Nine perfect strangers It has all the right ingredients. The show is an adaptation of not just a best-selling novel, but a Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel. That automatically invites comparisons to the crowd-pleasing HBO adaptation of Moriarty. .original miniseries
And its source material isn’t the only DNA the show shares with other twisted, prestige-adjacent, thriller-adjacent, and limited-run series. Its roster of executive producers, such as Big Little Lies, includes David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman, who also adapted last winter’s HBO miniseries..
Aesthetically, Nine Perfect Strangers, now streaming on Hulu, also takes a page from Kelley’s cinematic universe. The show’s opening credits are overlaid in a psychedelic nature montage set on a dizzy, minor key pop cover that looks like it might have been sung by Kidman herself. The setting is a tony health and wellness resort populated by rich and beautiful people with a traumatic story or two each.
And these rich and beautiful characters are played by a hodgepodge of actors you’ve seen before at similar rates, from BLL / The Undoing alum Kidman to Little Fires Everywhere alum Tiffany Boone and Gilmore Girls alum. Melissa McCarthy. The only missing ingredient in the winning recipe for the dramatic miniseries is Reese Witherspoon, whose production company has carved a niche for television book adaptations (Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, the upcoming Daisy Jones & The Six).
Unfortunately for fans of Moriarty or any of the show’s aforementioned backgrounds, combining all the right ingredients doesn’t make a meal. The resulting mix is essentially Mad Libs “premium streaming content” with a messy pacing that melds the initial intrigue into a bulk of confusion. Many cooks in the kitchen.
This time around, Kidman plays the maniacal goblin nightmare Masha, the founder of the boutique health resort Tranquillum House, who has a sadistic streak and an evil Russian accent that sounds like it was a workshop during the Cold War. Tranquillum seems more of a tranquilizer than tranquility, and that’s the point. In fiction, the plot is the crucible through which the characters endure difficulties and struggles, emerging transformed from the other side. The 10-day Tranquillum retreat is that crucible made literal, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
The personal demon of each character must be extirpated during the stay, through the presumed therapeutic protocol designed by Masha. The treatment plan operates under a “the burn says it’s working“mindset, which combines suffering with healing. I’m not sure if this is meant to be a critique of wellness culture and the asymptotic goal of self-improvement, a critique of the rich poor who pay money to cauterize their traumas, or a critique of the plot’s own mechanics.
Or maybe it’s not a review at all, but a character study. Masha creepily “heals” attendees at her resort, as does the mysterious host at Agatha Christie’s And then there were none. And he has gathered the entire crew. I spent the entirety of the first episode waiting for each of the nine strange headlines to succumb to Christie-style deaths, but no dice.
At the center of the plot is a mystery, but like Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers doesn’t really tell you what it is. And unlike Big Little Lies, whose nuanced characters felt fresh and real, he couldn’t make me care too much about figuring it out. I could deduce that something it was going based solely on the liberal use of slow pan establishing shots and the occasional conscious exchange of sustained eye contact between Masha’s henchmen. But even after several episodes, the central question driving the series seems to be simply “What trauma led these people to a self-improvement resource?” (And will they improve themselves at the end of their stay?) There is also the question of why everyone is acting So weird, but by the time it is addressed I have already accepted rarity as the price of entry into show business.
And there is something fishy about Masha herself: a near death experience; intrusive memories of a girl on a bicycle; Mysterious and threatening text messages … But his character is so devilishly silly, that I hesitate to invest a lot of energy in worrying about it. When it’s unclear if you’re even asking the right questions, it’s hard to follow the breadcrumbs of intrigue that could end up in a dead end.
Tonally, Nine Perfect Strangers is everywhere, a melting pot of comedy, romance, magical realism, horror, and suspense. During their stay in Tranquillum, the nine strangers flit through the forest as Hermia and Lysander. They squirm and scream like patients under Nurse Ratched’s care. They indulge in desperate gullibility like the characters in a cult NXIVM documentary series. They fight and attack, fall in love, hallucinate, share deep and dark secrets, compete in a potato sack race.
Character reasons for attending the resort range from the tragic to the mundane. The couple are dealing with the recent death of their son. Then there’s the couple dealing with pressures from … social media? McCarthy plays the novelist Frances, the closest thing to an analog audience. His personal demon is the strangest, involving a cat fishing scam. Each character’s psychological flaw is a spoke that extends from the hub of the self-improvement wheel, and each spoke seems to take the show in a different direction. Frances splits the difference with a look of sarcasm that is both funny and sad. (“I’m not meditating, I’m just staring dejectedly into the void,” she says).
The photography and set design are beautiful, and many of the performances are moving – Bobby Canavale’s injured former athlete and Michael Shannon’s grieving father are particularly moving. But the story’s lack of form and the vagueness of its mysteries give the sense that this miniseries was constructed by some kind of algorithm. The cast’s raucous collection of grief, betrayal, commitment phobia, loneliness, and career failure creates a screenwriting challenge Kelley and her team can’t overcome. Perhaps nine perfect strangers are too many to meet in a limited period of time.
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