Fans of last year’s TV adaptation of “Big Little Lies” have another bestselling book-to-TV show to savor this spring: Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel “Little Fires Everywhere,” now starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon on Hulu. Set in the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, where Ng herself grew up (she described the book’s setting as “a little bit like writing about a relative”), the first episode begins with a beautiful Tudor house on fire.
The house belongs to Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), a mother of four with a perfect home, color-coded activity calendar (sex with her husband, played by Joshua Jackson, is to take place on Thursdays and Saturdays), an active book club — and plenty of time to spend meddling in everyone else’s business (which she does brilliantly). Most of the series deals with the events leading up to the arson, and her troubled daughter Izzie, with whom she constantly spars, is referenced as a potential suspect.
It’s set in the late 1990s but the series is made for this moment, crackling with issues of race, class tension, entitlement and painful secrets.
Reese is at her “I need to speak to the manager” best, and Kerry Washington shines as Mia Wright, a single mother and artist who moves from town to town with her teenage daughter Pearl. Settling in Shaker Heights for the time being, Mia ends up renting one of Elena’s houses in the neighborhood and eventually takes a part-time position as a housekeeper in her home, an arrangement every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds. A fledgling kind-of friendship forms — after a few glasses of wine, the two bond about the difficulties of motherhood — but there is much that is left unsaid. Meanwhile, the children all become involved with each other, forming connections that are just as complicated.
Mia works nights at a Chinese restaurant, and when a coworker there confides a secret about a beloved baby daughter she left outside a fire station one night, Mia takes it upon herself to track down the baby’s adopted parents. It turns out the baby was adopted by friends of Elena, and this revelation leads to an ugly court case and a media storm that pits the two women against each other.