‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ review: too many strangers
Who doesn’t like a smoothie? You put a bunch of fruits in a blender with some ice, press a button, and those lovely fruits turn into a tangy, cold treat that tastes like none of them and all of them at once. If you ate the fruits individually, it would be a very different experience despite your snack being molecularly identical to its potential smoothie form. The blending is the important part there.
Nine Perfect Strangers is a TV show based on a book by Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) where everyone is drinking smoothies literally all of the time, but the show itself feels like less of a smoothie and more of that hypothetical fruit cup. The individual pieces are good, but they aren’t blended together to create something structurally different. In the case of this show, the individually good pieces are some wonderful performances, an interesting premise, and a visually stunning location. Someone just forgot to hit blend.
The individual pieces are good, but they aren’t blended together to create something structurally different.
For example, Tony (Bobby Cannavale) and Francis (Melissa McCarthy) have a funny, rom-com–esque plotline with all the pratfalls and funny insults that genre requires. They’re easy to root for and it’s fun to watch. Except that they’re also inhabiting the same universe where Napoleon (Michael Shannon), Heather (Asher Keddie), and Zoe (Grace Van Patten) are a family unit incapable of functioning in the wake of an unimaginable loss. Meanwhile Ben (Melvin Gregg) and Jessica (Samara Weaving) are starring in a relationship drama about the perils of social media, Lars (Luke Evans) is antagonizing Carmel (Regina Hall) like a high school bully for some reason, and the whole time someone — we don’t know who — is threatening to kill Nicole Kidman in her blondest wig yet.
All of these people, the strangers of Nine Perfect Strangers, are together because they are guests at a transformative health spa called Tranquilium (all of them except for Nicole Kidman, she plays Masha, the ethereal Russian-ish woman who runs Tranquilium). Masha’s methods of helping her customers become their better selves is “interesting” to say the least, but the alleged twists and turns that Tranquilium’s mysterious protocol holds for its guests are kind of obvious. Each of Masha’s little strangers has a secret, but there’s so little impetus behind each reveal that the show feels like watching a bunch of messed up people hang out for six hours and every seventy-four minutes, one of them says something cool.
Without enough tension to keep watchers interested in all nine strangers (as well as Masha and her staff), Nine Perfect Strangers doesn’t cohere into a compelling story. The show’s journey towards discovering the source of its awkward tension is far too slow; the six episodes screened for review out of an eventual eight had plenty of time to get to the point and just didn’t.
There is too much time to fill, too many episodes to stretch a fairly thin plot across, and too many goddamn strangers to stay interested in any one of them. If need be, waiting until all eight episodes are out so the week-to-week slowness can be cut down into a few short marathons of watching, but drawing out the ten-day Tranquilium cleanse longer than that is the opposite of transformational.