As Masha's plan unfolds, the limited series remains a fun trip but the mix of genres makes it uneven.
- 🌼Nicole Kidman is maybe serving high camp in this performance with some hilarious line readings.
- 🌼This is an ideal end-of-summer intrigue with a cast doing the most.
- 🌼A tight 42-minute long episode that doesn't overstay its welcome.
- 🌼Smaller emotional moments are effective.
- 🌼Nicole Kidman might not intend for those line readings to be hilarious.
- 🌼Arriving so soon after 'The White Lotus' means comparisons will be made and this does not serve 'Nine Perfect Strangers' well.
- 🌼Some of the thriller elements seem unnecessary.
This post contains spoilers for Nine Perfect Strangers "Brave New World.”
Read our latest review here.
The performance that made audiences sit up and take notice of Nicole Kidman beyond her striking looks was in Gus Van Sant’s deliciously dark 1995 tragic-comedy To Die For. While Nine Perfect Strangers is definitely not on this level, there are flashes of the hilarious line deliveries in Kidman’s turn as Russian wellness guru Masha. We join the previously unsuspecting Tranquillum House guest where we left them with Heather (Asher Keddie) asking their host whether she has been drugging them, and she is quick to confirm those suspicions — barely batting an eyelid when she notes part of their treatment is microdosing with psilocybin aka magic mushrooms. There is off-kilter energy to Masha and it isn’t just the wig and accent that add to the inherent weirdness of this character. She flits in and out of the scenes, and during this dinner conversation, the absurdity levels are heightened.
Despite the (extremely valid) objections from everyone seated at the dinner table about the lack of consent, there is a distinct lack of people asking for their money back. Frances (Melissa McCarthy) is the only person who departs the dinner party scene, but this one woman stand is so she can retrieve the contraband booze she left in her car as an emergency. Before she leaves, she joins the outcry that past drug use doesn’t give Masha the right to infuse custom-made smoothies with a psychedelic substance, no matter how effective it might be at treating depression and PTSD. This follows on from the back and forth between Tony (Bobby Cannavale) and Masha about his oxy addiction. The only people not being dosed at the moment are soon-to-be 21-year-old Zoe (Grace Van Patten), and married couple Jess (Samara Weaving) and Ben (Melvin Gregg), and Jess has major FOMO about her sober state. Masha knows she could go to jail for this, and yet she is confident that they won’t sell her out.
“This is a load off,” Masha says when no one says yes to her question about whether anyone is a killer, and this line reading is particularly funny. She knows their medical histories, blood work, and some secrets have already been spilled but she didn’t have an answer to the murder question. Whether it is an intentional comedic moment is hard to tell and one of the major issues with the limited series so far is the lack of clarity in genre. Masha is a purposefully enigmatic figure, but it is unclear whether Kidman is purposefully leaning into the farce of these exchanges. The tone is all over the place in Nine Perfect Strangers and it doesn’t help that Masha feels like she is on a different show, but there is something mesmerizing about Kidman in this role — again, the wig and accent can’t take all the credit. She wafts in and out of scenes sprinkling her philosophy and stirring up buried feelings. This episode also reminds us (via Lars) that Masha selected them all personally, and it does feel like she is playing God with her chosen subjects.
Running at a tight 42-minutes “Brave New World” partially pulls back the curtain as the nine guests have been given full transparency regarding their treatment. Well, full transparency for level one, and Masha is about to unleash the next stage on them. More drugs are on the menu and both Yao (Manny Jacinto) and Delilah (Tiffany Boone) voice their concerns, but there is no placating Masha. All is not well in the employer and employee dynamic and this is further exasperated because Masha is sleeping with Yao. She sees this as not a big deal when she senses Delilah’s jealousy but the power imbalance makes it troublesome. Yao has also spilled to Masha that his girlfriend isn’t taking her “medicine” and Masha reminds her this is in her job description — not that I can imagine the latter holding up in court. Delilah threatens Masha if she pushes her further and we have already seen the paranoia on display from the Russian. The threats to her life continue and the episode ends with a foreboding warning on a painting in Masha’s office: “IT’S GOOD TO DIE.” The suspect list is long, but part of me wonders if Masha is somehow responsible for these threats. Sure, she was shot by an assailant but couldn’t the same people easily kill her without the theatrics?
This overall mystery is the least interesting part of the series and it is in the quieter moments that Nine Perfect Strangers sings. Napoleon (Michael Shannon) and Heather Marconi are finally talking about the death of their son, and this place has uncorked the emotions they have bottled up for the last three years. Napoleon's no tolerance toward drugs comes from his teacher status, but this environment and the positive effects he is feeling mentally and physically — sex is back on the table — means he is open to this unorthodox method. These scenes dig into the deep well of trauma and how certain therapies might be beneficial but are overshadowed by more outlandish scenarios.
The threat against Masha's life is not in the source material and while I get the urge to keep the audience guessing with a thriller narrative, it is unnecessary to up the stakes in this manner. It also means that some of the characters get short shrift in terms of inner life and screen time. For example, someone like Ben is defined by his lottery win and we now have additional information that his sister is a drug addict. Neither of these things reveals too much beyond surface-level frustrations at being roped into this process. This week, we also find out that Lars (Luke Evans) is an investigative journalist and Masha encourages an exposé. He has another bonding moment with Zoe, in which he tells her it is perfectly normal if she is depressed and that smiling is not a sign that you aren’t suffering. More of these moments would be beneficial rather than wasting time on the stalker plot.
Carmel’s (Regina Hall) one-on-one reveals why she is so fixated on appearance, not only because her husband left her for a younger woman but because of the emotional abuse she suffered when they were together. He picked at every part until she became a shell of her former self and also questioned her mothering skills. She shows Masha a bite scar, which Carmel says is a reminder of the passion they once shared, but it further adds to the portrayal of this toxic relationship. After this conversation, the group is encouraged to take their frustration out on a dummy, which Carmel does with aplomb.
This act sends Tony out of the room, and oxy withdrawal is not the only reason behind his sweaty anxious state. He does have a big secret beyond his shame at the post-NFL life he is living and Frances becomes his confidant — after she spilled her guts last week. A flashback shows an incident at a bar when a drunk patron was bothering him and a fight ensued. The punch Tony landed put this guy in a coma and he died six days later. Why isn’t this bigger news? Tony explains that the initial fight was buried in the news and so was his death. He adds it was pre-social media, but the guilt is infinite. It is another strong scene between McCarthy and Cannavale, which points to the natural chemistry between the pair, and the bond that has formed. “I don’t know why the fuck I’m here,” he exclaims and I want to know how he can afford this place if his career was over so long ago.
McCarthy also gets to wear her pain out loud during the dummy beating session and while she told Tony that maybe the six months of companionship was worth the scam, this is clearly a lie she tells herself. “Fuck you for not loving me,” she says after revealing all the other things he stole from her — the chance to be a mother and her confidence — and there is a lingering shot in which she looks back at Tony. If they have been opening up like this with only a small dose of psychedelic therapy then what is this group going to be like when Masha cranks up the dial? “Exactly how crazy are you?” asks Ben during the dinner revelation. “Just the right amount,” is Masha’s slightly kooky response. At the midway point, Nine Perfect Strangers is proving that this is enough to entertain but needs to do a lot more if enlightenment is forthcoming.
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