Big Little Lies season 2 was substantially re-edited during post-production without director Andrea Arnold’s involvement, according to a new report. Fans were naturally wary when HBO ordered a second round of Big Little Lies after its highly-decorated freshman run. After all, season 1 had already covered the entirety of author Liane Moriarty’s source novel and was originally designed to function as a limited series. Fortunately, the series’ new slate of episodes have gone over exceptionally well with critics and general audiences since season 2 began airing in early June.
In addition to series newcomer Meryl Streep’s efforts as Mary Louise Wright – the mother of Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), the abusive husband who was killed at the end of season 1 – and the work from the returning cast, reviewers have taken well to Arnold’s direction and the way the show has committed to fully wrestling with the fallout of its first season’s finale. However, according to a new report, season 2 doesn’t actually represent Arnold’s creative vision. Far from it, she was allegedly locked out of the season’s editing altogether, despite being praised by her cast, crew, and HBO throughout production.
The news hales from IndieWire, which has learned from multiple trusted sources close to the production that Arnold was granted free rein by HBO and the show’s producers to shoot Big Little Lies season 2 in the same style as her critically acclaimed films like Fish Tank and American Honey. Once filming had wrapped, though, the network and showrunner David E. Kelley brought Jean-Marc Vallée (who helmed season 1) into post-production to rework her footage and make it feel more like the show’s original season. IndieWire‘s sources also allege that this was the plan from the start (to eventually have Vallée take over, that is), and that Arnold was – for (currently) unexplained reasons – not told this ahead of time.
Ultimately, Arnold was unable to finalize a complete cut of a single episode before Vallée came in and essentially took over. The latter, who had initially passed on season 2 because he was preoccupied with HBO’s Sharp Objects adaptation at that time, subsequently scheduled seventeen days of reshoots and additional photography in order to help further reshape the season. And while HBO has now issued a statement claiming that they and Big Little Lies‘ executive producers are all “extremely proud” of Arnold’s contributions to the series, IndieWire‘s article indicates that she had little actual input on season 2 after Vallée returned to the fold.
Frankly, assuming that this report is accurate, it’s a pretty bad look for HBO. It suggests that Arnold was told that she would be free to shape Big Little Lies season 2 in her own style, but that the series’ producers never really intended to uphold that promise and didn’t actually explain their greater plans to her. At the same time, they continued to play up her creative involvement throughout production and editing in order to benefit from the positive publicity that came with having hired a celebrated female director to work on a show that has long prided itself on being a drama that features women in major capacities on both sides of the camera. However one feels about season 2’s actual quality, these behind the scenes issues are a mess to unpack.
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Big Little Lies season 2 continues this Sunday on HBO.