The new HBO Limited series, to no surprise, is nifty and nicely done. Director Susanne Bier (“The Night Manager”) shoots the cool winter in New York, in which the catastrophic events of the show unfold with a view to the unsettling. Characters steal looks through cracked doors and lonely street corners. Bier’s camera spies on their beautiful homes and drips more money than most New Yorkers have ever seen in ten lifetimes from incredibly high angles, making them feel increasingly cavernous and all consuming. When Kidman’s character Grace is overwhelmed, we see flashes of horror in her head – and it’s almost impossible to tell whether we’re looking at the past or an imaginary version of it. During those troubling moments when Grace appears as the unreliable narrator in the increasingly bizarre story of her own life, “The Undoing” is extremely effective as a psychological thriller. So where it gets lost is the pursuit of the dispersed interests of its ever-changing conspiracy.
The world of Grace turns upside down the day after the gruesome murder of a young New York City mother the night after her dazzling advantage for private school. (Another “Big Little Lies” parallel.) The media, which poke fun at the details of a crime affecting the city’s most elite social classes, cannot cover enough of the aftermath and the ensuing court case, ie about what tabloid dreams are made of. Experts discuss the hazy facts of the case, pointing out that the victim, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), was Latina and poorer than the other well-groomed mothers of the elite Reardon School. When you turn to the Prime Suspect (Grant), you make sure that he’s not just a charming kid oncologist, but a white and obscenely rich man. (Grant playing more or less against the guy is a perfect casting as a man most love, even if he gets proof they really shouldn’t.) That his father-in-law (Sutherland) is the kind of Has the old New York money, which practically gives him his own zip code, can’t hurt either. And when it comes down to it, the skeptical reports the jury will believe will continue: the dead Elena and her tacit husband Fernando (Ismael Cruz Cordova) from Harlem, or the high-ranking citizens Jonathan and his statuesque therapist (Kidman) who all of them Model has modeled life on being as helpful and presentable as possible?
These are useful, interesting questions about an all too real dynamic that lies at the heart of growing class divisions. So it’s frustrating to see that “The Undoing” raises these issues almost out of politeness before almost entirely glossing over them. As with “Big Little Lies,” Kelley’s scripts show just enough awareness of those who aren’t planning fundraisers in their lavish mansions to get recognition but not enough to gain real insight. What’s even more disappointing is that Elena spends most of the time on screen as a mysterious object of lust – or horribly murdered, her face smacked on the floor of her studio beyond recognition. It’s a terrible combination of stereotypes referenced too often to Latina characters, and Kelley doesn’t get anywhere near undermining them in this iteration.
„The Undoing“ kommt so well Commenting on privileges and injustices with something like awareness, but too quickly shifting into the stereotypes it claims to understand. In fact, after watching five of the six episodes in the series, I thought that “The Undoing” might actually be more successful if it had avoided addressing race and class in full. Sure, it would be another kind of ridiculousness to have a show that is all about the rich eating their own. But as something like “Succession” has shown, it is more than possible to do this and at the same time make it clear how wildly privileged the characters are while avoiding tired clichés of the disenfranchised. Indeed, there are moments when “The Undoing” does just that very intelligently. Grace is seldom more nervous than about Detective Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), who is completely unfazed by her whole world and has no problem cutting through her vague positions to get to an actual point. And as Jonathan’s ruthless lawyer, Noma Dumezweni delivers the most penetrating performance on the show. Even the slightest lift of her skeptical eyebrows is enough to rattle Jonathan and Grace in a way neither of them has felt in their entire lives.
That “The Undoing” is scrutinized probably won’t matter too much. Many viewers will no doubt be thrilled to see a brilliant HBO drama starring two of the world’s most telegenic people in a story tailored for real crime podcasts. It’s just a shame it couldn’t resist those clichés to become something much more powerful than just another case of the week.
“The Undoing” premieres on Sunday, October 25th at 9:00 pm on HBO.
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