What’s strange about Little Fires Everywhere is that when it gets into a bigger narrative (rather than a pretty interesting character study of Mia and Elena), it somehow feels more muted, less important," says Pilot Viruet of the Hulu limited series starring Witherspoon and Washington, based on Celeste Ng's 2017 novel. "Even when Little Fires isn’t at its best, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from its leads," adds Viruet. "Witherspoon and Washington, as we’ve come to expect, are fantastic and fiery. Witherspoon manages to make Elena feel much deeper than a clone of her similar past roles while Washington’s ability to convey quick shock and distress before steeling herself is a masterclass in acting. Little Fires Everywhere has many, many bright spots throughout the first seven episodes sent out to critics but it’s hard to get past how on-the-nose and unsubtle the series can be. It repeats the same arguments, rehashes the same conflicts, and emphasizes an obvious theme with bold and italics, smothering the nuance along the way. The end result is a perfectly fine and watchable series—but one that doesn’t soar as high as you’d hope."
Little Fires Everywhere takes its time before making great use of Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington: "Once Little Fires kicks into gear after the first few episodes, it’s a joy to see these two fiercely talented actors face off, as the mothers’ conflict unfurls a variety of ideas about what it means to raise children," says Gwen Ihnat, adding: "Little Fires Everywhere offers an at-times fascinating exploration of parenting, privilege, motherhood, even womanhood, but its overall message is clear: Eventually, parents just have to let go."
Little Fires Everywhere waters down Celeste Ng's novel: "The dynamic between Elena and Mia shifts from the outset; instead of two women with every appearance of being cordial, they have obvious preconceived notions of each other — and a keen awareness for what the other must be expecting as well," says Proma Khosla. "Unfortunately, this is the beginning of the show's pervasive dilution of subtlety on all counts. A novel has the benefit of omniscient viewpoints and backstory that leave no character’s — no woman’s — complexity unplumbed. There you get a clear picture of why Elena, Mia, their friends, and their children behave the way they do, of the feelings and ambitions underlying it all. In television, as in life, we have to chip away at seemingly concrete exteriors to earn all that information. But it's not impossible; flashbacks and spotlight episodes should serve this exact function with the proper execution, but Little Fires strips the tension from its character interactions by leaving it floating on the surface, staring us in the face."
Little Fires Everywhere is hampered by its 1990s setting: "Not helping things is the period setting," says Ben Travers. "Little Fires mainly takes place during 1997, and in case you don’t read the consistent onscreen captions informing you of such, the series won’t go more than five lines without including a ’90s cultural touchstone. At one point, the oldest Richardson daughter, Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn), starts a scene by talking on a portable landline phone about last night’s premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that she forgot to record on her VCR while looking for a SlimFast in the refrigerator — the soundtrack, the fashion choices, and every bit of mise en scène you can imagine are equally packed with period-appropriate references, and while the dedication to details can be impressive (there’s a movie poster for the 1997 action-thriller The Jackal on a bus stop that only appears in the blurry background of one shot), it can also feel like forced nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake; as if the creators knew a million articles would be written about 'All the ’90s References in This Week’s Episode' and awards panels would be filled discussing how they found that specific bottle of Diet Snapple or who recorded that moody cover of Marcy Playground’s 'Sex and Candy.'"
Rather than Big Little Lies, a better comparison for Little Fires Everywhere is Get Out: "Where (Jordan) Peele's (movie) disguised his social and racial commentary consciousness in a horror costume, Little Fires Everywhere veils its provocations in the sort of broad, WASP-y fantasy people so fondly devour," says Melanie McFarland, adding: "Through their stories, the series deftly engages the viewer with thorny, unpleasant social concerns, inviting us to comfortably in zones of discomfort for hours at time. Funny that in this new era of social distancing, Little Fires Everywhere has found a way to potentially bring people together in conversation about the chronic disease Americans consciously avoided talking about for decades upon decades. Oh, it won't cure anything. Please. But in this sudden onset of fear about an ailment that stands a chance of killing a lot of us very quickly, it's fascinating to contemplate the relative entertainment value in devouring a new spin on a story that is uncanny, familiar and highly relatable."
Little Fires Everywhere's storytelling feels stuck in the 1990s: "In many ways, Little Fires Everywhere is evocative of another juicy Reese Witherspoon drama based on a best-selling novel, Big Little Lies," says Meghan O'Keefe. "But where the HBO hit anchored the neuroses of its maternal characters in the sumptuously gilded world of Monterey, California (complete with a sumptuous cinematographic style designed by original director Jean-Marc Vallée), Little Fires Everywhere struggles to overcome its everyday suburban vibe. Even with a director as talented as Lynn Shelton behind the lens, the look of Little Fires Everywhere feels terribly mundane. Same goes with the pacing, the set design, even the almost vintage way in which its plotted. Little Fires Everywhere isn’t just set in the late ’90s; it looks like it was made then."
Little Fires sounds better on paper than it is in execution: "The debates that are set up, particularly around race and class, wind up in a place of drab inevitability, with Elena — too wicked to be taken seriously, but not on a show willing to commit to anything as juicy as making her the villain — saying something obviously, stupidly racist or horrible," says Daniel D'Addario. "It’s not that racist, horrible people don’t exist today, or didn’t in the mid-1990s. But vacuuming the humanity out of one of the two leads (even while insisting in flashbacks that she got where she is for semi-valid reasons) empties out the stakes too. We’re watching, at some length, a person who is wrong get her slow-motion comeuppance from a person who is right."
Celeste Ng on her Little Fires Everywhere cameo: “I’m curious who will spot me,” she says. “I just love that they asked me to do it, because I had this hard sell about why I wanted to, and that I was happy to just be a waitress in the background, and I could definitely do it, definitely pretend. But before I even asked, they offered. And so, before I got on set, I got a book called Setlife, by this person who worked his way up to be the first assistant director on a set. I wanted to know what was going on; I’m just generally interested in how people do their jobs. But when I was in LA to go on set, my husband and son were with me, and we were by the pool at the hotel — they were splashing around, while I was there rereading the book, checking the difference between the first and second director.”
Liz Tigelaar had A Beautiful Mind in mind when making Little Fires Everywhere: "I love adapting a world that I never would have thought in my own mind to create,” says Tigelaar. “And I just love having these puzzle pieces — whether they’re true life facts or they’re facts laid out by the author in a work of fiction. It’s like the Beautiful Mind aspect of putting things up and moving them around and making them flow.”
Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington discuss promoting their show amid a pandemic: "It feels a little odd to be here talking about a television show," Witherspoon said last Thursday. "If we have an opportunity to distract or entertain, I feel very lucky to be part of a community that's helping (do that)." Washington added: "Figuring out how to have moments of respite and calm and joy even in these times is really important because our stress level impacts our immunity. If we're doing everything we can to stay well, then we have to get all the facts we need to get in order to make smart decisions about taking care of ourselves and our families. But we also need to figure out how to cultivate some calm."