How 'Big Little Lies' Strays From The Book

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

HBO has a long history of high-profile adaptations, and most manage to walk the line between being genuinely compelling television and honoring the source material. HBO's adaptation of Big Little Lies is just the network's latest, following their flagship show Game of Thrones and lesser-seen miniseries events like Olive Kitteridge and Angels In America. The TV version of Liane Moriarty's 2014 novel premieres on Feb. 19, but comparing the Big Little Lies show vs. the book proves the new series honors its source material much in the same way as HBO's other adaptations.

Big Little Lies follows a generally well-off beachside town and inspects how the rumors and suspicion that infect small communities can manifest into harsh physical violence. The book begins with a far-away glance at a party gone wrong, before jumping back in time six months prior to the "trivia night" where things in the community go from bad to worse. Spread throughout the book are brief statements from other members of the community, commenting on the main characters and the events leading up to whatever happened on trivia night. The unique and loose structure of the book is part of its charm, so fans will be happy to hear that almost everything about the show is directly from the book (minus the changed setting, from Australia to California).

The first episode of Big Little Lies covers the first few chapters of the book, while making very minor changes. There's a passing line about Hamilton to remind viewers that it's present day, but other than some other small differences, the series sticks closely to the plot and pace of the novel. Alongside the main events, the show has also managed to find a way to incorporate the community asides that help define the tone of the book.

Framed as either depositions for community members, or a press conference for members of the local police force, the show's many side characters get the opportunity to comment on the events that unfolded in the sleepy seaside town of Pirriwee. All of these details are being revealed after a mysterious murder has occurred, meaning that all of these recollections have an air of tragedy to them. These asides lend the otherwise mundane events of the series — such as a twisted ankle and arguments over whether or not Avenue Q is appropriate for community theater — an underlying menace that bleeds through all the interactions around Pirriwee.

Fans of the book will be very happy to learn that in bringing the story to HBO, the core of the novel is still very much intact. The lively performances by Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and more honor the characters as they were written by Moriarty without re-defining them in a way that's untrue to the books. The first episode covers all the beats of the first few chapters; Madeline scolding teenage texters, Jane's son getting into an altercation at school, and a revelation about dark secrets in Celeste's life all happen in the pilot as they do in the opening chapters of the book. If you loved reading Big Little Lies, it should bring you great comfort to know that the show seems to be a near-exact replication of the beloved novel.