dinner parties

Big Little Lies’ Funniest Scene Is Reese Witherspoon’s Character Confusing Adele and Sade

Not awkward at all. Photo: HBO

As you might be able to guess just from its title, Big Little Lies is made up of contradictions. The show contains glossy real-estate porn, an investigation into the dynamics of domestic abuse, and an actual murder investigation. It dangles the camp spectacle of watching big-name actresses play bitchy moms, and then opens up into something far more revealing. Or maybe that’s a false narrative, because the show’s at its best when comedy and drama coexist, when surface slights are just as revealing as big moments. Case in point: The scene in Sunday night’s episode where Reese Witherspoon’s uptight mom Madeline Martha Mackenzie thinks Sade’s “Cherish the Day” is an Adele song.

If that one-line description weren’t enough to make you laugh, here’s the setup: Madeline and her second husband, Ed (Adam Scott, mostly beard), are at her ex-husband Nathan and his new wife Bonnie’s (Zoë Kravitz) house for a dinner that is treated with all the seriousness of the Potsdam Conference. Madeline doesn’t know it yet, but her and Nathan’s daughter, Abigail, has, absurdly, decided to sell her virginity online. Madeline also “took a little something, just a half” before the great parental meet-up, so she’s a little loopy as she clutches her ceramic wine tumbler and sits down for fish, salad, oysters, and various fancy grains:

“I love this music. Bonnie, is this Adele?” Madeline asks
“No, it’s Sade actually,” Bonnie responds, slightly confused.
“We should get this, honey,” Madeline says to Ed.
“Oh, we have it,” Ed says.

How do we love this scene? Let us count the ways: (1) Reese Witherspoon is at her best at all times as Madeline, and especially here, as she’s swaying back at forth, treating Bonnie’s table settings with the disdain of a drunk, imperious house cat. (2) What better rich white mom joke is there than the fact that all white moms think everything is Adele? (3) Because of Drake’s whole deal with Sade, we now want to know what Madeline thinks of Drake (she probably assumes his music is Justin Timberlake). (4) The exchange gets at the characters’ class, money, and status anxieties: Nathan and Bonnie’s gorgeous home implies that they’re more sophisticated, or maybe just richer, than Madeline and Ed, and so Madeline and Ed fall over themselves to seem cool. (5) Madeline’s super-hip, music-obsessed daughter Chloe would be so embarrassed by all of this.

As the scene continues, Madeline and Bonnie awkwardly banter over the ceramic cups — they’re from Mexico, Bonnie says, with insufferably correct pronunciation — before segueing into a discussion of Abigail’s plan to a sell her virginity online, which makes Madeline throw up. Both the vomit and the plot around Abigail come off as a little heavy-handed, which reflects Big Little Lies’ tendency to rely on big, significant moments to sell its points. Most of them aren’t that necessary: not when you can say everything you need to with Reese Witherspoon, some wine, and Adele — sorry, we mean Sade.

In Praise of Big Little Lies’ Funniest Scene