After the success of school-gate drama Big Little Lies and Upper East Side whodunnit The Undoing, it was only a matter of time before Nicole Kidman and David E. Kelley joined forces once again for another miniseries – and this time, the prolific duo are taking the wellness industry for a twist-heavy, smoothie-filled ride.
Based on Liane Moriarty’s 2018 novel of the same name, Nine Perfect Strangers follows a group of city dwellers as they arrive at health resort Tranquillum House, a word-of-mouth hotspot where guests are rumoured to “go in looking one way and come out looking another”. Unsurprisingly, these nine strangers – played by the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans, Samara Weaving and Regina Hall – are far from perfect, checking into the 10-day retreat in the hopes of mental and physical transformation at the hands of the resort’s reclusive Russian director Masha (Kidman).
While the resort’s policies of confiscating phones, banning unhealthy foods and frequent one-on-one meetings with the elusive Masha are initially shrugged off as the norm for eccentric retreats of that sort, the mandatory drinking of pre-pared morning smoothies and strangely secretive behaviour of some of the staff begins to raise the guests’ suspicions as to what is really going on at Tranquillum House.
On the face of it, Nine Perfect Strangers ticks off almost everything on the Kelley-Kidman miniseries checklist. Adapted from a popular Liane Moriarty novel? Check. Nicole Kidman stars as a wealthy, glamorous and mysterious leading lady who may or may not possess sinister intentions? Check. Featuring a star-studded cast stuffed with award-winning A-listers, all of whom spend eight episodes swanning around a picturesque setting? Check and check.
However, if you thought Big Little Lies and The Undoing were as shocking as you could get when it comes to the duo’s TV efforts, then you’d be wrong. While this Hulu/Amazon Prime Video drama gets off to a slow start, hindered further by the clunky expository dialogue you’ll find it episode one – (there’s an awkward scene where Melissa McCarthy talks aloud to herself in her car for a minute or so) – carry on with the series and you’ll soon be sucked in by the guests’ troubled backstories and the cult leader-esque Masha’s relationships with her loyal staff Yao (Manny Jacinto) and Delilah (Tiffany Boone).
The ensemble cast’s chemistry shines throughout this eight-parter, with Michael Shannon in particular delivering a stunning, award-worthy performance as Napoleon Marconi, a constantly upbeat teacher who’s visiting the resort with his withdrawn wife Heather (Asher Keddie) and teenage daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten) to distract from the anniversary of a heart-breaking family tragedy. Similarly Melissa McCarthy shows off both her comedic and dramatic chops as the initially unlikeable Frances Welty, a washed-up romance novelist recovering from a humiliating cat-fishing ordeal whilst dealing with a publisher who won’t sell her new book. The Emmy-winning actor expertly juggles hilarious moments with jarring and upsetting scenes which seem to arrive when you’re least expecting it.
Read more: Where is Tranquillum House?
Frances’ fun love-hate relationship with Bobby Cannavale’s Tony, a cantankerous former athlete struggling with a painkiller addiction and past trauma, which develops over the course of the series is an additional highlight, with the actors’ back-and-forth repartee injecting Nine Perfect Strangers with an element of romcom energy. In fact, it’s a joy to watch the dynamics between the guests evolve as they progress further into the retreat, with the cynical, barbed Lars (Luke Evans) forming an unlikely friendship with misunderstood teen Zoe, and Regina Hall’s Carmel, a single-mother dealing with divorce-related resentment, eventually overcoming her dislike of appearance-obsessed Instagram influencer Jessica (Samara Weaving), who’s dragged her apathetic boyfriend Ben (Melvin Gregg) to Tranquillum House as a final attempt at couples therapy.
As for Nicole Kidman, while her dubious Russian accent is bound to raise a few eyebrows, she perfectly embodies the ultimate wellness guru, channelling Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow with her long blonde hair and self-satisfied smile. A former work-hard-play-hard business woman, Masha reveals that she decided to lead a healthier, more spiritual existence after being shot by an unknown assailant – who continues to send her threatening text messages. While the storyline seems a bit soapy (in Moriarty’s book, Masha sets up Tranquillum House after suffering a heart attack, not a gun shot wound), the mystery surrounding her shooter and their motivation behind wanting to harm Masha works as an intriguing subplot which runs throughout the drama’s eight episodes.
Set to a magnificent soundtrack combining classical tracks with the likes of Bon Iver, Nine Perfect Strangers is a trip like no other with its intoxicating cinematography, steady flow of shocking revelations and a constantly changing tone that’ll have you laughing, crying, confused and horrified all within the space of one episode. A cocktail of emotions which shows off its supremely talented cast, the Hulu series successfully steps out of the shadows of Big Little Lies and The Undoing and continually hits you with its increasingly chaotic and claustrophobic storylines.
Nine Perfect Strangers premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 20th August. You can sign up to Amazon Prime Video for £7.99 with a 30-day free trial. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.