Reviews Television

‘Little Fires Everywhere’ Deserves Your Undivided Attention

Somehow finding time to star in multiple television series while raising three children and running a production company, Hollywood royalty Reese Witherspoon additionally facilitates a virtual book club, Hello Sunshine, in which she focuses on a female-led novel each month. Inspired by Celeste NG’s Little Fires Everywhere, Witherspoon selected the New York Times bestseller as her ‘September ’17 pick,’ ultimately sparking a conversation that led to her groundbreaking screen adaptation with Scandal actress Kerry Washington.

Released earlier this spring on Hulu and currently available on Amazon Prime, Season One of Little Fires Everywhere follows the contrasting lifestyles of picture-perfect American housewife Elena Richardson (Witherspoon) and vagabond single mother Mia Warren (Washington), and the events leading up to the Richardson family’s mansion fire. Set in Ohio’s elite Shaker Heights during the 1990’s, the eight-episode drama centers around Elena and Mia’s parenting, relationships between their children, and the overall toxic suburban community. Fusing Celeste NG’s real-life upbringing with Witherspoon’s imagination, the entire cast and plot line profoundly capture upper-class prejudice and helicopter motherhood in an authentically rare light.

Mia (left) and Elena (right) prepping their daughters, Pearl (Lexi Underwood) and Izzy (Megan Stott), for the high school dance; Erin Simkin / Hulu

Trying to create a better life for her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) and start fresh in a new neighborhood, Mia moves themselves into a property leased by Elena. Offering Mia a substantial discount and month-to-month agreement, Elena gradually develops an obsession with her, feeling the need to remain involved and superficially welcoming at all costs. Vice versa, Mia keeps tabs on Elena to ensure Pearl’s safety when hanging out with her four children, serving as the Richardson’s housekeeper outside of her Chinese restaurant shifts and freelance art projects.

Functioning as the manifestation of insecurities and discomfort with her traditional lifestyle, Elena channels her rage into parenting, ceaselessly controlling her children’s decisions while seizing every opportunity to strengthen their family’s self-image. Ardently opposing Elena’s hover-mom persona, Mia lives frugally, depriving Pearl of materialistic privileges and forcing her to act independently on a daily basis. Yearning for different socioeconomic statuses and mother-daughter relationships, Elena’s youngest and most rebellious child, Izzy (Megan Stott), and Pearl inversely struggle to find their voices amidst the chaos of female adolescence. From Elena’s refusal to recognize Izzy’s sexual preferences to Mia’s secrets regarding Pearl’s biological father, both daughters minimize their time at home in attempts to avoid repeated disappointment.

Pearl (second from left) with three of the Richardson siblings, Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn), Trip (Jordan Elsass), and Moody (Gavin Lewis); Erin Simkin / Hulu

Pearl and Izzy, however, are not the only teenage children facing familial hardships. Richardson siblings Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn), Trip (Jordan Elsass), and Moody (Gavin Lewis) also suffer the consequences of Elena’s manipulative parenting. Expected to reflect her mother’s mirror image, Lexie ruthlessly embodies Elena’s mini-me; submissively dieting, running for homecoming queen, plagiarizing Pearl’s letter for a Yale application essay, and using her name when undergoing an abortion to avoid public humiliation. Trip channels his lack of book-smarts into womanizing countless high school classmates, and Moody resents Trip for sleeping with his crush, Pearl, ultimately spiraling and fist-fighting one another.

Pearl indisputably represents the series’ strongest character, persevering when constantly taken advantage of by the Richardson family. As one of the family’s only black friends, she experiences subtle racism on a daily basis, used for ‘street cred’ rather than intellect and personality. When introduced to Lexie’s black boyfriend, Brian (Stevonte Hart), Elena states, “you both must have a lot in common.” Afterwards, Brian whispers to Pearl, “yeah, we must love basketball and rap.” Another time, when Pearl and Lexie shop for homecoming dresses, Lexie says, “you’re so pretty, I bet your dad was white…Someone in your family must be white.” These instances serve as only two of many situations throughout the show. On top of Pearl’s complex navigation throughout Shaker Heights and the Richardson family’s polarization, Mia’s Chinese waitress coworker, Bebe Chow (Huang Lu), fights Elena’s lifelong friend, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt), in an adoption case over her biological daughter.

Bebe Chow (Huang Lu, left) and Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt, right) sharing visitation hours during the custody battle; Erin Simkin / Hulu

Struggling to have children for almost two decades, Linda finally experiences motherhood through adoption, doing everything possible to protect her daughter. In contrast from Linda’s situation, Bebe left her baby at a fire station, because she could not financially provide a healthy life; and Bebe could not confront the police out of fear of deportation. Due to motherly love and separation anxiety, though, Bebe files for full custody, unofficially declaring war with Shaker Heights’ upper class society. As Mia funds Bebe’s renowned immigration lawyer, Elena’s husband, Bill (Joshua Jackson), defends Linda. Inevitably stirring conflict between both parties, Elena further complicates her marriage through independent research, serving as a ticking time bomb of distrust and deceit.

The series ultimately unravels into a catastrophic turn of events as walls break down and tensions peak. Drama does not even begin to describe the emotional rollercoaster bestowed upon viewers. While it may seem tempting to fast forward through the uncomfortable scenes, Little Fires Everywhere deserves your undivided attention. The show’s chilling racial microaggressions and abuse of privilege are extremely relevant in today’s society, and each character’s story relates to individual streamers beyond the surface. Grab your remote, pour a large glass of wine, and upon finishing episode eight, spark discussions that continue the conversation.

Featured image provided by Hulu

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