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‘Little Fires Everywhere’ TV Review: Seventy Cents

Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu has already set the groundwork for showing the relationships between three mothers—all of different races—and how their circumstances in 1990s suburbia will impact their lives forever.

The show stars Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson, a white housewife/journalist raising four teen kids—Lexie, Tripp, Moody and Izzy; and Kerry Washington, a black single mother raising her teen daughter Pearl. The third mother who was just brought into the mix is Bebe Chow, played by Lu Huang, a recent Chinese immigrant who works with Mia as a waitress and is looking for the daughter she gave up. They all live in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a real community outside Cleveland that historically created its own rules for a utopian suburbia vibe.

While the kids are preparing for the homecoming dance, the same night the adults are preparing for a one-year-old birthday party hosted by Elena. These two events will define the storyline with both ending in disaster.

The Mixed Question

After the kids decide to go to homecoming, Pearl, played by Lexi Underwood, jumps at a chance to go shopping with Lexie, the eldest Richardson daughter played by Jade Pettyjohn. Lexie just plagiarized Pearl’s essay to get placement in a math class for her Yale college application. Pearl comes out of a dressing room in a dress she loves. That’s when Lexie tells her about seeing the essay, but she conveniently leaves out the plagiarism part and calls the essay more of an inspiration when for her essay.

Lexie further distracts Pearl from the truth after asking about her lineage: “Are you mixed?” Going on about how pretty Pearl is, Lexie continues with asking who Pearl’s father is because he must have some non-black blood. This loaded question can be seen as offensive with emphasizing Pearl’s racial identity and asking her paternity, but mostly it’s about race and what society calls beauty. Lexie purports herself as an expert in race with having a black boyfriend, Brian, played by Stevonte Hart. How black her boyfriend is already came up in the first episode.

The biggest distraction of all: Lexie buys Pearl her homecoming dress.

“You’re letting some rich spoiled white girl turn you into her dress-up doll!” Mia screams at Pearl after discovering the new dress. “She doesn’t own you. You don’t belong to Lexie Richardson.”

Pearl then verbally hits her mother back by asking about her father and his whereabouts. Mia can’t give a clear answer. Again, Pearl is frustrated by her vagabond life, now realizing other kids didn’t live like her.

In the book, Lexie is talking to her best friend Serena Wong, who hasn’t been introduced formally on the show yet, and calling the new friend of her brother Moody, played by Gavin Lewis, “Little Orphan Pearl.”

You’re letting some rich spoiled white girl turn you into her dress-up doll! She doesn’t own you. You don’t belong to Lexie Richardson.

“She’s so quiet,” Lexie tells Serena at the top of chapter five. “Like she’s afraid to speak. And when you look at her, she turns bright red—red-red, like a tomato. A literal tomato.”

The book goes on about Lexie’s new fascination on Pearl, who is showing her desire to hang out with the older Richardson siblings, Lexie and Tripp, played by Jordan Elsass, who have ascended into high school popularity. The quote also emphasizes how Mia and Pearl are not black in the book with Lexie’s reddening description of Pearl.

The Black Boyfriend

Brian, Lexie’s boyfriend, comes to dinner at the Richardson house where he’s pushed to meet Pearl. Elena bluntly talks about what Pearl and Brian have in common, which is code for both being black. Pearl doesn’t seem interested in getting to know Brian due to that remark, but Brian tries to be friendly.

When Brian discovers Lexie adapted most of Pearl’s essay to her own for college, he doesn’t know how to feel about his longtime girlfriend even when they’re crowned homecoming king and queen. Brian dislikes how Lexie took a story from a black girl’s perspective and badly adapted it to her own perspective, which raises ethical questions for him.

At the dance, Brian tells Pearl about the essay. In the distance, Lexie knows they’re talking about her.

COMMON GROUND

After much despise that Izzy, played by Megan Stott, is not her clone, Elena softens in episode two. The turning point is finding out from Tripp that kids at school have been calling Izzy “Ellen” as in Ellen DeGeneres assuming she’s gay.

The next morning Elena tells Izzy of an embarrassing high school moment. This inspires Izzy to ask her siblings and friends to go to homecoming. Scenes later, while modeling in her emerald dress in the driveway, Mia exclaims that Izzy’s leg is bleeding. A shaving mishap. Elena takes Izzy and shaves Izzy’s legs with care over the bathtub.

The pendulum swings back to normal when Elena discovers from the mother of Izzy’s ex-friend that Izzy allegedly violated the friend. Though Elena runs to her husband Bill, played by Joshua Jackson, the truth will come out in the next episode as the party rapidly goes downward.

whose baby is it?

The episode opens with Bebe months before when she had a hard time taking care of her newborn, May Ling. With the hardship of no power in her bare-bones apartment, Bebe tries to buy formula for May Ling, but she’s seventy cents short, hence the episode’s title. The cashier screams at her to get out of the store. It’s the last straw as Bebe soon leaves May Ling outside a fire station for a safe surrender.

The story obviously touches Mia. With Bebe broken over the baby and also unable to speak fluent English, Mia vows to find out what happened to May Ling.

Elena’s friend, Linda McCullough played by Rosemarie DeWitt, has been introduced in the previous two episodes for a short period of time. It turns out Linda adopted a baby, Mirabelle, and Elena is throwing a birthday party for the one-year-old.

Earlier, Elena tells Mia, the home manager, about the baby shower and Linda’s adoption journey—how Linda and her husband adopted Mirabelle, who is Chinese, after she was abandoned at a fire station.

With this new information, Mia tells Bebe she may have found May Ling,  newly named Mirabelle McCullough. Bebe wants to go to the McCullough house immediately, but Mia calms her and says it’s easier if she goes to see if it’s May Ling first. The identifying factor: a red spot on May Ling’s scalp.

Strapped with more information, Mia offers her photography services for the birthday party at the Richardson home. At the party, Mia is choosy about taking photos until she sneaks upstairs to the sleeping baby. She wakes up Mirabelle and tries to find the red spot. She finds it, but Elena comes in. The baby is handed over as Mia slips away.

The episode, and the party, ends with the earsplitting scream of Bebe, who appears at the party and sees her daughter cradled in the arms of a white family.

Bebe’s baby, May Ling by her supporters and Mirabelle by the McCullough supporters, will be a central point in the story, dividing not only the Richardsons and Warrens in the process but the idyllic community of Shaker Heights.

The first three episodes of Little Fires Everywhere is streaming now on Hulu. New episodes will arrive on Wednesdays.

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