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New TV series Little Fires Everywhere is not afraid of being messy and unlikeable.

Little Fires Everywhere is a show that knows how to play to its strengths.

Its strength being the perfectly cast co-leading lady duo of Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, who not only drive the show as two complicated characters with wildly different approaches to life, career and motherhood, but whose respective production companies worked together to bring the TV series to life.

The series is an adaptation of Celeste Ng’s bestselling 2017 novel of the same name and sticks pretty close to the author’s source material, with just a few story points fleshed out or altered for the small screen, under the eye of Celeste who also served as a producer.

In Little Fires Everywhere Reese Witherspoon plays Elena Richardson, an affluent woman and part-time journalist who runs her own life, and the lives of her family, like a perfectly manicured stage production.

Everything in her world is strictly measured out and run to a precise schedule. From the amount of wine she drinks to how much she weighs, the activities her children partake in and even the nights (Wednesdays and Saturdays only) she has sex with her lawyer husband Bill (Joshua Jackson).

The only member of the Richardson family who does not abide by Elena’s strict way of life is the youngest of her four children, Izzy (Megan Stott), whose conflicted relationship with her mother becomes an increasing catalyst for drama as the show progresses.

Listen to the hosts of The Spill explain why you need to watch Little Fires Everywhere, along with the biggest pop culture stories of the day.

When Elena meets Kerry Washington’s Mia Warren, a nomadic artist who has just arrived to the town Shaker Heights, Ohio with her teenage daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) in tow, she immediately steps in to ‘fix’ their situation when she realises the mother and daughter are living out of their car.

The lives of the Richardsons and the Warrens become intertwined when Elena rents Mia an apartment at a reduced price and Pearl, enthralled by the ‘perfect’ world of the Richardson household so wildly different to her own bohemian upbringing, begins spending her time there and befriends Elena’s shy teenage son Moody (Gavin Lewis).

There’s no avoiding the fact that Little Fires Everywhere will be compared closely to Big Little Lies, the other book-to-TV adaption produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon, but holding the two shows too closely in comparison does a disservice to them both.

There are some similar story devices used in both, with the most obvious one being that just as with Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere revolves around a mystery that the audience is tasked with trying to solve.

In this case, the series starts with Elena watching in a helpless state as her beautiful home burns to the ground while a police officer acknowledges that someone lit the flame while she was inside it. The rest of the series is ultimately a series of flashbacks, leading to who and what is truly responsible for the fire.

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Reese Witherspoon and Joshua Jackson in Little Fires Everywhere. Source: Amazon Prime Video.

Yet, while Little Fires Everywhere and Big Little Lies are both female-led dramas, they tend to tread very different ground and stand alone as their own projects. Lumping the two together enforces the tiresome stereotype that every drama with female leads falls into the same category - frothy domestic dramedies that only rift on motherhood.

One of the golden rules of adaption, when it comes to turning books into TV shows or movies, is that regurgitating the story word for word is usually a recipe for disaster. The trick is to expand the story, not just recreate it.

Little Fires Everywhere does this in one way by changing an aspect of the book and making the character of Mia black, allowing a more in-depth exploration of race to be had alongside the dissection of class and politics that are also included in the series.

While Little Fires Everywhere is cleverly written and beautifully directed, the true strength of the series are the scenes where Elena and Mia face off against each other, bringing their truly complicated characters to life in a way that positions neither as a villain or a hero.

After all, the best TV shows are the ones with characters who are not afraid to be complicated and unlikable.

All eight episodes of Little Fires Everywhere are available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video. 


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