Not My Husband (Series Review: “The Undoing”)

A twisted family thriller starring Nicole Kidman & Hugh Grant that begs the proverbial question: How well do you know your partner, really?

SnapShot Plot

In the engrossing HBO miniseries, The Undoing, Nicole Kidman is front and center as Grace Fraser, the (mostly) happily married clinical psychologist whose cushy private practice revolves around treating ‘garden variety’ neurotics and cheating partners with a truth-telling, tough-love approach to therapy. Grace leads an idyllic, uptown New Yorker lifestyle in an enviable townhome she shares with her witty and hunky British husband, Jonathan (Hugh Grant) and their winsome pre-teen son, Henry (Noah Jupe). The Frasers are very much the urban aspirational family: Henry attends the posh Reardon School (among whose benefactors is Grace’s wealthy father, played by Donald Sutherland); Grace herself volunteers on all the right committees, especially pertaining to her son’s school; she has a small but loyal circle of equally well-heeled girlfriends; and Jonathan is a respected and adored pediatric oncologist at a leading NYC hospital. The man cures kids with cancer, for God’s sake.

When newcomer Elena Alves joins the Auction Committee of Reardon, the women take notice and in particular, Elena takes notice of Grace. Elena is not ‘one of them’; her son Miguel is enrolled at Reardon through a charitable scholarship program. The Alves family – if not for the ‘progressive social programs’ the school promotes – would never find themselves mixing with the generous-minded yet entitled Reardon community. Still, there’s something quite unnerving about Elena and the way she seems laser-focused on Grace, in an inappropriately intimate and even sexual way. Yet they’ve never met before, nor have their worlds ever touched. At least not that Grace is aware of, until an unspeakably horrible incident binds the two together in a sinister collision of deceit and depravity that will have you guessing to the very end of this fine, 6-part series, what the heck really happened?

Parting Shot

The Undoing was helmed entirely by Danish director Susanne Bier, who here brings her trademark ability to uncover the firestorms of emotion and tensions underneath seemingly perfect families (After the Wedding; Things We Lost in the Fire; Bird Box). The series was created by the legendary David. E. Kelley ( Big Little Lies; Ally McBeal; The Practice; L.A. Law; Picket Fences; Big Sky; et al) who co-wrote all 6 scripts with Jean Hanff Korelitz (based on his book, “You Should Have Known”).

This is the kind of show that people love to talk about, perhaps especially in the kind of zeitgeist in which we’re living right now, when so many feel so disenfranchised and manipulated. In human terms, sometimes we enjoy having at least the imaginary/literary right to hate those who seem to have more than they know what to do with. Grace and Jonathan seem to have it all, and yet like a house of cards their rarified world comes crashing down when certain ugly truths are revealed. No one is exempt, and everyone is dragged into a maelstrom of public humiliation and gossip, seemingly overnight.

Hugh Grant seems to have spent the first half of his illustrious career playing meek-mouthed, lovely, and sensitive types who win the girl almost by pity. And the second half of that career in a shift (beginning with his wonderfully disdainful character portrayal in About A Boy) away from dutiful to dubious. Here, he’s absolutely riveting and plays Jonathan as so thoroughly ensconced in the external portrayal of his own innocence that he’s at once wondrously charming and terrifying to the core. If he doesn’t receive a slew of accolades for this performance, I may have to initiate my own Stop the Steal campaign on his behalf.

What the show so cleverly maintains is the ever-present doubt that lingers in the foreground of practically every interaction Grace has with her husband, her father, her son, and herself, in fact. Kidman does a fine job of portraying a woman who’s prided herself on her keen clinician’s observational skillset, yet who realizes – quite late in the game – what a poor judge of character she’s been most of her life. This disconnect between what Grace imagines her life to have been and what it indeed is makes her an uncannily provocative and unreliable narrator. And aren’t they the most interesting kind, after all?

The Undoing is presently streaming on HBO.

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YouTube Trailer

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