Nine Perfect Strangers: Nicole Kidman’s Hulu Miniseries Is Surprisingly Underwhelming

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Nicole Kidman as Masha in Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers miniseries.

Hulu

HuluThe original Nine Perfect Strangers miniseries have all the right ingredients. The show, which premieres on the streaming platform on August 18, is an adaptation of not only a bestselling novel, but also a bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty. This automatically invites comparisons to HBO’s Moriarty adaptation that everyone will love Big little lies.

And its source material isn’t the only DNA the series shares with other curvy, prestige-adjacent, thriller-adjacent, and limited-edition series. His roster of executive producers, like Big Little Lies, includes David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman, both of whom also adapted HBO’s soapy miniseries from last winter. The defeat.

Aesthetically, Nine Perfect Strangers is also inspired by Kelley’s cinematic universe. The show’s opening credits are layered over a montage of a psychedelic nature on a woozy, minor pop cover that sounds like it could have been sung by Kidman herself. The setting is a health and wellness complex populated by rich and beautiful people with one to two traumatic stories each. And these rich, gorgeous characters are played by a mishmash of actors you’ve seen in a similar fare before, from BLL / The Undoing alum Kidman to Little Fires Everywhere alum Tiffany Boone and Gilmore Girls alum Melissa McCarthy. The only ingredient missing from the recipe for the winning drama miniseries is Reese Witherspoon, whose production company has carved out a niche for itself for television adaptations of the book (Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, the upcoming Daisy Jones & The Six).

Unfortunately for fans of Moriarty or any of the series’ aforementioned backgrounds, combining all the right ingredients doesn’t make a meal. The resulting mix is ​​essentially Mad Libs “premium streaming content” with a shaggy pace that turns the initial plot into confusion. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers will premiere on Hulu on August 18.

Hulu

This time around, Kidman takes on the manic nightmare of pixie Masha, the founder of the boutique spa Tranquillum House, who has a sadistic side and a villainous Russian accent that resembles a workshop during the Cold War. Tranquillum seems closer to tranquilizer than tranquility, and that’s the point. In fiction, the plot is the crucible through which the characters endure trials and struggles, emerging changed on the other side. The 10 Day Tranquillum Retreat is that melting pot made literal, comforting the grieving and afflicting the comfortable.

Each character’s personal demon must be excised during the stay, according to the supposedly therapeutic protocol devised by Masha. The treatment plan operates under a “burn says it works” mentality, mistaking suffering for healing. I don’t know if this is a critique of the culture of well-being and the asymptotic finish line of self-improvement, a critique of the poor rich who pay money for their traumas are cauterized, or a critique of the plot mechanisms themselves.

Or maybe it’s not a review at all, but a character study. Masha frighteningly “cures” the participants of her complex, much like the mysterious host of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. And she gathered the whole crew. I spent the entire first episode waiting for each of the nine titular strangers to succumb to a Christie-style death, but no dice.

Read more: Here’s everything coming to Hulu in August 2021

At the center of the plot is a mystery, but like Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers doesn’t quite tell you what it is. And unlike Big Little Lies, whose nuanced characters looked fresh and real, I couldn’t really bother to figure it out. I was able to deduce Something was unfolding purely on the liberal use of slow-panning establishment shots and the occasional exchange of sustained eye contact between Masha’s henchmen. But even after several episodes, the central question behind the show seems to be simply “What trauma led these people to a center for self-improvement?” (And will they improve by the end of their stay?) There is also the question of why everyone is acting so strange, but by the time it is tackled, I have already accepted the strangeness as the price of entry into the entertainment world.

And there is something fishy going on with Masha herself – a near-death experience; intrusive memories of a little girl on a bicycle; mysterious and threatening texts … But his character is so devilishly awkward that I hesitate to invest a lot of energy in worrying about it. When it’s not clear whether you’re asking even the right questions, it’s hard to keep up with the crumbs of a plot that might just as easily end up deadlocked.

Tonally, Nine Perfect Strangers is everywhere, a melting pot of comedy, romance, magical realism, horror, and suspense. Throughout their stay in Tranquillum, the nine strangers fly through the woods like Hermia and Lysander. They twist and scream like patients under Nurse Ratched’s care. They indulge in desperate gullibility like characters in cult NXIVM docuseries. They bicker and attack each other, they fall in love, they hallucinate, they share dark and deep secrets, they clash in a potato sack race.

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To see? They really have a potato sack race at Tranquillum House.

Hulu

The reasons the characters frequent the resort range from the tragic to the mundane. There is the couple grappling with the recent death of their son. Then there’s the couple struggling with the pressures of… social media? McCarthy plays novelist Frances, the closest thing to an analogue audience. Her personal demon is the strangest, involving a cat fishing scam. Each character’s psychological flaw is a spoke extending from the self-improvement wheel hub, and each spoke seems to take the show in a different direction. Frances divides the difference with a veneer of sarcasm that is both funny and sad. (“I don’t meditate, I just look discouragedly at the gaping void,” she says.)

The photography and set design are gorgeous, and many of the performances are heartwarming – Bobby Canavale’s injured ex-athlete and Michael Shannon’s grieving father are particularly poignant. But the shapelessness of the story and the vagueness of its mysteries give the impression that this miniseries was constructed by some sort of algorithm. The noisy collection of heartbreak, betrayal, engagement phobia, loneliness, and professional failure of the cast creates a screenwriting challenge that Kelley and her team can’t quite handle. Maybe nine complete strangers are just too many to know in a limited time.


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