The second season of Big Little Lies wrapped up with big ratings, mixed critical responses, and one big elephant in the room. While audiences seemed more enraptured than ever by the series, critics and fans alike began to ask questions about the notable absence of director Andrea Arnold from the promotional cycle. Surely the director of one of the biggest shows on TV — an Oscar-winning auteur and festival darling — would be front and center for this? Well, as IndieWire reported, things had gotten difficult for the production. The article alleges that Arnold had creative control taken away from her and the season remolded to fit the style established by showrunner David E. Kelley and season one director Jean-Marc Vallée.
When addressing reporters at TCA this year, HBO executive Casey Bloys said there was a lot of ‘misinformation’ going around regarding Arnold’s situation. He said, ‘As anybody who works in television knows, the director typically does not have final creative control. So the idea that creative control was taken from the director, it’s just a false premise.’ That is true, but that didn’t really answer people’s questions about what happened with Arnold. The issue was over whether she had expressly been given, verbally or otherwise, creative control of the season, only to see it taken away from her. Why would you hire a celebrated auteur with a distinctive style to direct your show if you had no plans to let her keep said style?
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, stars and executive-producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman essentially repeated Bloys’s words to respond to the Arnold conundrum:
KIDMAN: He said it beautifully. That’s why we had Casey handle it. Obviously, he’s the head of HBO. He really said it beautifully.
WITHERSPOON: In our minds, there is no controversy. We just love the show. We had such a great time doing it. There was a lot of misinformation and no credited sources on any of the information. This was an incredibly collaborative process for all of us and the idea that anyone was mistreated and not communicated with is completely not true. I was glad that Casey spoke so clearly about that and we are thrilled with the collaboration that yielded this season. It could have never been this show had it not been with these particular artists collaborating on this particular material.
KIDMAN: The most important thing for us is that the audience showed up for the show in season 2. I’m over here in Australia and the reaction was so, so strong and that’s a lovely thing. As Reese and I said, this didn’t fall flat on its face, which it could have. We kind of jumped off the cliff not realizing how much pressure it was going to be. And somehow we are here, celebrating something as women, together again. That’s something we were hoping to discuss as well because for the viewers to have shown up with such a voracious appetite was really lovely.
Kidman and Witherspoon also talk about the ‘wonderful’ experience of working with Arnold and repeatedly thank her for her ‘beautiful work’. Arnold is praised for getting the performances out of the actors but the emphasis is put on the supposedly collaborative process of making the show.
I’m going to be honest with you and say that I think this article is some blatant PR clean-up. Sure, it’s nice to hear Arnold’s name said out loud for a change, given how notable absent she was from all conversations of this season, but they really don’t answer any of the questions people had about Arnold being pushed out of said collaborations. What about the allegations that HBO saw Arnold as a director whose style could easily be shaped into that of Vallée, rather than be its own thing? Or the claim that HBO was ready to let Arnold edit the season from London before they let Vallée shift post-production to Montreal? Or how he also essentially took over additional photography while Arnold was left on the sidelines?
Or what about the basic optics of this show that Kidman and Witherspoon proudly celebrate as pro-women having to deal with its adored female director being possibly manipulated and left to sit and watch while her work was handed back to two men?
This is a mess.
Kidman and Witherspoon also leave the door open for Big Little Lies season 3. No thank you.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.