FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT YET SEEN NINE PERFECT STRANGERS, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
As far as limited series go (even though it did get a second season), Big Little Lies is probably one of my favorites of the last decade. David E. Kelley created something really special with that show that captured the lives of modern women stuck in a horrible predicament. It was a mix of soap opera, character study and mystery thriller with one of the best casts imaginable and assured direction by Jean Marc Vallee. So, Kelley is looking to hit lightning twice with Nine Perfect Strangers, based upon another Lianne Moriarty novel. And although HULU certainly has a hit on their hands here, after screening the first six episodes… I can say that this show is nowhere near on the same level as Big Little Lies.
WHAT IS NINE PERFECT STRANGERS ALL ABOUT?
The set-up here is intriguing, we have a group of nine strangers coming together who are all damaged and broken, looking for healing at a wellness spa. The establishment is owned and run by a mysterious Russian woman… Who is being targeted by an anonymous source who wants to take her down. These strangers’ lives are put through the wringer, as we slowly learn more about them. And why they have been handpicked by this woman to be a part of this healing experience.
Keep in mind that I am not familiar with the source material… But, Kelley had the chance to replicate his success from Big Little Lies here in every way. He has collected one amazing ensemble cast, with Nicole Kidman leading the way once again. He also has a fresh up-and-coming director in Jonathan Levine helming all of the episodes. And the story itself lends its way to another thrilling mystery that is backed by profound character development. So, what went wrong here?
HOW IS THE ENSEMBLE CAST?
Well, to start off, very few of these characters are actually all that interesting. Many of them land into such a cliché stereotype from the very get-go. And you can feel the actors trying to claw their way through this scrip… To provide us with something more meaningful. As a huge fan of Melissa McCarthy, it pains me to say that this is another misfire performance from the talented actress. It also doesn’t help that her husband once again shows up here… at times it felt like they were pushing to make it the Melissa McCarthy/Ben Falcone show, rather than the ensemble piece it should be. And then we have Nicole Kidman, who whilst ethereal and whose backstory is quite fascinating, is unfortunately held down by a very misguided Russian accent that weaves in and out without abandon.
Luckily, many of the other cast members fare better with their roles. The huge standouts for me are Michael Shannon, Asher Keddie and Grace Van Patten as the sole family in this bunch of strangers. Shannon, one of the best character actors working today; is brilliant to watch as Napoleon, who along with his gorgeous wife and daughter are dealing with their grief over a lost family member. These three provide such thoughtful performances and also get some of the most gripping arcs of the series. It’s a shame that it all gets a bit muddled throughout the noise of some of these other characters’ stories though.
HOW IS THE MYSTERY OF THE SHOW?
My other issue with Nine Perfect Strangers is that, after six episodes, I still don’t know why I should be watching. The mystery of the wellness spa and its owner are revealed pretty early on. And then it just continues to devolve into a mess of psychedelic nonsense. I wish the series would have taken its time to reveal its secrets… Because now with only two episodes left to go, I’m left wondering why I should continue to care.
IS NINE PERFECT STRANGERS STILL WORTH WATCHING?
Will I continue to watch the final two episodes though? Of course. Though I have many issues with Nine Perfect Strangers, there is enough meat on the bones of this story to make me at least mildly interested to see how this wild experience and the characters involved, end up. The cast is doing the best they can to make this series worth watching and director Levine, who helmed The Wackness and 50/50, adds his own unique charm to the proceedings. There’s just something missing here that makes this show about healing and overcoming grief, seem a bit empty inside. And I know many critics will be comparing the two shows… But, HBO’s The White Lotus tackled a lot of this subject material in a far more gripping, satirical and nuanced way.
Nine Perfect Strangers premieres its first 3 episodes on HULU Wednesday, August 18th. New episodes air weekly after that.