Political differences may be tearing the country apart but nothing brings Americans together like getting a hate bag on for the white privilege of the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
In the vein of “Gossip Girl” and “The Nanny Diaries,” HBO’s new limited series “The Undoing” is a walk down pre-pandemic NYC memory lane when storefronts were not boarded up, dining in parking spaces was not de rigueur, and kids actually went to non-Zoom school. That alone sucked me in big time.
Five minutes in though, all the tropes that make people shake their heads and say, “Those rich New York people are just awful, aren’t they?” were out in full force.
Nicole Kidman and her renaissance-fair hair from “Days of Thunder” is Grace Fraser, a gifted therapist capable of getting to the gooey center of other people’s problems who is married to respected pediatric oncologist Jonathan (Hugh Grant). The power couple shares a grammar school-aged son Henry (Noah Jupe) who attends the prestigious (and fictitious) private institution, Reardon. Grace’s BFF Sylvia (Lily Rabe) is a walking, talking Ralph Lauren ad and helicopter parent who yells directions from the wings of her daughter’s ballet class so the girl will have a better shot at getting picked for a lead role in the dance recital.
Although all the white parents get dressed to the nines to attend galas supporting diversity, they condescend to and ostracize the POC mom of a scholarship student, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis). It does not help that the East Harlem mother is also younger, sexier, and more exotic looking than the rest of female parent body. Oh yes, Elena is also odd.
By episode two of six, we discover that she had an affair with Jonathan and blackmailed him into getting her kid into Reardon, where she than began to encroach upon their lives, glomming onto Grace in ways so uncomfortable I might have considered changing schools before ever stuffing a gift bag next to this woman.
Then, Elena is murdered.
The go-to suspect is the brooding yet handsome husband Fernando Alves (Ismael Cruz Córdova), because as we’ve learned over the decades from “Law & Order,” the husband always did it. But not this time. He has an alibi. Enter Detective Joe Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) the 2020 version of Lenny Briscoe (RIP Jerry Orbach) who gives Grace the head’s up that Jonathan is not the charming Brit savior of children with cancer she thought he was and that he’s the new prime suspect.
Exhausted yet? I’m not making excuses for my city. I’ve lived in NYC all my life. I’m fully aware that $#&! goes down. But killer caregivers, mommy wars and billionaire divorces that play out from here to the Hamptons do not do us the injustice that these works of fiction do.
Nicole’s character is supposed to be a working, albeit affluent, New York mom, who volunteers at her child’s school and runs her household from a rather large townhouse. After her son makes his own breakfast, she balks at having to clean up the kitchen. This entails taking the knife out of the peanut butter jar and placing it in the sink, then capping the jar and putting it in the cupboard. I was shocked she didn’t wipe her brow from the fatigue. Does anyone actually know a Manhattan mom of any economic stripe who is not always running from paid to pro bono job, with a stop or two (or five) to cross off the to-do list some house chore?
I’ve also been on many an event planning committees and although I’ve met my share of “Have I mentioned how many connections I have?” mothers, none were ever quite as hateful and outwardly disdainful of others as Grace’s cohorts.
The show, which airs on Sundays at 9 p.m., is by the creators of “Big Little Lies,” so the story, script and acting is all top drawer and our city is shown in its usual glory. Even though its denizens are portrayed in a less than flattering way, I’d still rather be on the inside and the subject of ridicule than on the outside doing the ridiculing and secretly wishing to be part of it all.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of two novels and the upcoming “The Last Single Woman In New York City.”