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Nine Perfect Strangers weaves a tantalizing New Age mystery

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Based on Big Little Lies novelist Liane Moriarty's 2018 novel Nine Perfect Strangers, this new series developed by David E. Kelley and John-Henry Butterworth introduces us to health and wellness guru Masha Dmitrichenko (Nicole Kidman), who runs Tranquillum House, a New Age health and wellness resort that promises healing and transformation after a 10-day stay. However, her nine current stressed-out guests get more than they bargained for as their carefully tailored "health regimens" take on a sinister and perhaps unethical tone. (eight 42- to 55-min. episodes)

Glen As a mystery, this isn't quite as engrossing as Big Little Lies, but it's pretty juicy, and the characters are really interesting and are all hiding secrets. There's struggling novelist Frances Welty (Melissa McCarthy), whose career and personal life are in shambles. The Marconi family—Napoleon (Michael Shannon), his wife, Heather (Asher Keddie), and daughter, Zoe (Grace Van Patten)—are dealing with a family tragedy. Lars Lee (Luke Evans) has some kind of hidden agenda. Vapid social media influencer Jessica Chandler (Samara Weaving) and her ultrarich husband, Ben (Melvin Gregg), are working through relationship troubles. Carmel Schneider (Regina Hall) is angry because her husband cheated on and abandoned her. Former football star Tony Hogburn (Bobby Cannavale) watched his career disappear with an injury and his family disappear because of his drug use. Not only do they have personal problems, they also all don't play well with others, and watching the interaction between them is part of the fun. There's also Yao (Manny Jacinto), Masha's right-hand man; Delilah (Tiffany Boone), another employee who begins to question Masha's methods; and Glory (Zoe Terakes), another Tranquillum House employee. Episode by episode, secrets are revealed, tensions mount, and someone is threatening Masha's life. Who could it be?

Anna The isolation of Tranquillum makes it feel like an island, but instead of the relaxing and reinvigorating experience all of the guests showed up for, they soon feel trapped and begin to question Masha's true intent. Is her unconventional treatment approach sound, or is she playing with fire and putting her guests at risk? We get to know a bit of her backstory and the trauma that caused the scar that runs down the center of her chest. She was shot for reasons unknown, and we also learn that she has had to process the loss of someone near and dear to her as well. Kidman is wonderfully cast as this ethereal being who we soon learn is barely holding all the strings to her peaceful paradise together. The guests soon suspect that Masha may be harboring a secret, and sure enough they are told their morning smoothies aren't just green juice and fruit. In fact, they have all been micro-dosing psilocybin, with the exception of Zoe Marconi, who is underage, as well as Jessica and Ben, who Masha has a different plan for. It's pretty engrossing, and watching these interactions and this A-plus cast needle these characters out is pretty fun. We watched week to week, but now that it is all out, I can see this would be a great binge watch.

Glen The mystery of Masha and her stalker is a bit meandering, and by the time it's finally revealed, I had an "I knew it" moment, so the payoff isn't as big as it could be, but the acting is exceptional, especially Shannon and Cannavale. It's worth watching because the whole cast is committed to portraying these flawed characters, and in the miniseries format, the actors really have the time to fully develop their roles. Obviously, what Masha is doing is shady, and when the guests first find out they're being dosed, they're angry, but the results soon have them rethinking their resistance. The idea of using hallucinogens isn't far-fetched, either. They've been effectively used to treat everything from PTSD to alcoholism. Masha is so sure of her treatment, and she has a Svengali-like presence that can manipulate her guests. It's a pretty engrossing watch but a little bit of a soap opera; however, if you're looking to escape into a story for seven hours, it's worth it.

Anna You're right—both Shannon and Cannavale are wonderful here, as are McCarthy and Keddie. Things heat up in the last few episodes, and Masha pushes her guests to their breaking points. Moriarty writes tales with a twist, and while this isn't as engrossing as the adaptation of her book Big Little Lies, it has its own way of hooking the audience. Carmel is a seemingly sweet and quiet woman, but when Lars sets her off over breakfast, we learn that she really has a ton of hatred and anger sitting just below the surface. McCarthy's Frances is tough on the outside but struggling so much with being catfished by a man she thought she loved and the failure of her latest work. She and Tony get off to a rocky start—he's moody and mean, and so is she, but soon the two realize that they kind of like that about each other. I think that in reality the twists shock the audience less than the filmmakers wanted, but Kelley and Butterworth know what they're doing. They pulled off a pretty engrossing eight-part series. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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