On the surface, HBO’s new limited series Sharp Objects has all of the trappings of last summer’s massive hit Big Little Lies. Like BLL, Sharp Objects is an adaptation of a blockbuster novel (this time by Gone Girl‘s Gillian Flynn). It also brings a buzzy A-list actress, Amy Adams, to television after a string of Oscar-nominated film performances. To top it off, the two shows even share the same director: the famed Jean-Marc Vallée. Naturally, the Internet is here for this comparison.
One Vanity Fair headline wrote, “Sharp Objects Teaser: Meet Your Next Big Little Lies–Esque Obsession.” Sydney Sweeney, who plays a young, troubled girl from Preaker’s past, told Harper’s Bazaar, “Sharp Objects has that Big Little Lies feeling.” Comedy writer Brian Stack also joked about the similarities between the two shows on Twitter, writing, “After an HBO promo we just watched, my wife accidentally blended Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects into “Sharp Little Objects.” And I think it sounds like a damn good show.” Here at Glamour, we made a similar assertion.
But after watching the premiere I don’t see any trace of Big Little Lies. It actually reminded me of an older prestige HBO show that once had similar buzz: True Detective.
While BLL focuses on the pain women face at the hands of men, in Sharp Objects and True Detective, darkness and evil lingers everywhere. And for the show’s two main characters—Amy Adams’ Camille Preaker and Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, respectively—their darkness defines them.
Preaker is a motel bathtub-dwelling, vodka-swigging cutter. She’s a third-rate reporter for a Chicago newspaper so haunted by the death of her sister—which comes back to her in fast and overpowering flashes—that she’s only one foot in the present, the other in the past. McConaughey’s Cohle is similarly troubled. A down-and-out cop whose daughter died young in a car accident, he drinks to numb the memory—blocking off full days on his schedule to lock himself in his apartment and nurse a bottle of booze. He’s also a recovering drug addict prone to hallucinations.
And both find themselves at the center of murder cases: Sharp Objects traces Preaker’s return home to the tiny town of Wind Gap, Missouri to report on the death of two young girls, while the first season of True Detective follows the years Cohle spends trying to solve a serial murder case of women in New Orleans. Preaker and Cohle are loaners who pour their lives into these cases. They’ve never moved on from their past trauma, so they look to solve these cases as a form of absolution.
Much like how McConaughey was an unexpected choice for such a serious role (remember how it spurred the McConaissance?!), at first, Sharp Objects executive producer and writer Marti Noxon wasn’t sure Adams had what it’d take to play Preaker. “When I talked to her about her interest I was like, ‘Camille isn’t sunny,’” she says. “Amy is just so sunny and has such sparkle. But then I was like, ‘Wait, that is Camille. That’s all of us who just hide it, who have these great coping mechanisms.”
Noxon, who’s known for depicting thorny, complicated women on her shows Dietland, UnREAL, and Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, set to work in the writer’s room alongside the novel’s author, Flynn, to perfect the on-screen version of Preaker. “Gillian’s one of the darkest, funniest, people I know. We met each other and were like, oh, we’re sisters from another mother, for sure,” Noxon explains. “We both deal with our demons in the same way, which is like you throw some humor in front of that. You deflect, you deflect, you deflect.”
This deflection came to inform Preaker’s character, who uses a lethal combination of flirtation and sarcasm—and long sleeve clothing—to hide her pain. “I’ve had to cope with mental health issues and addiction issues my whole life, and I just so related to this woman who was functional, yet hides all this hurt literally under her skin. The writing just came out like butter,” Noxon says.
Throughout the series Preaker uses all of her charms—and then some—to hide from her pain—but once she’s back in Wind Gap, and faced with the murder of two girls around the same age as her deceased sister, her tricks start to evade her. Without offering any spoilers, it doesn’t take long for people to catch on to her struggles, or for Preaker to succumb to her demons. Much like Cohle, the further she gets into the case, the harder it is to pull out of it.
This all isn’t to say that the women of Big Little Lies don’t have as much trauma as Preaker or Cohle—they certainly do. The show’s women have dealt with abuse, disappointments, assault. But they’re able to employ different coping mechanisms, like red wine, running, or throwing themselves into projects and more to deal with their pain, because they’re also mothers, wives, and functioning members of society. Their hurt is just as real, but their lives are much richer than that of Preaker or Cohle, who only have their past and the pursuit of justice.
That’s why this series is less a holdover until Big Little Lies comes back later this year—and much more the True Detective season two we were promised with Rachel McAdams, but the show failed to deliver. With Sharp Objects, finally, we have a truly feminist take on True Detective.
Sharp Objects premieres on Sunday, July 8 on HBO