Little Fires Everywhere, a miniseries that premiered on Hulu on March 18, is the perfect quarantine binge. Based on the book by Celeste Ng, it is one of the few film adaptations that is arguably better than the original. The mysteriously perfect setting of Shaker Heights, Ohio immediately grabs the viewer. In it lives, the pristine Richardson family, led by matriarch Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon). The family is juxtaposed by Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood), whose arrival to Shaker Heights is the catalyst for the plot.
Similar to the book, the miniseries begins with a shot of the Richardsons’ mansion engulfed in flames, a nod to the title of the show. However, following this scene, (which foreshadows the story’s ending) it becomes apparent that the show takes the book a step further in every direction. The Warren family’s ambiguous race in the book is established as definitively Black in the miniseries, bringing themes of white savior complexes, white fragility and cultural appropriation to the forefront. These ideas stare the viewer in the face with questions and assertions that were merely implications in the book.
The McCulloughs, a white family, claim a Chinese child, May Ling Chow, as their own after her mother, who is unable to support her, brings her into a fire station (instigating a lawsuit that causes tension between characters of both the miniseries and the novel). Lexi, the eldest daughter of the Richardson family, changes a story of blatant racism Pearl experienced at her new school to one of sexism in her application to Yale, where she ultimately is accepted.
Later in the show, Lexi uses Pearl’s name at the abortion clinic, deeming her own reputation too important to stain. This implies to a heartbroken Pearl that her reputation is less important because she is Black. Moody, the youngest son of the Richardson family, changes his high opinion of Pearl and the entire Warren family when he learns that he will not get to sleep with Pearl, tangibly exhibiting the distasteful “nice guy finishes last” ideology. In the miniseries, Izzy, the Richardson’s youngest, is given a larger platform than the book version of herself, exploring her sexuality and feelings of disconnection toward her family. It is evident, however, that she still has a lot to learn following a problematic art project after which Mia reminds her “You are not an exception because you want to be.”
No character leaves anything to be desired, except maybe more screen time for each of them. Minor characters even challenge the show’s leads to the point where they become more likable than the stars. Warren Wright (Aubrey Joseph) seems to be the only character wise enough to properly challenge his sister, a younger Mia (Tiffany Boone) in a flashback episode in the middle of the series. The actors carry chemistry so strong, the singular episode allotted for their backstory feels unfulfilling. Jamie Caplan (Luke Bracey) brings similar energy with the problematic Elena, earning a much larger role than his novel counterpart, Jamie Reynolds. His honest attack of Elena’s personality cuts deeper for her, as he is the man she truly loves, despite her four children with Bill Richardson (Joshua Jackson).
Co-stars Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon bring the show to life both with their impeccable performances and quite literally, since the two instigated the show’s production. Witherspoon’s performance makes the skin crawl, immediately becoming a hateable character through her racist and homophobic ideologies on top of her overall selfishness. Despite this, Elena holds the belief that she is a very good person doing very good things in the world, which only makes her more unlikable.
While it seems that Mia Warren existed in the book simply as a foil to the elitist Elena, in the series, Washington’s character constantly shocks the viewer with her chilling monologues. Most notably, in her final argument with Elena before she quits her job as a glorified housemaid to the Richardsons, she asserts to a challenging Elena “You didn’t make good choices, you had good choices. Options that being rich and white and entitled gave you.” Washington takes the character of Mia Warren from the pages to create something brand new but still leaves room for the audience to wonder if Mia is as good of a person as she appears. Washington excellently performs Mia Warren’s own inability to decide if she is making the right choices through heartbreaking flashbacks, work on self-engulfing art projects and moments alone spent crying to herself.
Little Fires Everywhere is a page-turner and an unpausable miniseries. While the story holds strong roots to the novel, the series provides the rare feeling of experiencing something brand new. In addition to slight changes to the plot, the actors in the miniseries bring a depth to the characters that is overshadowed by the fast moving pace of the novel. While watching, one experiences an internal battle to decide who to trust and who to empathize with, resulting in choices that often change episode by episode. These eight one-hour episodes will undoubtedly feel too short and leave too many questions unanswered in the finale. Nonetheless, it will be enjoyable, and what it lacks in screen time, it will make up for in how much time you spend thinking about it when you are done.
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