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REVIEW: 'Little Fires Everywhere'

Little Fires Everywhere is a tense drama that features the white-bread Richardson family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and what happens when an African-American mother and daughter enter their lives. Reese Witherspoon plays Elena Richardson, an uber-uptight mother of four, and Joshua Jackson her husband.

Kerry Washington plays Mia Warren, and Lexi Underwood her teen daughter Pearl. Mia is a peripatetic artist, constantly moving Pearl around to new locales, at times living out of their car.

When Pearl becomes friends with the Richardson son Moody, Elena works hard to welcome the Warrens into their lives, all the while wrestling with her many anxieties about race, class and propriety.

Set in what looks like the late '80s/early '90s, with references to Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Real World and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the series starts with a fire, and it’s hardly a little one. The Richardson house is ablaze, and the cops say it’s arson.

The show then flashes back to more tranquil times in the Richardson household. Elena is Type A+--she’ll only engage in sex with her husband on certain days of the week, and fights with punky daughter Izzy constantly--and Witherspoon handles her with aplomb. Washington is full of angst-y energy as Mia, at times kind to her daughter, most times a bit nasty. Put Elena and Mia together in the frame, and one could cut the tension with a knife.

Underwood is terrific as Pearl, a sweet girl who slowly learns to voice her wishes to her domineering mother.

Little Fires Everywhere is adapted from Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel. Liz Tigelaar created the show, and executive produces along with Witherspoon and Washington.

The pilot sustains much of the heat from the fire that kicks things off, and sets up an edgy and entertaining look at race and family in America.

Michael Malone
Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.