WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Grace (Nicole Kidman) is a therapist whose life gets turned around when a murder takes place in her orbit and she has to deal with the aftermath.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The Undoing begins with the sound of Nicole Kidman singing Dream A Little Dream over the opening credits. Her voice, which sounds so sweet, will give one instant Moulin Rouge memories and sets the tone for the entire series. Nicole Kidman is the definite star of this series, and we can't help but be drawn to her. The opening credits and how sweet it sounds also lulls us into a false sense of security, that we do not expect the atrocities that we will see.
The series is about Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan (Hugh Grant), a wealthy couple who live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They aren't just rich though, they have busy careers as a therapist and a paediatric oncologist respectfully and they are active parents for their only child, Henry (Noah Jupe). Their lives take a turn once Grace becomes acquainted with another mother at Henry's school, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis).
Elena is young, beautiful and stands out at this ultra-elite, private school because she does not come from money. The other mothers call her a "a scholarship mom", and she spends most of the first episode having intense moments with Grace, and naked. Her nakedness is almost used as a tool for Grace (and the other mothers) to notice her, and it works. Through the story of Elena and her family, in comparison to Grace and hers, we are forced to look at the class difference and how actions that affect both families can have very different circumstances based on their family's privilege.
As I said in the beginning, this is very much a vehicle for Nicole Kidman. And she, once again, proves why she is such an esteemed actress. Just like in Big Little Lies, every scene that she is in is so punctuated with emotion and subtleness that you can't help but be drawn to her. I must make a note about the styling of the character of Grace as well. For the first time, it seems, since Far and Away, she is rocking the red curls. It is so vintage Nicole Kidman, and I love it. It also makes her extremely easy to spot in a crowd. With regards to wardrobe, Grace wears a lot of bohemian-style clothing; perhaps it is a reference to her career as a therapist, and also to show that even though they don't come from money, she's a "cool rich person".
Grace's career as a therapist is a poignant part of her character. In the first episode, we see her treating two patients. One is a woman who is complaining about her husband and his shifting moods. Grace analyses it as a situation in which the woman is not willing to see the full picture of her husband in the beginning because she is always in the haze of love. The second is a couple dealing with infidelity in their marriage and why it happened. One cannot help but think these two cases are deliberate to foreshadow or make the audience aware of certain patterns. If anything, with her expert opinion and powers of deduction, it definitely doesn't help Grace to recognise some of these patterns in her own life.
In order to stand toe-to-toe with Nicole Kidman, her screen partner needs to be able to hold their own. And Hugh Grant does. An actor who waltzed his way into many viewers' hearts by playing loveable rom-com leading men in the '90s and then, even as he grew older and his characters became more varied, he still retained that charm of a leading man. He brings this into the role of Jonathan in spades. The character feels very Hugh Grant, reminding me a lot of his character in Two Weeks Notice. He is arrogant and elitist, but you know that he will probably make you laugh at a dinner party, and this was perfect casting for this role. He is a strong actor, who keeps you guessing in every scene. You never quite know what Jonathan's true motivations are, because you are seeing him from Grace's perspective and that is always changing.
The supporting actors are also extremely well cast. There is Donald Sutherland, a juggernaut of film and television who plays Grace's extremely wealthy father. And it is common tether throughout the series that his money gives them a certain amount of access that their middle-class careers might not have given them. He is a large donor to Henry's elite school, Reardon. He bailed them out of sticky spots and he is Grace's constant safety net. He pops in and out of the series, giving off the image that he is dripping with money, a sort of rich fairy godfather.
Lily Rabe plays Grace's friend, Sylvia, who also has a child at Reardon. Rabe's performance is extremely campy and offers the rare bit of comic relief. She reminds me a lot of Laura Dern's character in Big Little Lies. And then there is Edgar Ramírez as Detective Joe Mendoza, who strolls into scenes, casts doubt over the characters, and provides a much-needed, down-to-earth voice among the wealthy characters.
Characters who didn't loom as large but I still enjoyed their performances were the kids. Noah Jupe has garnered praise for a while now for his roles in Honey Boy, Ford v Ferrari and A Quiet Place, and it is easy to see why they cast him as Henry. Henry is a boy trying to make sense of disastrous circumstances, trying to bridge a gap in a divided family. He does an excellent job of detailing the emotions that his character feels without explicitly displaying it. I would also like to draw attention to Edan Alexander's portrayal of Miguel Alves, Elena's son. He is very quiet, and you can see the emotion on his face when he is experiencing sadness, horror and fear. I felt myself moved to tears just by watching him perform.
The director, Susanne Bier (Bird Box, The Night Manager), has been noted as the one who suggested the show should be a mystery as to who really committed the murder, compared to the book on which it is based. And it works well, it is incredibly gripping and filled with cliffhangers and dramatic moments - enough to keep you tuning in.
It is difficult to not compare this to Big Little Lies as it is also created by David E Kelley (he wrote all the episodes as well) and stars Nicole Kidman, and is centred around a murder involving rich people whose children all attend the same school. However, I would say that it reminded me of The Girl On The Train (which also starred Edgar Ramírez as a doubting detective), because it is very much a psychological thriller and because everything is from the perspective of Grace. We are not sure if what we are seeing is true or what she perceives as truth.
Nicole Kidman is slowly becoming one of the biggest TV drawcards and is constantly working on excellent projects that not only display her talents but those around her, while still telling a brilliant story. The Undoing is not to be missed.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Watch The Undoing on M-Net Mondays at 21:30 from 30 November.