Meryl Streep’s Big Little Lies Debut Lives Up to the High Expectations

In praise of Mary Louise Wright, the deliciously petty grieving mother-in-law from Monterey.


We need to talk about Meryl. Well, everyone already is it seems. Ever since it was announced that Meryl Streep would join the cast of Big Little Lies for its second season, her name has hardly left anyone’s lips.

The question of whether or not a follow-up season to Big Little Lies—an adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel that was initially intended to be a miniseries—would be necessary has weighed heavily on fans of the show for nearly a year. At first it seemed like just fan service to cast Streep in the role of Mary Louise Wright, the grieving mother-in-law of Celeste (played by Nicole Kidman), but the reviews for the highly anticipated show have poured in and it seems like adding Streep was less an audience pleasing stunt than it was a necessary way to push the story forward.

For some, turning on the television to let Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart” wash over you for the first time in over a year, witnessing the long-awaited reunion of the Monterey Five, and then seeing Streep as part of an original HBO series for the first time, could be too much or too on the nose, but we can confirm it’s not.

It’s no secret that the wigs of Big Little Lies are the subject of intrigue and scrutiny. This season, Streep joins the fun with a wig of her own: a chin length bob. She also added some unflattering spectacles and even some fake teeth to the ensemble. It’s classic Streep, really, to go all in like that.

In the first episode, Streep gives a solid performance as Mary Louise, who is grieving the death of her son Perry (played by Alexander Skarsgård). As the trailers and teasers suggested, she’s confused about his death, she wants answers, and she is no stranger to making snide remarks. Like the other moms of Monterey, Mary Louise can be catty. The way she handles social interactions is deliciously petty, because on some level it seems like she is feigning ignorance of her rude behavior. But she has the tendency to take things a little too far, especially when it comes to Celeste’s friend and confidante, Madeline Martha McKenzie (played by Reese Witherspoon), and her short stature.

Occasionally, Mary Louise feels like an amalgamation of characters from Streep’s impressive repertoire. For example, the character’s tendency to armchair diagnose the Montery Five could be a tic that Streep picked up from playing a therapist in Prime (opposite Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenberg). Sprinkle in a dash of the tight-lipped Miranda Priestly and a drop of Topsy from Mary Poppins Returns, and you get Mary Louise Wright.

This season, she’s not as outwardly comedic as the characters played by Witherspoon or Laura Dern, and the performance certainly has room to skew campy, but Streep is holding the reigns on Mary Louise just tightly enough (for now, anyway).

Related: Everything We Learned From the Big Little Lies Season 2 Premiere