The cast of Big Little Lies revealed a few tidbits about season 2, Jared Harris discussed scary new HBO miniseries Chernobyl, Danai Gurira is leaving The Walking Dead, and more TV news.
If Big Little Lies was going to come back for a second season, the story had to be pretty darn compelling for stars and executive producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman (along with costars Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley) to sign on. But when audiences continued to beg for more episodes of the Monterey, California moms embroiled in a real-life murder mystery, the cast and creator/writer/executive David E. Kelley said that finally agreed to come back — with a few caveats.
“The storytelling — would it be compelling enough that it would rise up to the first year? Everybody up here can get jobs. We didn’t want to do this unless we could at least have a fair shot of living up to the bar that we felt we had all set in year one,” Kelley told reporters at a panel for season 2 at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon. “So we met, and we talked about what the stories were. We were very unflinching and candid with each other about the ones we thought were viable and the ones we thought were not good enough, and we didn’t finally agree to set sail until we had the commitment from all of us that this was storytelling that we all felt passionate about.”
While the first season had the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty to use as a guide, there was no sequel — until Moriarty, who is also a producer, wrote an outline for Kelley to use while plotting season 2’s story.
“We were lucky Liane Moriarty wrote almost like a novella for us to use as a template,” said Witherspoon. “It really helped tremendously that the characters were alive in her mind and have these very rich experiences that were just as interesting, entertaining, as in-depth as they were in the original series. So that gave us some basis for which to go on for each character. We all had unresolved issues — you know, I had an affair and that was never resolved.”
While Kelley and his cast remained tight-lipped on what the actual plot of season 2 will entail, he did reveal that it picks up after the events of the first season. It’s still a mix of comedy and drama, tonally — “probably more dramatic than comedic this year,” he teased — and the Greek Chorus of fellow school parents at the fatal trivia night is gone.
“When we come back, their lives — like all of our lives — are very well put together on the surface, but then the fissures … begin to emerge and there is a big fault line that lies under all of us, which is this event that happened at trivia night last year,” Kelley explained. “So once the crevices start to widen it escalates pretty quickly.”
There’s also one major addition: Meryl Streep joins the cast as Celeste’s mother-in-law, Mary Louise Wright.
“I love this show. I was addicted to it,” Streep gushed. “I thought it was an amazing exercise in what we know and what we don’t know about people, about family, about friends; how it flirted with the mystery of things; what was unsaid, un-shown, unknown was sort of the whole gravitational pull of the piece and it was so exciting. So when I got the chance to join the crew I thought, yeah! [As for] the dynamic between Celeste and me, I do love her. And that’s the only thing I’ll tell you.”
Fans of The Walking Dead are used to their favorite stars exiting the series — there are gruesome deaths pretty much weekly (it is a zombie show, after all) — but this latest departure is going to hurt: Danai Gurira, who plays the badass Michonne, is leaving in season 10. The Black Panther star will appear in “a handful of episodes that will be interspersed throughout season 10,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Not all hope is lost, however — THR reports that she’ll likely join her former on-screen love Andrew Lincoln, a.k.a. recently departed leading man Rick Grimes, in the series of three TWD movies AMC is planning to produce.
In such a politically volatile world, it’s been challenging for the team behind Veep to push boundaries in its final season. But the series has given itself one key advantage in its ability to poke fun at politics without garnering too much ire on either side of the aisle.
“We have this great virtue of having not identified a party in our show and not really identified any contemporary political figures,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus told reporters at a Television Critics Association winter press tour panel for the show’s final season. “We’re in an alternate universe and that’s helpful particularly because in many ways it’s why the show’s lasted as long as it has — because it kind of invites everyone to the party. I think in a way it’s more apt than it ever has been given the current insanity that we’re all living in.”
The final season will consist of seven episodes, which showrunner Dave Mandel said will bring the show to its natural conclusion.
“We reached just a very natural point, storytelling-wise, that we sort of looked at each other and went, ‘I think that’s the end.’”
While neither Louis-Dreyfus nor Mandel would get too specific about exactly what adventures ex-president (and ex-veep) Selina Meyer will have in the last episodes, which begin airing March 31 on HBO, they did tease a surprising (and satisfying) ending.
“The one trap that the viewers ever so slightly fall into is assuming that somebody is Trump and somebody is Hillary, and that’s a good thing for us because it means we get to always surprise you. It doesn’t go the way you think it went when they ran against each other,” Mandel said. “I think this season, it sounds so generic, but I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised in a very, you know, hopefully funny way.”
Added Louis-Dreyfus, “I’m not going to say that Selena evolves, except to say that she’s truer to herself by being as true to herself as she can possibly be. By the time this season ends. I’ll leave it for you to determine whether or not that’s a good thing, but I’m not sure that evolution is necessarily her game.”
“I’m a miserable person,” joked Harris at a TCA panel for his new HBO miniseries Chernobyl, about the 1986 nuclear meltdown in the Ukraine. In all seriousness, though, Harris said he was drawn to his role in Chernobyl (and The Terror) because of “good writing. Really, if you’re working on a script that’s really well-written, our job is much, much easier and more interesting as well because you can dig down into the story, you can dig down into the subtext and the substrata of the narrative and you can find stuff there that’s been put down purposefully.”
The five-part miniseries, which also stars Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson, follows the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to save Europe from complete disaster after one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history.
If you are not one of the millions of people who was captivated by the Serial podcast in 2014, HBO’s new four-part documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed will fill you in on the case, which saw Baltimore high school senior Adnan Syed convicted for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. The podcast examined the evidence in the case and whether Syed was wrongfully convicted. The new documentary will pick up where Serial left off, so it won’t be a retread of the podcast either.
“It’s gone through current events, just as recently as a couple of months ago,” said director Amy Berg.
The documentary follows Syed’s legal team as they prepare an appeal for a new trial after questions about the State’s case and his own attorney’s performance.
“Any time a wrongful conviction seems to be getting successfully challenged the system closes in, it doubles down, it trickles down, and it tries to protect itself and we expected that. We expected we were going to fight as far as it’s going to take,” said Rabia Chaudry, a family friend and lawyer who has advocated for Syed for 20 years (and was the driving force behind the Serial podcast). “The State is going to continue to appeal it. It’s not a surprise. And there’s a reason for that. I understand the reasons for that. It’s not always about the truth. It’s about kind of maintaining status quo. So it’s not surprising. It is more complicated. However, when there’s so much notoriety around the case it gives more incentive for the State to save face and to save the conviction and to fight harder.”
Netflix’s award-winning comedy The Kominsky Method will welcome three major guest stars in its second season: Jane Seymour, Jacqueline Bisset, and Paul Reiser. Seymour will play Madelyn, a 70-something well-to-do woman with whom Norman (star Alan Arkin) had a mad love affair in the ’60s before he met his wife, and they meet again 50 years later. Bisset will play Gabrielle, Mindy’s (Sarah Baker) mom and Sandy’s (star Michael Douglas) French ex-wife who delights in still being able to push the buttons of her ex-husband. Reiser will play Martin, a 60-something high school teacher who gets romantically involved with Sandy’s daughter, Mindy.