matter what- the times are not changing today, they are simply catching up with what minorities have been facing all along.

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The student that always has her hand up in class, and in life. Dreams of a world where there is an abundance of love and ice cream, minorities are not constantly expected to put in unequal emotional labour for everything, and kind people find each other despite all the noise.

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