Hulu’s Midwestern eight-episode limited series that primarily unfolds in the ’90s, “Little Fires Everywhere,” centers on the mother of all battles. Who is the best mother? Is it Kerry Washington‘s cool artist Mia Warren or Reese Witherspoon’s alpha journalist Elena Richardson? Or does neither meet matriarchal standards?
At the Emmys, both stars compete for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries. Witherspoon is currently ranked fifth and Washington sixth in Gold Derby’s odds that are based upon the combination of latest predictions by our Experts, Editors and Users. Let’s leave it to Emmy voters to decide that contest, while we ask you to determine the major mom face-off in our poll below.
“Little Fires Everywhere” is a top contender for Best Limited Series (10/1 odds), competing against frontrunners “Watchmen” and “Unbelievable.” Adapted from Celeste Ng’s 2017 Reese’s Book Club pick, the show takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It opens when Washington’s mysterious Mia drives into that affluent suburb of Cleveland with her teen daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood). The single mom rents an apartment from nosy mother-of-four Elena. The tension between the two opposing moms –black and white, poor and rich, creative and frustrated – powers the drama.
When episode 6, “The Uncanny,” drops on April 8, it adds layers to the motherhood saga. Flashbacks contrast both women coping with pregnancy — Mia with Pearl, Elena with Izzy (Megan Stott). It also exposes scarring exchanges with the grandmothers. Mia’s strict Pennsylvania church lady believes her daughter’s move to a New York art school will end in havoc. Elena’s alcoholic social X-ray smothers her daughter’s journalism ambitions.
While this episode addresses the women’s approach to motherhood, it doesn’t settle the question that riles “Little Fires Everywhere” fans: Who’s the better mother?
Team Mia extols their heroine as hip and nurturing. With Pearl and also with Elena’s black sheep adolescent daughter Izzy, she’s empathetic and affectionate. Mia supports Pearl in her creative and academic choices. As a committed visual artist, she serves as a role model.
On the down side, Mia smokes pot and leaves the pipe out where her daughter has access to illegal substances. She’s both best friend and only parent to Pearl, which leads to disciplinary confusion. And the dishonesty surrounding Mia’s secret past creates an unstable environment for Pearl.
Team Elena praises Reese’s character for following the rules. Her involved stay-at-home mom is dependable, punctual, and organized. She even color codes her children’s sack lunches! Her kids are her world – and her caring is evident in many scenes, including her bedtime chats with her eldest Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn).
But, Elena doesn’t love her children equally, favoring Lexie over Izzy. She expresses her unprocessed anger by blaming her kids for her unhappiness. Meanwhile, her perfectionism has her children terrified they’ll disappoint her. And when Elena needs an ego boost, she sneaks off to her college ex-boyfriend — who calls out her fatal flaw: narcissism.
In episode 6, Meredith Brooks’ 1997 hit song “Bitch (Nothing in Between)” underlines the tension. Note these telling lyrics: “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover; I’m a child, I’m a mother; I’m a sinner, I’m a saint…” As the song suggests, it’s complicated being a mother, a theme of Ng’s novel.
Produced by Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, and following her 2017 Limited Series Emmy winner “Big Little Lies,” the show also pits Witherspoon against Washington as they both fall into the category of TV Movie/Limited lead actress. Reese is currently poised in fifth place with 19/2 odds, while co-star Washington comes in at sixth at 12/1. The competition is fierce, however, with frontrunner Regina King (“Watchmen”) followed by Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America), Merritt Wever (“Unbelievable”) and Kaitlyn Dever (“Unbelievable”).
Witherspoon earned an Emmy for being the executive producer of HBO’s Limited Series “Big Little Lies” while Washington has been nominated three times for her acting, twice for her role as Olivia Pope on the ABC series “Scandal” as well as for HBO’s film “Confirmation” for her portrait of Anita Hill. She was also up for an Emmy for being the executive producer on the movie. Neither she nor Witherspoon have ever won an Emmy in this category. In fact, neither have won an Emmy for acting, period. Both are overdue. Let the best mother win.
Take the poll below and tell us who you think qualifies as the best mother on “Little Fires Everywhere.” And leave any other thoughts about the series in the comments below.