‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ series review: A magnificent Kathryn Hahn anchors this emotional and engaging show

Turning a series of essays — which was in equal part a memoir and an advice column — into an engaging show, is a laudable feat

Updated - April 18, 2023 05:52 pm IST

Published - April 16, 2023 01:04 pm IST

Kathryn Hahn in a still from ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’

Kathryn Hahn in a still from ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ | Photo Credit: Disney+ Hotstar

This was a difficult and triggering watch — especially that cannula in the end. Life has a way of being beautiful and broken and that is why fantasy has so many takers. It sure is easier to deal with shuffling hoards of ravenous zombies or fire-breathing CGI dragons, than the fact that the last words spoken to a loved one were spiteful and angry.

Clare Pierce’s (Kathryn Hahn) life is falling apart. A promising writer, Clare got an advance many moons ago to write the great American novel that she is yet to create. Her marriage to musician Danny (Quentin Plair) is on its last legs and they are seeing a smug therapist named Mel (Tijuana Ricks). Clare feels her teenage daughter, Rae (Tanzyn Crawford), hates her.

There is also Clare’s baggage from her troubled past. She loved her mother, Frankie (Merritt Wever), with a fierce passion and is yet to come to terms with her sudden death at 45 of cancer. Her brother, Lucas (Owen Painter), chooses the drug route to dull the pain of loss. Her father was an abusive alcoholic who either abandoned his family or Frankie ran away from him.

When Clare’s friend asks her to help him answer letters for the online advice column, Dear Sugar, she feels she is hardly the right person to give advice, considering how far down the toilet her own life is. She, however, gives it a shot and through the questions asked of her, she looks at her life and answers as honestly as she can.

Tiny Beautiful Things (English)
Season: 1 
Episodes: 8
Runtime: 26–32 minutes
Creator: Liz Tigelaar
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Sarah Pidgeon, Quentin Plair, Tanzyn Crawford
Storyline: A woman faces her personal and professional crises through her writing of an anonymous advice column

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, a compilation of her essays from the column, the show goes back and forth in time showing the young Clare’s (Sarah Pidgeon) too-early marriage to Jess (Johnny Berchtold), her going to college, her angry choices, including awful sex at the funeral parlour, her battles with heroin, her meeting with Danny, and the birth of Rae.

In the present day, Clare has to deal with pointless colleagues (Elizabeth Hinkler) at her day job in a nursing home and trysts with Uber drivers (Julien Marlon Samani) she would rather forget. Giving away Rae’s college fund to Lucas without consulting Danny puts further strain on her marriage. Rae is facing her own challenges as her best friend, the beautiful and entitled Montana (Aneasa Yacoub), yanks her chain for her amusement.

Clare’s friend and fellow writer Amy (Michaela Watkins) signs them in for a writer’s retreat run by renowned author, Hayes MacKeown (Tim Roth), as a 50th birthday present. Clare hopes to meet the writer who wrote her an encouraging letter when she was starting out.

Reese Witherspoon, who serves as executive producer, with a bunch of others including Laura Dern, Strayed and Hahn, is quite the production powerhouse being the name behind some brilliant television (Big Little Lies) and films (Gone Girl). The idea of developing Tiny Beautiful Things came about during the production of 2014’s Wild, based on Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, for which both Witherspoon and Dern received Academy Award nominations.

Turning a series of essays, which was in equal part a memoir and an advice column, into an engaging show is a laudable feat. According to creator Liz Tigelaar, Tiny Beautiful Things is supposed to be an alternate version of Strayed’s life if she had not gone on the hike detailed in Wild. It gives added weight to ‘The Ghost Ship’ episode where, while replying to a man who asks Sugar when is the right time to have children, Clare talks of a sister ship of the choices we did not make that travels with us.

Her closing argument for our choices, no matter what they are, “There is nothing to do but salute her (the sister ship) from the shore,” offers a degree of comfort to the many “coulda woulda shoulda” in our lives. And yes, Hahn is magnificent and anchors the messy story.

Tiny Beautiful Things currently streams on Disney+ Hotstar

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