Why Big Little Lies, Originally a Miniseries, Is Coming Back to HBO for Season 2 This June

And how the show landed Meryl Streep for a key new role

Meryl Streep joins the cast of Big Little Lies' second season, playing the mother of Alexander Skarsgård's character. Jennifer Clasen/HBO
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Two years ago at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., the cast and producers of HBO’s Big Little Lies insisted their show was a miniseries and that the story would not continue.

Cut to two years later, and the original cast—Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley, with the addition of Meryl Streep—reassembled at winter press tour to explain why they ended up making a second season, which will begin airing in June, after all.

“We all said goodbye at the end [of Season 1]. But we became very close and we had such a good time together. The desire to spend time together was a huge part of it,” said Nicole Kidman, who plays Celeste and is also an executive producer. But there was also an “enormous demand from the audience” to see these characters again.

Pointed out creator and writer David E. Kelley, who again wrote the entire season, “We didn’t really close the chapter. It ended on a very open note: What’s going to happen next? There was a lot of fertile storytelling ground to be mined.”

But it was equally important that the storyline for Season 2 rise to the level of Season 1.

“Everybody up here can get jobs,” Kelley said of the cast. “We didn’t want to do this unless we could have a fair shot of living up to the bar we had all set in year one. We didn’t finally agree to set sail until we had a commitment from all of us that this was storytelling we felt passionate about.”

The cast was enigmatic about that story for Season 2, other than to say it will deal with the fallout from the events at the end of Season 1 and the Monterey Five.

“With an ongoing series, you want it to be familiar, but different,” Kelley said. “In Season 2, we don’t so much go broader, but we go deeper.”

Liane Moriarty, who wrote the Big Little Lies novel that Season 1 was based on, wrote a novella for Kelley and the producers to use as a template for Season 2. “The characters were alive in her mind,” Witherspoon said.

And Moriarty called Celeste’s mother-in-law (the role played by Streep) Mary Louise as a subtle nod to the actress—Mary Louise is her real name—whom everyone wanted for that role. Streep did not learn that the character’s name was an intentional homage to her until it was mentioned today at press tour.

As for what, besides the name, drew her to the role, Streep  said, “I loved this show. I was addicted to it. I thought it was an amazing exercise in what we know and what we don’t know about people, about family, about friends. How it flirted with the mystery of things.”

The actress continued, “I’m playing someone’s who dealing with whatever the deficits of her parenting were, and how you can’t go back in time and fix those issues.” Given that she has four grown children, “I felt like I had something to give to this,” Streep said.

One thing Season 2 will delve into is the aftermath of abuse for Kidman’s character, who was battled by her husband, played by Alexander Skarsgård, before his death at the end of Season 1. “When the partner is gone,” that doesn’t mean the person has “healed,” Kidman said.

Added Witherspoon, “We’ve talked about trauma. We’ve seen trauma. We’ve experienced trauma, but how do we cope with it? That’s the big theme for Season 2.”

The “Greek chorus” from the first season, in which other characters commented on the events, won’t return for Season 2, Kelley said.

The seven-episode Season 2 of Big Little Lies won’t premiere until June, which means it will miss this year’s Emmy eligibility window.

Right now, there are no plans for a third season, according to Kelley. “We like our closure at the end of Season 2, so that will probably be it,” he said.

Then again, as the cast reminded him, he said the same thing after Season 1.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.