Big Little Lies season 2 problems

In the second season of Big Little Lies, the lead characters have been struggling to stay afloat after their momentous decision at the end of season one. But they weren’t the only ones making potentially disastrous choices: according to a scathing new report, HBO and showrunner David E. Kelley wrested creative control of the show away from season 2 director Andrea Arnold to put it back in the hands of season 1 director Jean-Marc Vallée. It sounds like things got very messy, and you can read the details below. 

Indiewire just published a devastating account of the Big Little Lies season 2 problems that have been raging behind the scenes, and it’s a depressing read for fans of the show. The outlet says that when season one director Jean-Marc Vallée wasn’t available to film the second season due to his commitment to Sharp Objects, British director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) was hired under the impression that she’d be allowed to establish her own vision for the series.

But that’s not what happened. Indiewire’s sources say that in actuality, the plan was always to let Arnold shoot the second season, but then the idea was to give control back to Vallée, who would shape her footage into something resembling the style he established in the first season. The creatives supposedly hired Arnold because they thought her style would be easy to manipulate back into Vallée’s.

Unlike film, which is largely director-driven, television is a producer-driven medium: the showrunner (in this case, David E. Kelley) is the final arbiter of what goes out to audiences. The idea of a director coming into a show with an established look and then having her work shaped to fit the house style is not inherently troubling – it’s just how television works. But the problem here was with the ludicrous lack of communication: Arnold was given total freedom to prep and shoot the second season and she was never told that her footage would be reshaped later. There was no show bible that laid out that house style, and Arnold was even allowed to bring on her own cinematographer from a previous collaboration.

Big Little Lies season 2 trailer

Vallée and Arnold reportedly never even spoke to one another. HBO and Kelley initially let Arnold move back to London to begin editing season 2 after production concluded, but that’s when the real trouble started. Before Arnold and her editors could even finish a cut of a single episode, Vallée and his team began editing footage in Montreal, and 17 days of additional photography were scheduled. (Reshoots like this are incredibly common for films, but extra days on this scale are far more rare in television.) Indiewire reports:

While there was a significant reworking of the show’s story through additional photography and an increased reliance on Season 1 flashbacks, a large part of what guided Vallée’s reconfiguration of the second season was removing Arnold’s signature contributions. Sixty-page scripts were slashed down to 40-plus minute episodes, sources say, largely by chopping up a scene to remove what one source described as Arnold’s character exploration and “ephemeral stuff.”

When elements of Arnold’s work do remain on-screen – especially in the first episode  – the scenes seem truncated, the editing especially choppy. As the season has progressed (episode 5 premiered last Sunday), the show has increasingly settled into the familiar S1 style and rhythm. Eleven editors are currently credited on the show.

HBO responded to Indiewire’s request for comment with this statement:

“There wouldn’t be a Season 2 of ‘Big Little Lies’ without Andrea Arnold. We at HBO and the producers are extremely proud of her work. As with any television project, the executive producers work collaboratively on the series and we think the final product speaks for itself.”

Personally, I think the baffling ending of the most recent episode of season 2 was the first time in which it became clear that something may be amiss behind the scenes – but at the same time, this season has felt so much like it has Vallée’s touch across it that you have to wonder why Arnold was hired in the first place. And while HBO and Kelley can technically do whatever they want because it’s their show, there’s no excuse for the deliberate obfuscation that went on at Arnold’s expense here. That’s a total dick move.

For even more details, be sure to check out Indiewire’s full report here. Big Little Lies season 2 airs Sunday nights on HBO.

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