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TV Review: ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ Offers Mystery Within Tranquility

Nicole Kidman continues her business of adapting Liane Moriarty novels with Nine Perfect Strangers, coming off the success of HBO’s Big Little Lies. This time Kidman has brought the material to Hulu in the hopes Big Little Lies fans will follow her to the streamer.

Big Little Lies was such a hit, capturing audiences week-to-week in the lives of the Monterey upper-class, who sit around and gossiped over large glasses of wine. The show was built around a mystery, leading up to its reveal in the finale, but was most effective focusing on the drama of each episode, tackling serious topics and issues that affected each character. Nine Perfect Strangers works almost inversely. The show is shrouded in mystery and the characters’ lives feel important, but secondary.

The show opens with Napoleon (Michael Shannon) driving with his wife Heather (Asher Keddie) and their daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten) down a winding road. Napoleon is enthusiastic about the health-and-wellness center called Tranquillum they are on their way to. “I’m actually really looking forward to this,” Napoleon exclaims, before informing his family about the awards this place has won. The rest of his family doesn’t seem so excited. At the same time, Instagram influencer Jessica (Samara Weaving), her husband Ben (Melvin Gregg), Tony (Bobby Cannavale), author Francis (Melissa McCarthy), Carmel (Regina Hall) and Lars (Luke Evans) are all on their way to the same retreat.

Each character has very little knowledge about what they are embarking upon and don’t know much about Masha (Kidman), the woman who runs Tranquillum. From the get-go, the entire compound seems suspicious and some of the characters are more excited than others to take part, but as the episodes go on, we learn some are there in a desperate act to readjust their lives.

Kidman appears as the face of the series and when her Masha enters the story, the entire room stops moving and takes notice. Masha has a mystical quality about her, which could stop anyone right in their tracks, and the other characters are initially put under a spell by the energy she brings to the room. Even so, Nine Perfect Strangers is a bona fide ensemble piece, which gives each actor a moment to claim as their own. Cannavale and McCarthy have a particularly fun and acidic rapport with each other, while Hall gives one of the more interesting and layered performances from the cast.

Each episode is directed by Jonathan Levine (who recently directed Long Shot, along with 2011’s wonderful 50/50). He and cinematographer Yves Bélanger capture each episode with an ethereal mystery, bringing a, well, tranquil quality to life at Tranquillum. We get glimpses of Masha’s past through the episodes, but there seems to be harder truths bubbling under the surface, ready to take a sledgehammer to the notion of serenity being sold at Tranquillum.

Nine Perfect Strangers will undoubtedly, if unfairly, be compared to Big Little Lies because of Kidman’s involvement and each title coming from the same author. The new Hulu miniseries has a lot to offer, especially in small moments between the characters, but doesn’t quite have the same grasp Big Little Lies did. But, with a cast like this, who wouldn’t want to spend eight episodes living in their world?

Nine Perfect Strangers debuts on Hulu August 18. The first six episodes were screened for review.

Rating: ★★★

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Written by Matt Passantino

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