“Little Fires Everywhere” sets off blaze of emotions

The Hulu mini-series is based off of the book by Celeste Ng. It is the story of two families who live in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the 90s and are brought together by a friendship between two of their children. Soon after this friendship sparks, so does the hatred between Elena Richards (Reese Witherspoon) and Mia Warren (Kerry Washington).

Witherspoon and Washington play two mothers who are completely opposite in every way; cooking, parenting, cleaning, living — the list is endless. They reach a new level of hatred as each episode airs and the emotion is displayed so well on screen it feels as if you are there in person to cut the tension yourself. 

While the show has been adapted a little differently from the book, one of the biggest changes was making Mia and her daughter Pearl Warren (Lexi Underwood) African American. This allowed the show to go in depth on racial and class issues throughout the entire series with the Warrens and the Richards, but also including the custody battle of May Ling. 

Elena and Mia begin to infect each other’s lives whether that be through their children or themselves — they become intertwined in ways they both wish didn’t happen. It is frighteningly beautiful watching these two despise one another while also trying to keep their children from becoming involved. 

Too late.

While they continue to develop into enemies, their children form bonds — not always strong — with one another that further drive these two families apart. Once Moody (Gavin Lewis) and Pearl became friends, it was clear these two mothers were not going to become members of the same book club. This event leads to drama throughout the series and leaves the audience unsure of whose side to be on. 

Both Witherspoon and Washington play their characters so well you don’t know whether to hate Elena or love Mia. Both perhaps? The constant lack of self awareness by Elena and the over awareness of Mia make for quite a pair on screen. Elena begins to fumble in her own life because she is so wrapped up in Mia’s, whereas Mia doesn’t notice Elena digging into her past because she’s helping her friend Bebe Chow (Lu Huang). 

The biggest driving factor of hatred in this series stems from a custody battle involving Chow and Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt). Elena and Mia are on opposite sides of this battle. May Ling is Bebe’s daughter, but she gave her away, causing her to end up being adopted by Linda. If it wasn’t for Mia, there would have never been a custody battle. 

This causes Elena to dig into Mia’s past, bringing out a side of Elena that almost makes you mad at Witherspoon herself. Mia’s face fills with disgust at Elena when confronted with it. You’re left sitting on the couch feeling conflicted for eight episodes. 

Of course, one character you love to hate besides Elena is Lexie Richards (Jade Pettyjohn). She, quite well, plays down the racial issues that she knows and compares it to her mother wanting her to be perfect. It also doesn’t help that two of the worst things she does involve Pearl who happens to be African American, but hey, she’s stressed with perfection.

The other young actors in this mini-series shined equally. It may have been because the story was compelling or just well written, whatever it may be, they all take the cake. Megan Stott who played Isabelle “Izzy” Richards knew how to hate her mother in a way that was both empowering and sympathetic. And the final episode brought a sibling love on screen that was never clear beforehand. 

The riveting performances by the entire cast simply takes your breath away. The emotions of love, confusion, pain and hatred are shown without hesitation by every character. The tension between class and race is explored well by both the parents and children in the series, touching on issues of interracial dating, opportunity and oppression.

Correction: A previous version of this review incorrectly listed the two protagonists as “El and Witherspoon.” It has since been updated to include the correct names.