By Christian DiMartino
Nicole Kidman is my wife, and Hugh Grant is my husband, and for six weeks straight, I could not get enough of the HBO miniseries, The Undoing.
Here is gripping television at its finest. The Undoing is great, juicy television from beginning to end, filled with wonderful and surprising turns and surprises. It’s a great old fashioned whodunit that leads you down a path toward its killer, just to lead you down another, and another. Word on the street is that the conclusion left a good chunk of people unsatisfied. Personally, I’m still trying to put my finger on it, but it really doesn’t matter because the journey getting to that conclusion was truly riveting.
The show is written by David E. Kelley, who has been around for many years but has made quite the splash recently with another excellent Nicole Kidman starrer, Big Little Lies. Chances are, if you enjoyed that series, you will enjoy this one too. The Undoing might not have the sense of humor that Big Little Lies managed to have (which was no small feat considering it was a show featuring domestic abuse and rape), but it’s a glossy, fabulous, sophisticated soap opera, but using the term “soap opera” here is by no means an insult. It’s the kind of show I could cozy up to with a good bottle of wine. Unfortunately for me, by the time every episode aired, I was all out of wine.
Kidman and Grant play Grace and Jonathan Fraser, a successful and happily married couple who also have a bright, prodigious son named Henry (Noah Jupe) who attends a prestigious school. All is well in the Fraser household, though things get weird amongst Grace and her circle of schoolboard prissies with the arrival of a new mother named Elena (Matilda De Angelis). Elena, unlike the other mothers, doesn’t come from a wealthy background, and her son Miguel is only attending this school because of a grant he received.
Elena gives off all kinds of weird vibes, starting with whenever she begins breastfeeding in front of the other mothers as if nothing is unusual. She also confronts Grace whenever she’s completely naked at the gym. Grace sees something special in her though, unlike the other mothers. The Fraser’s seemingly ideal lives come to a crashing halt though whenever someone involved at Henry’s school is murdered.
Aaaaaaaaand… that’s all I’ll say, because everything I’ve detailed is mostly from the first episode, and if that sounds nutty, wait until you see the rest of the show. The first episode of The Undoing beautifully sets the tone for the rest of the series, in that almost every episode with a deliciously diabolical cliffhanger. That David E. Kelley, he really knows how to get ya, and get ya good.
Of course though there is no talking about The Undoing without talking about its performances. It goes without saying that Kidman can do anything (she even sings a new rendition of “Dream a Little Dream,” which plays during the beautifully hypnotic opening credits I refused to fast forward), but don’t be surprised if she’s up for another Emmy next year. She has this ability to give off amazing acting even just by using her eyes. It’s really something to see. Grant is also pretty great here, in a character unlike anything he’s ever done. Like his other great performance this year, in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen, Grant plays very against type, but he’s more than up for the challenge and nails it.
Donald Sutherland gets his moments as Grace’s father, and Jupe also holds his own very well on screen against Kidman and Grant. The show could’ve done with a bit more Lily Rabe, who plays Grace’s confidant, but Edgar Ramirez is pretty strong here too as the detective who highly suspects Grace is involved with the murder. Lastly, perhaps the biggest breakout from the series will be Noma Dumezweni as a lawyer who has no problem calling the Fraser’s out on their crap.
The beauty of The Undoing, besides its writing, directing and acting, lies in its plotting. Every plot element is laid out just right, and to further that, the show does a splendid job of always keeping you guessing. Sure, the reveal of the killer isn’t THAT crazy, and yet even when we pretty much knew who it was, the show still kept my eyebrow raised. I’d watch it again in a heartbeat, with someone who has no idea what they’re in for.