HBO’s The Undoing: Series Premiere Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
The newest series to hit HBO’s Sunday primetime slot is a new psychological thriller from Bird Box director Susanne Bier based on the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Undoing, introduces us into some high society drama.
I feel like I’m a broken record saying this, but The Undoing’s premiere does what every other HBO series premiere does – set the scene and introduce some character dynamics without delving into too much of the story. HBO seems to take the same route as most movie trailers do – the first episode introduces the concept and style while the second episode introduces the story. It’s a fair tactic that I think is very effective and it especially works here as we are injected into the wealthy world of New York City’s Upper East Side and the Fraser family.
Living in a very nice New York apartment, the Fraser family certainly has the looks of a very wealthy New York family, but that doesn’t mean that they’re totally stuck up. With the great script from David E. Kelley and great performances from the cast, the Frasers are actually a very enjoyable and mostly normal bunch. Grace (Nicole Kidman), the matriarch of the family, works as a successful therapist and living the life that’s she’s always imagined for herself. Finding good recognition for her work and even being involved in a mom group for her son Henry’s (Noah Jupe) elite private school, Grace lives a good life, but not without some drawbacks. Although she enjoys the life that she lives, the fancy New York living her family has doesn’t completely suit her and even seeing her in that circle – her and her family don’t exactly fit in.
While everyone around them seems infused with high societal dialogue and enveloped in their higher standing, the Frasers never feel that way. Perhaps its because we don’t really get to know the other families that well here, but the Frasers legitimately come off a like a normal, likeable family. They’re dialogue is super snappy with one another and they all have a great chemistry with one another – especially Grace and her husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant). Although Jonathan has a tough job as an oncologist, a doctor that treats cancer, specifically working with kids, he still has a very upbeat personality and cracks plenty of jokes that Grants makes hilarious in his performance. The relationship between Grace and Jonathan is also very strong as they still maintain a deep romantic connection and care for one another. There does seem to be some tension between Jonathan and Grace’s father Franklin (Donald Sutherland) for an unknown reason, but other than that, they don’t seem to want to be too integrated into the social circles and high society antics. Hell, they barely even want to stay at the fundraiser event and Grace is even questioning if they should stay in New York. It’s understandable as the episode shows the fast-paced and sort of secluded atmosphere of the Fraser’s current social status.
There’s a line that Grace’s friend Sylvia (Lily Rabe) says about being in New York about it being a place where only busy people can exist and it’s something that can be felt throughout being in Grace’s world. The mom group she’s apart of speaks with this artsy tone and creates school fundraisers that looks more like a Governor’s Ball or a political soiree. Their wealth and social influence speak for itself with how everything around them is just drooling with this pretentious higher standing. They’re so rich and stuck up that at the fundraising auction they literally bid thousands of dollars on a glass of water. They even boast in a speech about how they’re school is mean to represent diversity and help those in need to a room full of rich white people. Grace’s friend group just oozes pretentiousness and is the kind of group that isn’t the most accepting of outsiders or able to resist a good rumor. Thus, when a new mom named Elena (Matilda de Angelis) joins the group, she’s immediately the talk of the group.
Honestly, with the group being predominately white and being more well-established, Elena sticks out like a sore thumb and quickly becomes the focal point for group gossip. Upon first meeting her, it’s easy to see how Elena is different from the other women around her – she’s Hispanic in a mostly white room, she’s brought her newborn girl with her because she couldn’t get someone to watch her, and her son is likely only able to attend the same school as Henry because he has a scholarship. Elena becomes even more of puzzle to the group, aside from Grace, when she starts to openly breast feed her baby – which is pretty common nowadays. Elena legitimately feels like a real mom compared to many of the other women in the room, especially when see her less than lavish living conditions, and it’s what make her drawn to Grace since she acts differently as well.
Grace is actually one of the only people to defend Elena and not see her as overly weird, even after having an awkward nude interaction with her at the gym, and is legitimately one of the only moms that doesn’t devalue her. She’s doesn’t seem like the type to poke fun at the poor and Grace ends up being very supportive and sweet towards her. Elena opens up to Grace about being overwhelmed as a parent, especially in this new environment, and Grace even offers to let her driver take her back home when she decides to leave the fundraiser. She ultimately declines and gives Grace a peculiar kiss before leaving, but this choice ultimately leads to her death as her son finds her in her studio the next day with her face brutally smashed in.
Not only does this send shockwaves through the entire school community but sets in motion the big mystery within this series. With there being two incredibly determined and inquisitive detectives on the case, especially Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), Grace’s closeness to Elena, which she oddly doesn’t fully disclose, and her abrasiveness that’s shown in her therapy sessions and her interview with the police will likely make her a prime suspect. However, maybe they should be really looking at Jonathan. He left the party early to help a patient of his that didn’t make it, but that story doesn’t seem to hold as Grace finds that he’s hiding something. Him leaving his phone at home while on a “business meeting” and Grace being unable to know where he is when all of this happened makes him look really guilty and it looks like the life that Grace has loved for so long is about to unravel – or at least be undone.
The series premiere of The Undoing sets up its wealthy Upper Eastside setting as well as it’s central family that’s about to be rocked to its core as a tragedy begins to unravel their lives. The stage is set for a strong, mysterious thriller with knockout performances from Kidman and Grant that’ll come into their own as more of the story begins to unfold next week.