Nicole Kidman leads a capable, all-star ensemble through David E. Kelley’s take on wellness culture, even as it struggles to keep your attention.
Big Little Lies and The Undoing creator David E. Kelley returns to the small screen for another collaboration with Nicole Kidman with Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers, an adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s 2018 bestseller. The book received mixed reviews, though, despite its commercial success, and the series struggles with the shallow nature of its story. Coming on the heels of The White Lotus, another show depicting rich, difficult people at a beautiful location, Kelley struggles to capture the suspense of his previous endeavors.
Created along with John Henry Butterworth, Nine Perfect Strangers follows a group of nine people as they attend a retreat at Tranquillum, a large plot of land maximizing mental health and wellness, run by Russian genius Masha Dmitrichenko (Kidman). Masha hopes to fix these people, all of which have problems too big to easily restore. With a stacked cast and an intriguing premise, the series should be more interesting, struggling to keep your attention despite the stellar acting from its participants. And that’s the story’s fault, one that’s often more meandering than expected.
Though Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale, and Regina Hall end up stealing scenes as Napoleon Marconi, Tony Hogburn, and Carmel Schneider, the entire cast gets various moments to flex, with Luke Evans, Melissa McCarthy, Melvin Gregg, Samara Weaving, Asher Keddie, Grace Van Patten, and Manny Jacinto putting out their best efforts to keep the show afloat. And on the merit of their acting, it does, even with Kidman’s comical Russian accent and hazy looks interspersed between moments of genuine connection between some of Hollywood’s best young (and less young) actors.
That above list of performers should excite you, and Nine Perfect Strangers banks on that supposition, leaning on their talent to drag along a beleaguered, odd, often confusing central plot. Masha’s mystique breaks early, the patrons’ problems come out without much fuss, and the surprises don’t really surprise anyone. The show does well to exist in an area of grey morality, as the guests learn more about their supposed treatment, and improvement comes an inch at a time.
The series becomes most enjoyable when it releases itself from Masha’s grip and exhausting gaze, focused on the relationships between these strangers, the way they shift and change once they surround themselves with each other. It turns into a showcase for the individual actors released from a story that forces conflict and relies much too heavily on drug-induced hallucinations. In these scenes, Shannon, Hall, and Cannavale offer their best or close to it, with the latter absolutely fantastic in his portrayal of a broken man without the will needed to change. He’s rarely been better.
Hulu doesn’t have a hit on its hands, though, which they surely expected after the commercial success of both Big Little Lies and The Undoing. Combining this cast with these creators and a bestselling novel adaptation are the ingredients for success, but it falls short with its story. They should have a critical darling, and instead, the streamer will premiere a good, (mostly) entertaining, and disappointing drama, but nothing more than that. It lacks the mystery to be a thriller, the central conflict to be an expert drama, and the consistent wit to be a full-fledged comedy. It won’t commit to a tone, and the series suffers greatly because of that choice, or lack thereof. Nine Perfect Strangers exists in the grey of these genres, much like the moral dilemmas it’s hoping to dissect.
Six episodes were screened for critics.
Nine Perfect Strangers is currently streaming on Hulu.