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‘The Undoing’ Review: Murder, Actually

David E. Kelley’s mini-series for HBO pairs Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in a Manhattan mystery that critiques the privilege conferred by a certain brand of devilish charm.

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Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman play a couple in crisis in HBO’s “The Undoing,” created by David E. Kelley.

By Mike Hale

“Sometimes I think we should move out of the city.”

Grace Fraser, the extremely put-together Upper East Side therapist at the center of the HBO mini-series “The Undoing” (premiering Sunday), says that to Jonathan, her extremely roguishly charming husband, but she’s not referring to Covid-19. She’s feeling suffocated by her own wealthy white privilege, embodied in the swirling nastiness that comes with being a Manhattan private-school parent. In terms of most-talked-about pathologies of 2020, “The Undoing” bats .500.

Created and written by David E. Kelley and starring Nicole Kidman as Grace , the six-episode series is, like their previous HBO collaboration, “Big Little Lies,” a murder mystery wrapped in a marital melodrama. It was based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel “You Should Have Known,” whose title referred to a self-help book Grace had written and, more obliquely, to her failure to see the truth about that charming husband.

The show’s new, more dire title, with its horror-movie ring, directly reflects the point of the story, as Kelley has shaped it: the undoing of Grace’s comfortable life and seemingly happy marriage amid the unraveling of her illusions about Jonathan, who fairly early on becomes the prime suspect in a sensational murder. Since the demands of the glossy melo-mystery must also be met, the show dangles (through the five episodes available for review) the possibility that Jonathan is innocent — of murder, at least — and that the enraged Grace will find a way to forgive him for his abundant other sins.

This should all be sexily entertaining, and even fun, with Kidman and Hugh Grant playing Grace and Jonathan, and Kelley supplying the banter they exchange around the townhouse kitchen island. And for one episode it is. Grace is on the school auction committee, and Kelley and the director Susanne Bier make that the vehicle for an authentic and discreetly devastating portrait of the systemic smugness of her and her fellow moms.

They also introduce Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), the sloe-eyed, full-figured mother of a scholarship student from Spanish Harlem. She lands on the auction committee like a bombshell, silently nursing her baby amid the discussion of Hockneys and free preschool admissions counseling. She also lands on the story like an archetype out of the slightly distant and distasteful past, a disruptive sexual force from the potent lower classes. But at least she’s employed sparingly, and eerily, as a device to get us into the thriller plot, with her own spooky-funny music cues when she drifts onscreen.

The fun lasts a little way into the second episode, with Jonathan’s whereabouts uncertain, Grace’s nerves fraying and the shape of the mystery still unclear. It dissipates pretty quickly after that, though. The whodunit is slight and dreary, with Edgar Ramirez largely wasted as the lead detective. And the courtroom scenes, formerly a Kelley specialty, are tinny and theatrical. (Noma Dumezweni, as Jonathan’s high-priced lawyer, gives her speeches some gravitas; Sofie Grabol, of the original “The Killing,” is given nothing to do as the prosecutor.) Scene after scene, we’re put through the wringer of watching manifestly intelligent people doing stupid and highly improbable things on the witness stand, on TV or in response to late-night booty calls.

The primary victim of this is Grant, for whom the part of Jonathan clearly was designed, like a pair of bespoke gloves. “How much charm do you think you have?” his lawyer asks him, and the answer is, quite a bit. In the early scenes, as he cocks his head, thickens his voice and asks Grace, in that mock-abashed way, “Would you like to be washed?,” it’s all still there.

But the result of this tailoring of part to actor is that once Jonathan is the murder suspect and his secrets start to come out, the story turns on the question of whether he’s a sociopath or whether he’s, well, Hugh Grant. And that turns out to be an unwinnable proposition for the actor Hugh Grant, who, as the story progresses, resorts to self-parody in Jonathan’s moments of crisis — exaggerating the tics and hesitations we’re so fond of to try to sell the melodramatic claptrap with which he’s been saddled.

Kidman fares much better — she can do tormented golden child in her sleep, and she doesn’t hit any false notes as Grace. Donald Sutherland and Lily Rabe also spruce things up in roles that are right in their wheelhouses, as Grace’s master-of-the-universe father and her high-strung best friend. Douglas Hodge makes an impression in a few completely extraneous scenes as Jonathan’s public defender; the character’s one contribution to the texture of the show is that he holds his meetings in one of New York’s great neighborhood institutions, the Lexington Avenue steakhouse Donohue’s.

It’s possible, if you tune out the more risible aspects of the story, to enjoy (or bemoan) “The Undoing” for its visual evocation of a crowded, vital, pre-pandemic New York City. In that case the most important person in the production is the brilliant cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “T2 Trainspotting”), doing an entire TV series for the first time. He captures New York as both dream and nightmare — in not quite hallucinatory streetscapes, or in the way a walk through the city takes you constantly in and out of sun and shadow. After a while, everything else about the show is just noise.

Mike Hale is a television critic. He also writes about online video, film and media. He came to The Times in 1995 and worked as an editor in Sports, Arts & Leisure and Weekend Arts before becoming a critic in 2009. More about Mike Hale

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the undoing review

HBO’s latest high-profile mini-series consciously echoes recent hits for the beloved pay cable network. It has the pedigree and even some of the personnel from “ Big Little Lies ,” mixed with the NY whodunit aspect of “ The Night Of ,” but it ends up paling in comparison to both. Despite heavy lifting of talents like Nicole Kidman , Hugh Grant , and Donald Sutherland , it simply drifts away from what it should have been, revealing its shallowness more with each passing episode. It’s tempting to say that “The Undoing” would have been stronger as a theatrical thriller because it has closer to 100 minutes of actual plot, but the truth is that it probably would have been just as weak there without the sheen of Prestige TV to attempt to elevate it.

“Big Little Lies” star Nicole Kidman reunites with the writer of that award winner, David E. Kelley , to adapt Jean Hanff Korelitz ’s You Should Have Known , the story of a NY murder that unravels the marriage of a wealthy couple. Kidman plays Grace Fraser, and one look at her Manhattan residence makes clear she has generational wealth (although one of the problems here is how little Kelley seems interested in examining how privilege impacts what unfolds). She’s a high-profile couples therapist, and her husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant) is a successful pediatric oncologist. They have a well-adjusted child named Henry ( Noah Jupe ), and life seems good.

The series premiere, which is easily the best episode, drops a woman named Elena Alves ( Matilda De Angelis ) into the highly manicured life of Grace Fraser. She meets her at a committee meeting for a school auction, as both of their children attend the prestigious Reardon School. Elena seems oddly interested in Grace, making her uncomfortable, but Grace tries to be kind and helpful. Suddenly, Elena’s bludgeoned body is found in her salon, and it’s revealed that the young mother of two was fascinated with Grace for reasons that will unravel the domestic bliss of the Frasers. From this promising start, “The Undoing” turns into a courtroom whodunit as Grace attempts to determine exactly how much of her life has been a lie.

“The Undoing” has undeniably high production values and a top-notch cast, but they’re in service of increasingly lackluster and inconsistent storytelling. Kidman is typically strong, but the courtroom material often sidelines her as the plot goes through its machinations, and solid work by Grant, Sutherland, and Edgar Ramirez (as the investigating detective) suffers a similar fate, although someone should greenlight a gritty mystery-of-the-week series for Ramirez, who brings a bit of charm to a series that needed a lot more of it. 

Everything and everyone here starts to feel like a cog in an increasingly slow machine because Kelley and director Susanne Bier can’t find the momentum to drag this story out to nearly six hours. What’s truly frustrating is that the production doesn’t take this extra time to deepen the characters so much as just repeat plot points and unnaturally drag out scenes. The entire fourth episode could have been five minutes in a superior film, and yet that extra running time doesn’t enrich the character development or even allow for enjoyment of the ensemble. It just treads water.

To be fair, the slow doggie paddle that is “The Undoing” has its moments, most of them courtesy of the ensemble. Sadly, Kidman, who is really one of the best working actresses, isn’t challenged enough by the material here. Grace is far too reactive, facing down new challenges in a way that doesn’t allow Kidman to flex her acting muscles. By virtue of the mysteries surrounding his character, Grant may actually walk away with the series-best performance, although Sutherland, Jupe, and Ramirez are strong too. It’s not a question of the talent of the ensemble, but how little they’re given to do. And the show is incredibly frustrating with its unwillingness to world-build beyond its whodunit story. “Big Little Lies” expanded its focus beyond its core mystery to give characters internal and external lives of their own that are quite simply lacking in “The Undoing.” (And there’s something off about a show that introduces two non-white adult characters only to kill one and make the other a suspect but seems afraid to comment on how race and privilege would impact this story.)

It’s bad enough that "The Undoing" too often feels like a pale copy of what has been done more sharply on HBO before, but it’s a reminder that adult thrillers like this don’t get made in theatrical feature form like they used to—source material like this has become the product of streaming and TV mini-series. Ten years ago, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant would have starred in “The Undoing” from Warner Brothers, probably directed by someone like Adrian Lyne or Paul Verhoeven . And while it may not have been as self-serious or made as big of a splash as an HBO mini-series in 2020, it would have been a hell of a lot more fun. 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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The Undoing (2020)

360 minutes

Nicole Kidman as Grace Fraser

Hugh Grant as Jonathan Fraser

Noah Jupe as Henry Fraser

Donald Sutherland as Franklin Reinhardt

Ismael Cruz Cordova as Fernando Alves

Matilda De Angelis as Elena Alves

Edgar Ramírez as Joe Mendoza

Lily Rabe as Sylvia Steineltz

Noma Dumezweni as Haley Fitzgerald

  • Susanne Bier
  • David E. Kelley

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the undoing review

Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan (Hugh Grant) come undone in The Undoing . Niko Tavernese /HBO hide caption

Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan (Hugh Grant) come undone in The Undoing .

The most gripping moment in the HBO miniseries The Undoing involves the most natural of things. It happens in the first episode, between a bunch of wealthy Manhattan moms planning a fundraising event for their hoity-toity private school, and Elena (Matilda De Angelis), the noticeably younger and conventionally hot new mom whose fourth-grade son got in on a scholarship.

As the women prattle on about the sorts of things 1-percenters prattle on about at their meeting, Elena is quiet but eerie, casting intense glares at the others while trying to calm her restless infant daughter. She casually lifts up her top, pulls down her bra and begins breastfeeding; the editing cuts between the disapproving glances of the other women at the table, underscored by the soft rumbling of an ominous orchestral score. And then: A close-up of the baby latched onto Elena dissolves into an even closer shot of that same image, followed by an overhead shot of the women sitting silently at the table, all looking in Elena's direction.

It's a deliciously crafted scene, overtly positioning Elena as the outsider to this gilded cohort and edging into the realm of parody, perhaps unintentionally. Is it an homage to '70s thrillers like The Stepford Wives , which found ways to draw out horror and paranoia from socioeconomic anxieties? I'm not sure, but I do know the rest of David E. Kelley's latest sudsy drama about the bougiest of the bougie doesn't come close to being this exciting again. (Five of six episodes were made available to critics in advance; all episodes were directed by Susanne Bier.)

In The Undoing Kelley reunites with Nicole Kidman, along with many of the same themes they explored together in Big Little Lies. (Lies big and little abound here, too, albeit among elites of a different coast.) As Grace Fraser, one of those wealthy Manhattan moms, Kidman plays yet another woman trying to keep it together while falling apart under the weight of family secrets. She's a respected therapist who excels at helping her clients recognize their self-destructive habits and untangle their messy personal lives, but – surprise! – everything at home is not as it seems.

'Big Little Lies' Returns For A 2nd Season

'Big Little Lies' Returns For A 2nd Season

Without spoiling: The Undoing contains lust, murder, a missing person and cheeky, extremely self-aware lines like "I thought that was the whole essence of modern parenting, isn't it? Keeping them protected from reality for as long as possible so that when they finally emerge they can't cope and end up self-harming." A handsomely craggy Hugh Grant co-stars as Jonathan, Grace's husband and a children's oncologist; Noah Jupe plays Henry, their young son. I have not read the novel from which the show is adapted – You Should Have Known , by Jean Hanff Korelitz – but anyone who's digested enough Lifetime movies and glossy melodramas chronicling the disintegration of idyllic upper-class families is likely to figure out where most of the various twists are heading, a few steps ahead.

This isn't an inherently bad thing; part of the pleasure of watching erotic mystery thrillers such as this is the adherence to a formula and familiar beats like furtive glances and dramatic courtroom revelations. But even with this cast (Donald Sutherland and Édgar Ramírez also star) and this subject matter, The Undoing somehow manages to be a slog, neither titillating nor particularly suspenseful. Whereas Big Little Lies Season 1 struck the right balance between self-awareness and intrigue, with A-list actresses chewing scenery in the most delectable of ways, the meta cracks about the Frasers' insular bubble feel forced, and Kidman, Grant and the rest of the adult cast are unable to make the material crackle.

And there are undercooked efforts to provide some level of commentary, but they barely scratch the surface; they wind up seeming like lip service or totally missed opportunities. The camera will occasionally linger on the mostly black and brown extras in the background of the prison scenes, perhaps to serve as some kind of acknowledgment of the prison industrial complex? It's a choice indicating a fear of truly addressing the fact of the gigantic wealth and racial gap that hangs so prominently over this family's circumstances.

It can be perhaps unfair to critique a work based on what it's not – the creators made a choice to focus on what they wanted to focus on. But I couldn't help but want more of Elena and her family's perspectives in opposition to the Frasers, for a more insightful study of class and privilege that the show teases but doesn't deliver upon. Instead, she is a frustratingly enigmatic pawn in the plot's boilerplate execution, and The Undoing unfolds sleepily on all fronts: as suspense, as excess and as an engrossing character study.

  • The Undoing

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The Undoing: Season 1 Reviews

Like the seemingly perfect lives of its characters, it doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Full Review | Sep 1, 2021

the undoing review

These two are so good, in fact, that it's not easy to tell whether The Undoing is properly great or just a run-of-the-mill thriller with a brilliant casting director. Either way, though, I can't wait to find out what happens.

Full Review | Jul 19, 2021

All in all, this is a must-watch piece of telly that boasts two of the year's most compelling leads in Jonathan and Grace.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Jul 8, 2021

Another great series from the hand of David E. Kelly. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Apr 26, 2021

While The Undoing strings together just enough surprises to keep viewers interested episode-to-episode, its writing and direction are both muddled, making for an occasionally unpleasant viewing experience.

Full Review | Apr 19, 2021

...while The Undoing offers plenty of glamour and glitz, there's a fierce moral about the place of women in today's society that's well worth exhuming...

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Apr 5, 2021

Outstanding casting, sharp writing, and excellent directing make this mini-series engaging.

Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Mar 29, 2021

The Undoing is, at times, a lesson at why it's often best not to overthink TV dramas.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Mar 25, 2021

The Undoing has an intriguing mystery at its core, and a wonderful ensemble, but questionable structural choices give the series an odd "stop and go" feeling, padding it out to its lengthy runtime of 332 minutes.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Mar 22, 2021

Indeed, the show seems to relish the disorder that the Frasers cause in other people's lives, the pain they mete out. Throughout it all, the family remains static: glamorous, somehow still in control.

Full Review | Mar 2, 2021

Cheesy, sure, with many a would-that-really-happen moment, but viewers were swept along in fine, film noir style.

Full Review | Dec 9, 2020

It was a fun ride, and a swanky ride, and a grippingly involving ride -- whodunnit?, who? -- even if it was ultimately silly.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Dec 7, 2020

The Undoing is a schlocky, high-budget thriller, an anxiety-laden romp, and the perfect vessel for the bulk of 2020's ambient, jittering neuroses.

Full Review | Dec 4, 2020

Keeps us hooked from beginning to the end of its six chapters. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Dec 3, 2020

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant are superb in this suspenseful, addictive crime thriller, revolving around the dilemma: 'Who can I trust?'

Full Review | Original Score: 7/10 | Dec 2, 2020

It was a bumpy flight that wound up in a dingy parking lot.

Full Review | Dec 1, 2020

It's possible that old hippies could get high just by turning down the sound on The Undoing and staring at the kaleidoscopic clothes.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Dec 1, 2020

An addictive whodunnit thriller that will have your mind racing with suspicions.

Once I came to terms with my disappointment at being wrong, I realized that The Undoing had done something far more clever in the way it unfolded.

The real disappointment lies in the degree to which The Undoing shows itself to be simply a cheesy thriller.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Dec 1, 2020

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Rich people suffer beautifully in The Undoing, HBO's latest thriller: Review

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant star as New York City socialites coping with murder and marriage troubles in the HBO miniseries.

Kristen Baldwin is the TV critic for EW

the undoing review

Why eat the rich when it’s so much more fun to watch them suffer? As the latest entry in HBO ’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Miserable genre, The Undoing is a starry saga blending murder, marriage, and luxurious Manhattan townhouses. Though the story feels familiar, the miniseries — written by David E. Kelley and directed by Susanne Bier — delivers enough twists, suspense and sumptuous style to pull the viewer along to the end.

The Fraser family are New York elite: Jonathan ( Hugh Grant ) is a revered pediatric oncologist; his wife Grace ( Nicole Kidman ) is a therapist who spends her downtime planning fundraising galas for the fancy private school their son Henry (Noah Jupe) attends. Grace and Jonathan have a healthy sex life and a gorgeous Upper East Side duplex; the idea of family discord is limited to refusing Henry’s repeated requests for a dog. Then one morning, a mother from Henry’s school is found dead, and Jonathan suddenly goes missing for several days. Things only get worse for Grace: She can zero in on her patients’ relationship troubles with a clinician’s calm precision, but does she really know her own husband? (Predictable spoiler: She doesn’t.)

Adapted from the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Undoing (premiering Oct. 25 at 9 p.m.) packs an impressive amount of story into the first two episodes before things start to meander a bit… much like Jonathan and Grace, who continue to take leisurely daytime strolls along the East River promenade, even after he becomes the most famous murder suspect on the planet. This is the type of drama where characters soothe their troubled souls by playing classical piano in their spacious penthouse parlors, and Bier is fond of shooting Grace looking out of or being observed through windows, perhaps to emphasize the dangerous limits of her worldview.

Kidman is typically luminous as Grace, a preternaturally perfect one-percenter brought low; and it’s a treat to watch a grizzled Grant, handsome as ever, play true (not foppishly charming) desperation. Donald Sutherland is impeccably frosty as Franklin, Grace’s absurdly wealthy father and a self-described “c---sucker.” (Sutherland, God love him, savors the word like foie gras melting on his tongue.) Edgar Ramírez is superb and ominous as Detective Mendoza; both he and Lily Rabe , a standout as Grace’s brisk, compassionate lawyer friend, are sadly underused.

But The Undoing is beautiful — the people, the locations, the coats! — and we’re all apt to cut beautiful things a little slack. Through all of the misdirects, the characters’ dumb decisions, the dreamy detours, The Undoing kept me guessing — and, of course, gloating over everyone’s misfortune. Grade: B

The Undoing premieres Oct. 25 at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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the undoing review

In ‘The Undoing,’ Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant Anchor a Gilded, Toxic Murder Mystery: TV Review

David E. Kelley's new HBO drama is at its best not in the courtroom, nor as social commentary, but as a psychological thriller.

By Caroline Framke

Caroline Framke

Chief TV Critic

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Undoing Nicole Kidman Hugh Grant

Nicole Kidman is unparalleled in the art of playing a woman who’s equal parts flinty determination and distraught pain. When her face falls in shock, her character is likely to fight the instinct to fall apart, instead steeling herself for whatever’s yet to come. It’s a balancing act that found a particularly remarkable showing on TV in David E. Kelley’s “Big Little Lies,” where Kidman played a woman on the edge of shattering within her abusive marriage. In “The Undoing,” Kelley once again enlists Kidman to play a wife overwhelmed by her husband’s potential for perfidy, a role she once again owns with an irresistible force. But not even Kidman’s performance, nor sharp turns from the likes of Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland, can quite center its diffuse interests.

The new HBO limited series is, to no one’s surprise, ably acted and handsomely made. Director Susanne Bier (“The Night Manager”) shoots the chilly New York winter in which the show’s catastrophic events unfold with an eye for the unsettling. Characters steal glances through cracked doors and lonely street corners. Bier’s camera spies on their gorgeous homes, dripping with more money than most New Yorkers could ever see in ten lifetimes, from impossibly high angles, making them feel ever more cavernous and all-consuming. When Kidman’s character Grace gets overwhelmed, we see flashes of the horrors running through her head — and it’s just about impossible to tell if we’re looking at the past or some imagined version thereof. In these unsettling moments, when Grace acts as an unreliable narrator in the increasingly bizarre story of her own life, “The Undoing” is extremely effective as a psychological thriller. Where it gets lost, then, is in chasing the scattered interests of its ever-twisting plot.

Grace’s world turns upside-down the day after a young New York City mother is gruesomely murdered the night after her glitzy private school benefit. (Yet another “Big Little Lies” parallel.) The media, salivating over the details of a crime implicating the city’s most elite social strata, can’t get enough coverage of the aftermath and ensuing court case, i.e. the stuff that tabloid dreams are made of. Pundits debate the hazy facts of the case, pointing out that the victim, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), was unlike the other manicured mothers at the elite Reardon School, being Latina and poorer. When turning to the prime suspect (Grant), they make sure to highlight that he’s not just a charming children’s oncologist, but a white and obscenely wealthy man. (Grant, playing more or less against type, is perfect casting as a man most can’t help but love, even when given proof that they really shouldn’t.) That his father-in-law (Sutherland) has the kind of old New York City money that practically grants him his own zip code can’t hurt, either. And when push comes to shove, the skeptical reports continue, who’s the jury going to believe: dead Elena and her taciturn husband Fernando (Ismael Cruz Cordova) of Harlem, or upstanding citizens Jonathan and his statuesque therapist wife (Kidman) who’s modeled her entire life on being as helpful and presentable as possible?

These are useful, interesting questions about an all too real dynamic that lies at the heart of a growing class divide. So it’s frustrating to realize that “The Undoing” raises these issues almost as a courtesy before almost entirely glossing over them. As with “Big Little Lies,” Kelley’s scripts show just enough awareness of those people who don’t plan fundraisers from their lavish mansions to acknowledge them, but not enough to shed any real insight. More disappointing still, Elena spends most of her time onscreen as a mysterious object of lust — or else horribly murdered, her face bashed in beyond recognition on the floor of her studio. It’s a terrible combination of stereotypes relegated to Latina characters too often, and Kelley doesn’t come close to subverting them in this iteration.

“The Undoing” comes so close to commenting on privilege and injustice with something like awareness, but all too quickly devolves into the very stereotypes it purports to understand. After watching five of the series’ six episodes, I even found myself thinking that “The Undoing” might actually be more successful if it had eschewed addressing race and class entirely. Sure, it would be another kind of ridiculous to have a show entirely about the rich eating their own. But as something like “Succession” has shown, it’s more than possible to do so while making plain just how wildly privileged the characters are while avoiding tired clichés of the disenfranchised. In fact, there are moments when “The Undoing” does exactly that to very smart effect. Grace is rarely more unnerved than when faced with Detective Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), who’s entirely unimpressed with her entire world and has no trouble cutting through its vague placations to get to an actual point. And as Jonathan’s ruthless lawyer, Noma Dumezweni turns in the show’s most piercing performance; even the slightest raise of her skeptical eyebrows is enough to rattle Jonathan and Grace in a way that neither has felt in perhaps their entire lives.

That “The Undoing” falls apart under scrutiny probably won’t matter all that much. Plenty of viewers will undoubtedly be thrilled to tune in to a glossy HBO drama starring two of the world’s most telegenic people in a story tailor made for true crime podcasts. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t resist those clichés to become something much more powerful than just another case of the week.

“The Undoing” premieres Sunday, October 25 at 9 pm on HBO.

  • Crew: Executive producers: Susanne Bier, David E. Kelley, Nicole Kidman, Per Saari, Bruna Papandrea, Stephen Garrett, Celia Costas.

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‘the undoing’: tv review.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant star as a couple torn apart by scandal in 'The Undoing,' David E. Kelley's 'Big Little Lies' follow-up for HBO.

By Inkoo Kang

Television Critic

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The Undoing

If you’ve ever been part of a group project at school where each member decides that someone else will pick up the slack — resulting in a half-completed mess that reflects poorly on everyone involved — the new HBO drama The Undoing should send a chill of familiarity down your spine.

It’s almost hard to believe that stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant , series writer David E. Kelley ( Big Little Lies ) and series director Susanne Bier ( The Night Manager , the Oscar-winning In a Better World ) could come up with a show so limp, so generic, so dispiritingly bad as this six-hour drama that only has enough story for a two-hour feature. (Five episodes were sent to critics.) It’s as if all the key decision-makers were in a collective spell, made to trust that someone else would do the work of making their program watchable.

Air date: Oct 25, 2020

The Undoing is clearly meant to be Big Little Lies: East Coast Edition , with a murder mystery set among the Manhattan private-school set. (So hoity-toity is this milieu, apparently, that father-daughter conversations take place in museum galleries and the only notable music we hear is classical.) Kidman’s Grace Fraser, a high-end therapist, attempts to restrain the ferocious judgment of the other mothers when a showily sexy and significantly younger new mom, Elena (Matilda De Angelis), arrives at the school. (In one of the series’ few funny scenes, a harried parent played by Lily Rabe is outraged that Elena hasn’t overscheduled her way to unhappiness. “You live in New York!” she imagines telling the younger woman. “It’s a crime not to be frantically busy!”)

The debut season of Big Little Lies demonstrated what should’ve been obvious: that mommy melodrama, as with pretty much any genre, can be elevated to prestige fare — artistically ambitious and culturally resonant texts that, in that season’s case, illustrated that the day-to-day lives of ordinary(ish) women could be as harrowing or complicated as anything on Breaking Bad or The Sopranos .

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Unfortunately, the projects that most directly owe their existence to that first season have been uncontested letdowns. The unnecessary sophomore year of Big Little Lies fizzled out, with behind-the-scenes clashes between creatives reportedly contributing to its lack of narrative cohesion. Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere , featuring Big Little Lies co-star and executive producer Reese Witherspoon, garnered three Emmy nominations, but arguably deflated under the weight of its own portentousness.

But The Undoing — an adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s bestselling novel You Should Have Known — is the worst of these projects: a glacially paced, frustratingly scattered and stubbornly uninteresting drama that’s one of the most disappointing shows I’ve seen all year. It half-asses every one of its modes: as a crime procedural, as a dissection of Upper West Side privilege and snobbery and as an exploration of a woman questioning the most foundational assumptions in her life when her husband, Jonathan (Grant), a dryly charming pediatric oncologist, becomes the number-one suspect in the homicide case.

And when The Undoing eventually becomes a courtroom drama, with Noma Dumezweni playing Jonathan’s white-shoe defense attorney, it’s shocking that Kelley, who has literally hundreds of legal scripts to his name, could come up with something so risible and yet so… boring.

Grace never gets enough characterization to feel like a real person, which makes sympathizing with her difficult, despite the distress of her young son Henry ( Noah Jupe ) and the steadying calm of her even wealthier father Franklin ( Donald Sutherland ). Kidman doesn’t deliver a particularly notable performance, and Grant is uncharacteristically grating in the kind of rakish role he’s been understandably typecast in for the past two decades. The remaining supporting actors — Edgar Ramirez as the lead detective on the murder case, Ismael Cruz Cordova as the victim’s widower and Edan Alexander as their son — get even less to do.

Bier captures the wintry yet teeming glamour of a decidedly pre-COVID Manhattan, especially with Grace’s flowy, designer-boho looks, courtesy of costume designer Signe Sejlund and Kidman’s own long, reddish curls (a return to the actress’s signature mane of the ‘90s). But there’s simply not enough happening on screen to sustain tension, and much of the time what is happening veers between the rote and the preposterous.

I was bewildered by the extreme close-ups of Kidman’s eyes that gave me a front-row seat to her optic veins, and when the final screener episode suggested the identity of the killer, I couldn’t help letting out a lengthy cackle. At least it was the most entertained I’d been in five brutally long hours.

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Donald Sutherland, Noah Jupe, Edan Alexander, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Matilda de Angelis, Noma Dumezweni, Edgar Ramirez

Showrunner: David E. Kelley

Premieres Sunday, Oct. 25, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Undoing’ On HBO, Where A Murder Rocks Nicole Kidman And Hugh Grant’s Idyllic Marriage

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Can’t get enough of stories about rich white families torn asunder by people from the working class? Think two seasons of Big Little Lies and one season of  Little Fires Everywhere wasn’t enough? Then do we have a show for you!  The Undoing just arrived on HBO, led by  BLL’s Nicole Kidman and the ever-droll Hugh Grant. And, yes, it’s about a rich white family that’s disrupted by someone from the working class. Want to know more? Read on…


Opening Shot: A boy in a school uniform runs to his mother’s art studio, opens it with a key, and then there’s a shocked and anguished look on his face.

The Gist: Flash to two days earlier, in the well-appointed townhouse of the Fraser family. Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) is a therapist and the daughter of the wealthy philanthropist Franklin Reinhardt (Donald Sutherland); Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) is an oncologist at the top of his profession. Their son Henry (Noah Jupe) goes to Reardon, a top private school in Manhattan. After a couple of decades of marriage, the two seem to be still deeply in love and attracted to each other, and the ever-introverted Jonathan would rather quip his way through social engagements rather than talk to people.

During a meeting with other Reardon mothers, who have squeezed in time to put together an auction to raise money for scholarships, a woman named Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis) joins the group, infant in tow. Brought to the group by high-powered executive Sylvia Steineitz (Lily Rabe), it’s obvious she’s not from the same moneyed circles as the others; she has two kids and no daycare. She even pulls out her breast to feed her baby, right in the middle of the meeting, and Grace is the only one not offended. The next day, Grace encounters Elena in the gym locker room; stark naked, she thanks Grace for being kind to her during the meeting. Grace, for her part, is gracious but a little weirded out by how free Elena is with her body.

During the black-tie auction, Elena comes by herself and gets a lot of attention from men; Grace encounters her in the bathroom, and Elena says she’s overwhelmed by, well, pretty much everything. Grace offers her help, offers a ride, and seems very concerned. But Elena leaves early. So does Jonathan, paged by the hospital about a patient (who doesn’t make it). The next morning he’s on his way to a conference in Cleveland.

The next morning, during a tense couples therapy session with clients, she gets a text from the school. It turns out that Elena was found shot to death by her son Miguel (Edan Alexander) in her art studio. Aside from the shock of it, she gets a lot of questions from NYPD detectives Joe Mendoza (Edgar Ramírez) and Paul O’Rourke (Michael Devine). Sylvia says Elena’s husband Fernando (Ismael Cruz Cordova) is a person of interest. “It’s always the fucking husband,” she says. But, as Grace tries to get in touch with Jonathan in Cleveland, she discovers something that will send her mind reeling in many different directions.

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Even though it’s based on a whole different novel ( You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz), it’s undeniable that  The Undoing feels like an east coast version of  Big Little Lies,  with maybe some story elements of  Little Fires Everywhere mixed in. We’re surprised Reese Witherspoon isn’t involved in this show at all.

Our Take: Comparing  The Undoing to BLL is pretty much inevitable, given Kidman’s involvement and the fact that the show is written by  BLL’ s David E. Kelley (Susanne Bier is also an EP and directs all six episodes). But the comparisons go deeper than that; it’s about rich white people living privileged lives that are torn apart by the introduction into their circle of someone who isn’t of their status. Only here, that person is murdered in the first episode, and as the Fraser family increasingly gets the attention of the authorities for Jonathan’s possible involvement, that’s when the idyllic family Kidman’s character thought she had gets upended.

But, lord, the two shows feel interchangeable in every other way. We have the coterie of Reardon moms, all professionals, who can’t help but gossip about each other and the “weird” new mom in their midst — Sylvia didn’t like seeing Elena just staring at the school from a bench across the street after dropping her son off. All of the people natter about penthouse apartments and the Hockneys on display. Jonathan and Franklin seem to have a tense relationship for no apparent reason.

Yes, the focus of the series will be Jonathan being accused of Elena’s murder, and a lot of it will be reconstructed via flashback. And this time around, Kidman doesn’t play a victim of domestic violence who is just striving to get her power back. But her world is still rocked and her marriage upended via behavior that neither she nor the people in her circle of friends expected. One of her friends, Sally Morrison (Janel Moloney) says, “Seriously, staring down cancer in children every day and maintaining his sense of humor the whole time? I don’t know how he does it.” So that’s the baseline of where Grace’s marriage is, giving it a jumping off point for the shock of what comes next.

Kidman and Grant are fantastic, as you’d expect. It’s refreshing to see Kidman’s character start from strength instead of weakness, and that power is evident in her performance. Grant is his usual dry, quippy self, which makes us think Kelley adapted the character from the book to suit Grant’s “charming cad” style; there’s a scene where Jonathan closes an elevator on some approaching party guests simply because he doesn’t want to talk to them, and we laughed hard at that.

But do we really need another HBO “limited series” about rich white people with lives that aren’t what they seem? We got two seasons of  BLL . This feels redundant, at least at the start. Maybe things will change as the six episodes progress. But we’re not sure they will

Sex and Skin: Jonathan suggests some shower nookie, but for the most part the only nudity are from the scenes where Elena is very free with her body.

Parting Shot: Grace texts Jonathan, and hears buzzing. She looks in his nightstand and finds his phone. Then she calls around to different Hyatts in Cleveland, based on his quip about bonus points, and finds he’s not in any of them. She wonders just what the hell is going on as we see flashes of Elena’s bloody body.

Sleeper Star: We’re happy to see Donald Sutherland in anything new these days, and we’re curious to see how his influential character will be involved in the story.

Most Pilot-y Line: There’s an extended scene where Grace pegs one of her more difficult clients as someone who jumps at any man who pays her attention, despite being meticulous in the rest of her life. Is this supposed to show how keen of a therapist she is? It was just unnecessary. Also, we don’t need multiple clients telling her how expensive she is. That sounds like it comes from the textbook for Therapist Jokes 101.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Despite Kidman’s and Grant’s performances, we couldn’t muster up enough energy to care about anyone in The Undoing , at least not enough to spend six hours unraveling its central mystery. It’s certainly watchable, but having this show come so soon after  BLL makes it feel like we’ve seen it all before.

Joel Keller ( @joelkeller ) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,,, Fast Company and elsewhere.

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Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman, with defence lawyer played by Noma Dumezweni, in the Undoing

The Undoing series finale review – a lesson in lowering expectations

This article contains spoilers: we craved a delicious denouement; we got a disappointing dud befitting these times

I think, overall, we’ve only ourselves to blame. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it is surely that things never turn out as well as you’d hope. Nevertheless we went straight ahead and invested our last remaining coins of hope and optimism in a shiny drama from HBO and Sky Atlantic.

For five weeks we tuned in to their six-part whodunnit in our increasing millions around the globe, turning the tale of the starry Manhattan couple Grace and Jonathan Fraser (Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant), whose lives come apart when he is arrested for the murder of his lover Elena, into an international hit.

We filled the internet with theories and thoughts about who the murderer was and how they did it, conjured motive and means, posited convoluted backstories and connections for everyone.

There was a Grace faction – she was a sleepwalker, in a fugue state when she did it, or simply full of rage at her husband’s infidelity. There was a Franklin (Donald Sutherland) faction – an adulterous husband himself, he hated seeing himself in his son-in-law Jonathan and the pain he had caused his wife now in his daughter. His limitless funds could easily hire the best assassin to kill Elena and frame Jonathan. He definitely did it, unless it was his grandson Henry (Noah Jupe), who knew about his father’s affair and wanted to keep his parents together. But how could a boy kill a grown woman!

It was almost certainly Sylvia (Lily Rabe), who was otherwise getting far too much airtime. She was either driven by loyalty to her best friend Grace, or revenge after a previous secret affair with Jonathan. She also knew the prosecuting attorney, which has got to mean something, right? Then of course there was Elena’s own, cuckolded husband, left holding a baby that wasn’t his. Or it was her young son, or it was the janitor (class hatred, y’know), or, or, or …

We got involved, is what I’m saying. We leaned right in and hungered for the delicious denouement. You could argue that when it came, it gave us precisely what we deserved: a lesson in the value of low expectations. At best, you could argue that the reveal was appropriately meta for our modern, sophisticated age. At worst you could throw a brick through the screen while roaring that an audience hasn’t been this damnably treated since it was all a dream for Bobby in Dallas. If you are not old enough to understand this reference, just be glad. Enjoy your youth.

Noma Dumezweni in The Undoing

As much of a disappointment as the identity of the murderer was, I’m not here to deal in spoilers of that magnitude. So let’s just say that everything fell apart in that final episode. What had been enjoyably slick became silly. What had been sombre became cheesy. Tension dissolved into disbelief. And what I suspect was meant to be the real and/or unexpected twist, involving a rogue witness, failed even to deliver on its own, already unsatisfactory terms. It wasn’t clear how it was engineered – the viewer was left to guess and infer too much about method and motive to believe in it.

But let us end on a positive note. It was a six-hour do, not eight or 12 or 24. It gave us all a new appreciation of how valuable a motile face can be to acting. And, if there is any justice in the world – I know, I know, but I’ve found a last farthing in the coin purse of my soul – Noma Dumezweni WILL win an Emmy for her barnstorming performance as the defence lawyer Haley Fitzgerald, and have her pick of projects next year.

As for the rest of us, we just need to remember – low expectations. The key to happiness. Anything else will be your undoing.

  • The Undoing

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'The Undoing' Review: Nicole Kidman's Mystery Series Is Addictive But a Tad Predictable

Hugh Grant co-stars in HBO's twist-filled limited series from creator David E. Kelley and director Susanne Bier.

If nothing else, HBO's new limited series The Undoing fits right in the network's sweet spot. The show hails from David E. Kelley , the creator of Big Little Lies , in which Nicole Kidman plays yet another wealthy woman caught up in a scandalous murder mystery. Though HBO is in danger of drinking from this dramatic well one too many times, there's no question that The Undoing is a worthy entry in the network's never-ending carousel of prestige limited series.

Directed by Emmy winner Susanne Bier ( The Night Manager ) and shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle ( Slumdog Millionaire ), the eight-episode series is based on the book You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz . Kidman plays Grace Fraser, a therapist who's busy living the dream with her dashing pediatric oncologist husband Jonathan ( Hugh Grant ) and their whip-smart son Henry ( Noah Jupe ), who practices the violin each day after attending an elite private school that costs $50,000 a year. Everything in Grace's life is immaculate, from her fashionable wardrobe to the stylish yet tasteful wallpaper in her gorgeous NYC home.

Yes, Grace is living this dream life... but that's all it is — a dream. And the thing about dreams is, eventually, they end and you wake up. I mean, a bubble literally bursts at the end of the credits for The Undoing , so this show doesn't exactly lack for subtlety, which is one of its few drawbacks.

Anyway, Grace's life starts to become "undone" when Elena ( Matilda De Angelis doing her best Ana de Armas ), a beautiful fellow parent at Henry's school, is found brutally murdered, her head practically liquefied. It's a shocking crime, one that Grace would love to discuss with Jonathan... if only he were home. But he's on a business trip. At least she can call him, right? But he forgot his phone. Hmmm... that's strange. It seems like Grace has been advising people and couples on their relationships for years, but doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on her own.

You can see where this is headed. The question is, is your hunch right, or is it just a bit too easy?

Before Elena meets her grisly demise, she's shown cozying up to Grace, as if strangely drawn to her for some reason. In one sure-to-be-discussed scene set inside a locker room, Elena approaches Grace completely naked and stands over her as if to assert her dominance. The nudity from Italian newcomer De Angelis is rather startling for both Grace and the audience given just how brazen it is, but it also serves a larger purpose — to show us how uncomfortable Elena makes Grace. The camera leers at her, as we're intended to, but coming from Bier, the scene feels empowering rather than exploitive. It's the sort of sexually-charged moment that will have people talking, even if it's for the wrong reasons, and I suppose a show can't ask for much more than that these days.

As usual, Kidman delivers a rock-solid performance as Grace, and Bier's extreme close-ups of her eyes — suspicious and red with worry — help communicate the character's general confusion, as Grace seems to pinball back and forth between what she believes, and what she wants to believe. The character is a frustrating cipher in that way, given that her opinion seems to change each episode. When Grace is asked at one point what she's thinking, she replies, "don't ask that," and for a moment I felt as though I was watching a Christopher Nolan film where the answer didn't matter all that much anyway, because the truth is that even she doesn't know.

As good as Kidman is at playing the humiliating discovery that she doesn't know her husband as well as she thought she did, Grant is even better as her other half, and they make a completely believable couple together. Grant's casting as a charming cad is absolutely perfect, and his eyes are always begging — for sex, for understanding, for forgiveness, and so on. There's a moment at the end of Episode 4 where you can practically hear Jonathan breaking Grace's heart all over again, and both actors shine in that moment.

The supporting cast is also strong, especially Donald Sutherland as Franklin, Grace's old-money father, and the veteran actor dazzles in one particular scene in which he threatens Henry's schoolmaster, warning the poor administrator that he's messing with the wrong family. Sutherland's eyebrows deserve an Emmy for their performance, helping the veteran actor to convey Franklin's power as well as his sense of entitlement.

Edgar Ramirez and Michael Devine play the detectives assigned to Elena's case, but since Ramirez is a movie star, he's the one who does most of the talking with Grace, giving his partner a little nod as if to say, "clear out, this is my scene." Elsewhere, Lily Rabe co-stars as Grace's friend who just so happens to be a lawyer, while  Noma Dumezweni makes her presence felt as Jonathan's high-priced defense attorney. Her strategy is to create reasonable doubt by positing that Elena's husband, Fernando ( Ismael Cruz Cordova ) had motive to kill his own wife.

Like a good book you're always one step ahead of, The Undoing is both addictive and a tad predictable. The first episode is intriguing but slow, as there's a lot of build-up early on, but subsequent episodes pick up the pace and The Undoing quickly becomes a page-turner of a series. After tearing through the other four episodes sent to critics, I'm eager to see more, because even though it's not quite as perfect as HBO's The Night Of ,  The Undoing is effective in its own right, and represents a good mixture of Kelley and Bier's respective skillsets.

This is an entertaining story that's well-performed by an impressive cast, so here's hoping the final episodes show me something I haven't seen before, because I'm starting to worry that the story is venturing awfully close to another recent series about a family torn apart by a high-profile crime. Given its strong start, it'd be a shame if The Undoing comes undone at the end and fails to stick its landing, but I'll be sticking with it through to the end, if only to see whether Grace and Jonathan's marriage survives.

The Undoing  premieres October 25 on HBO.

The Undoing (2020)

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The Undoing 's Fatal Flaw Was Its Disrespect for Its Audience

Warning : This post contains spoilers for The Undoing.

The human mind can be its own worst enemy. Prone to myopia, selfishness and confirmation bias, we fall into traps that we should’ve spotted from three states away. We might believe, for instance, that a man credibly accused of murder—one who has already admitted to cheating on his wife and fleeing several hours upstate after finding the victim dead—must be innocent just because he’s played by the charming Hugh Grant. This turned out to be the big revelation of The Undoing , the all-star HBO murder mystery from creator David E. Kelley and director Susanne Bier. Despite middling reviews , the show became a sleeper hit amid our bleak pandemic autumn. But, if the social-media reaction to Sunday’s finale was any indication, then the revelation that the lovable pediatric oncologist who looked pretty guilty from the beginning turned out to be extremely guilty in the end didn’t shock viewers so much as insult them. How gullible did Kelley and Bier think we were, anyway?

Like so many whodunits, The Undoing was littered with red herrings. Didn’t murder victim Elena Alves’ (Matilda De Angelis) husband (Ismael Cruz Córdova) seem weirdly emotional? What was the deal with the obscenely wealthy, fiercely protective father of protagonist Grace (Nicole Kidman), whose framing as a left-field suspect extended to the decision to cast the often-sinister Donald Sutherland in the role? And what did Grace think she was doing when she was caught on camera, strolling around Harlem at such an unlikely hour? The penultimate episode closed with a remarkably absurd cliffhanger: Grace’s discovery of the murder weapon hidden in her preteen son Henry’s (Noah Jupe) violin case. Could he have done this?

Read More: The Director of The Undoing Answers All Our Questions About That Surprisingly Unsurprising Finale

Of course not; Kelley dispatches with the theory about a minute into the finale. The bulk of the episode is spent in the courtroom, where Grant’s Jonathan performs beautifully as a witness in his own defense. Satisfied that an acquittal is within reach, his lawyer (Noma Dumezweni) is ready to close her case when Grace insists on testifying. Who better than his clinical-psychologist wife, with her doctorate from “Harvard… University” (I howled at this line reading) and 17 years’ worth of intimate knowledge of Jonathan, to confirm his fundamental goodness? Except that, in the show’s final not-so-surprising reversal, Grace’s defense of her husband turns out to be a gambit to allow for her cross-examination. Questioned about her recent chat with Jonathan’s estranged mother—a conversation prosecutors couldn’t have known about without an inside source—she is “forced” to discredit her own testimony by divulging what she learned about his narcissistic, possibly sociopathic past .

Hugh Grant in 'The Undoing' finale (Photograph by Niko Tavernise/HBO)

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The Undoing Review: HBO’s Murder Mystery Is a Sleek, Gripping Thrill Ride

Dave nemetz, west coast bureau chief.

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the undoing review

But this is a murder mystery, after all: A stunning tragedy soon rocks their world, someone ends up dead and Grace is left clutching at straws as her carefully manicured life begins to crumble before her eyes. I don’t want to say much more, because the primary pleasure of The Undoing is how it doles out its twists with efficient precision. It plays like a compulsively readable page-turner as Grace is pummeled by a relentless barrage of jaw-dropping revelations that reveal serious cracks in the foundation of her marriage. Emmy winner Susanne Bier ( The Night Manager ) directs all six episodes, and she expertly amplifies the tension with jittery framing and intense close-ups with blurry edges. HBO is sticking with a conventional weekly release, but this show is custom-made for a binge; each episode ends on a stunning cliffhanger that leaves you wanting, no, needing to see more.

Donald Sutherland Nicole Kidman The Undoing HBO

Hugh Grant is an underrated actor — go watch A Very English Scandal if you doubt that, or Paddington 2 , for that matter — and he gets to show off considerable dramatic chops here, as Jonathan’s luck turns very bad indeed. The supporting cast is full of gems, like Lily Rabe as Grace’s lawyer pal Sylvia, who’d fit right in on Big Little Lies (“You live in New York! It’s a crime not to be frantically busy!”), Donald Sutherland as Grace’s imperious father and Noma Dumezweni as blunt defense attorney Haley Fitzgerald, who swiftly cuts through the bull: “I don’t make jokes. I’m not funny.” Sure, there’s a chance that once we discover who the killer is, The Undoing ‘s appeal could evaporate in a puff of air, revealing itself to be all twist, no substance. But since we still don’t know whodunit, we can’t help but admire the craftsmanship on display here. Buckle up… and leave some room on the floor for your jaw.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Nicole Kidman’s HBO thriller The Undoing packs a barrage of shocking twists into an efficient, effective murder mystery.

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After seeing the trailer.. I will definitely tune in to ‘The Undoing’ in HBO👍 Love the cast.. Kidman, Grant and Ramirez .. just to start off. A must see!!!

I can’t wait for this but like a good book I hate to run out of story. I guess I’m going to have to avoid ALL spoilers on TVLine until I am able to watch it all at once.

I’ll just wait until all the episodes are out to watch, but I’m excited!

Love Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant also Donald Sutherland

Can’t wait for this show to start. I love Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and will watch anything David E Kelly has a hand in. At the same time I don’t want to know anything about the upcoming series other than when it starts!

It’s the 1st episode. Seems decent. Honestly, I think I already know who committed the murder. It’s obvious to me. I won’t spoil it for anyone. And of course, there is a slight chance I might be off base.

I do have to say, it bothers me when they cast children who do not even remotely share the same coloring as the parents. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant’s son has dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. Come on. Make an effort to cast a more realistic parent-child scenario!!

You don’t even know all the characters yet. What the hell are you talking about? No one likes a smart alec.

wow this looks so good! will be worth signing up for a free trial for hbo max at the very least.

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The undoing, common sense media reviewers.

the undoing review

Slow psychological thriller has nudity, sexual content.

The Undoing Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.

Though many of the characters are difficult and co

Central character Grace is portrayed as insightful

Violence is shown sparingly. The central event of

The Undoing features full frontal nudity, characte

Profanity is used throughout and includes "f--k,"

One of the main themes of The Undoing is the behav

Characters drink alcohol socially. No smoking or d

Parents need to know that The Undoing is a psychological thriller about a young mother who is murdered. The show focuses on a group of Manhattan parents, their social circles, and the private school their children attend, particularly Grace (Nicole Kidman), her son (Noah Jupe), and her husband (Hugh Grant)…

Positive Messages

Though many of the characters are difficult and complex, The Undoing , like most mysteries, is about the pursuit of truth and the courage to act morally, despite incentive to do otherwise.

Positive Role Models

Central character Grace is portrayed as insightful, compassionate, and generous. The other characters tend to come off as more hard-edged and potentially untrustworthy by contrast.

Violence & Scariness

Violence is shown sparingly. The central event of the show is a violent murder, but only glimpses of the crime are seen. Part of the victim's bloody body is seen.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

The Undoing features full frontal nudity, characters talking about sex, and other sexual content, as in one scene where a mother breastfeeding is oddly sexualized.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Profanity is used throughout and includes "f--k," "s--t," "damn," etc.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

One of the main themes of The Undoing is the behavior of those with wealth and privilege. However, no consumerism is shown directly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcohol socially. No smoking or drug use is shown.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Undoing is a psychological thriller about a young mother who is murdered. The show focuses on a group of Manhattan parents, their social circles, and the private school their children attend, particularly Grace ( Nicole Kidman ), her son ( Noah Jupe ), and her husband ( Hugh Grant ). The show features lots of sexual content, including full frontal nudity. Violence is shown sparingly. The murder itself is not seen, but the bloody body is briefly shown. Moderate profanity includes "f--k," "s--t," "damn," etc. Though the plots and creative teams are not related, The Undoing feels like a thematic sequel to the popular Big Little Lies . It moves at a similarly slow pace, draws suspense from a mysterious murder that may involve the main characters, and has a familiar set-up in which a mother from a lower social class infiltrates a wealthy group of friends.

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (2)
  • Kids say (4)

Based on 2 parent reviews

Too much too soon

Fun miniseries, what's the story.

THE UNDOING takes place among a circle of parents whose children all attend the prestigious Reardon School in Manhattan. Grace ( Nicole Kidman ) is a therapist who is helping the other mothers plan a fancy auction fundraiser for the school. Another mother, Elena ( Matilda De Angelis ), shows up to a planning meeting to help, but seems awkward and doesn't quite fit in with the others. When Elena is found dead the day after the fundraiser, Grace finds out her husband ( Hugh Grant ) is a suspect in her killing.

Is It Any Good?

It's tough for a psychological thriller to be good when the characters don't actually have inner lives. The Undoing -- which attempts to follow in the footsteps of recent successful HBO miniseries Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects (but feels incredibly shallow in comparison) -- hinges upon the relationship between Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan (Hugh Grant), but there's nothing especially interesting about them. Instead, it becomes clear that Grace is the nicest person in a group of snooty socialites, which is maybe one of the least dramatic things for a show to be about. Among other things, Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects made the most of their coastal California and rural Missouri settings. The Undoing , on the other hand, makes upper Manhattan look like an anonymous collection of parking structures and crosswalks. If it were aiming for style over substance that would be one thing, but The Undoing doesn't have much of either.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the murder. Who is Elena? How do the other characters feel about her? Is there something mysterious about her? How is the relationship between Grace and Elena different from the relationships between Grace and the other mothers?

What do we know about Grace and her family? How does Grace's work affect how she relates to her family and friends? What do we learn about Grace and her family as the show evolves? How does that change how you feel about them?

What do we know about the Reardon School? How does the school inform the characters' relationships? Do you think the show has a point-of-view about the school and the parents? What might it be?

  • Premiere date : October 25, 2020
  • Cast : Nicole Kidman , Hugh Grant , Noah Jupe , Donald Sutherland
  • Network : HBO
  • Genre : Drama
  • TV rating : TV-MA
  • Last updated : January 25, 2023

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‘The Undoing’ Review: Nicole Kidman’s Misguided HBO Drama Throws a Pity Party for the 1 Percent

Ben travers.

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Cutting to the chase, which is something “ The Undoing ” never does: HBO ‘s new limited series is not worth your time. Unless you’re an aspiring Hugh Grant -aissance completist (or, if you will, “Art Hughveau”, a term coined by IndieWire’s own Steve Greene for the actor’s post-rom-com resurgence in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “A Very English Scandal,” and, the obvious pinnacle, “Paddington 2”), David E. Kelley’s latest attempt to recapture that “Big Little Lies” magic falls flatter than a marmalade sandwich minus the marmalade. Shot like a pulpy ’90s erotic thriller by Susanne Bier and stretched thinner than the Netflix version it echoes (remember “Gypsy” ?), there’s very little entertainment to be had here, and even less of a purpose.

Still, respect must be paid to the Grant-aholics. Given the mounds of goodwill (and awards buzz) he’s earned for his latest work, I, too, might be tempted to take a peek at his latest prestige turn, so the following review will be as light as possible on spoilers. (Apologies for any vague descriptors, but given how little happens in “The Undoing,” just about every specified plot point doubles as a spoiled twist.)

“The Undoing” opens with a young boy discovering a brutal homicide. Walking into his parents’ basement-level studio, the grade schooler opens the door, stops suddenly, and stares, horrified, at a sight so tragic it must be kept offscreen. For anyone who’s seen the trailer for HBO’s latest murder-mystery, then you know the dead woman on the floor is his mother, and you also know that the show’s two leads look nothing like the Puerto Rican child whose life has just been irreversibly capsized.

With a cut so abrupt it invites a black comic chuckle, Bier whisks us away from the bottom-dwelling disaster to a luxe Manhattan brownstone and the beautiful, breathing stars within. It’s two days earlier, and Nicole Kidman , as Grace Fraser, is putting together the day’s ensemble as she paces through her cavernous top-floor bedroom. Her husband, Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant), is struggling with his tie downstairs, next to their uniformed son, Henry (Noah Jupe), who’s carefully blending a smoothie to avoid spilling on his crested blazer.

A mere three minutes in, the stark differences in class and good fortune could not be any clearer: The Frasers are wealthy, white, and carefree. The biggest blight on Jonathan’s day is swapping his necktie for a bowtie to attend that evening’s glitzy school fundraiser. The Alves trio, meanwhile, are working class people of color who have just been dealt an immeasurable loss. What connects the two families is what drives “The Undoing,” but the ruin referenced in the title only applies to… the Frasers?

The Undoing HBO Ismael Cruz Cordova, Edan Alexander

Instincts should guide any storyteller toward the Alves family, as that’s where the greatest drama clearly lies: a boy who’s lost his mother, a father who’s lost his wife, and a search for the killer who must be brought to justice — for their sake, as well as society’s. But Kelley’s story (adapted from Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel, “You Should Have Known”) is told from Grace’s perspective. (Kidman serves as an executive producer.) Through five of the six episodes, the limited series’ primary goal is to scare anyone who already has it all — Grace bluntly admits she’s living the dream — by making them worry it might be taken away. “What if you lost everything that matters to you?” is the unspoken question rattling around Grace’s mind. But the key, unspoken addendum is what stands out: “Except your money. You can keep that. And no one died. They’re just not as nice as you thought.”

It’s a strange framework for this rather rudimentary courtroom drama, and one that makes you think Kelley, Bier, and Kidman (the primary creatives) have something important to say about class, privilege, and the disparity felt by those on either end of both. While “The Undoing” deploys keywords like “white privilege” to acknowledge its chosen characters’ entitled perspective, the show is content with flagging them. It has nothing to say about the wealth gap, and takes zero time to explore the actual victims’ perspectives (you know, the son who lost his mother and the dead woman herself).

Kidman, as the misguided story’s ill-advised face, gets the worst of it. Her ability to embolden characters with innate delicacy and ferocious power doesn’t translate this time around, as she’s asked to turn an oblivious, jumpy waif into a commanding lead with little more than a constantly worried expression. Grace spends a lot of time walking around, thinking, trying to sort her thoughts — a habit that becomes a red herring later on, but never evolves into informative or engaging viewing. It’s also clear that Kelley isn’t invested in the character at all; he’s far more drawn to Jonathan and conveniently ignores Grace’s established character traits when it means giving juicy moments to men. (At one point, Grace arranges a meeting with a gruff, tough-talking public defender because she wants to get his “read” on people. Grace is a trained clinical psychologist. She is literally paid to read people, but she defers her professional judgment to… this guy?)

The Undoing Nicole Kidman HBO

It also cannot be overstated how little happens each hour. “The Undoing” is so focused on one, way-too-simple question — “Did the suspect kill her or not?” — that it forgets to introduce reasonable alternatives or other relevant themes. Instead, it ends each episode with a twist and fills the rest of the time by a) explaining the last twist, b) listening to the suspect shouting that they didn’t do it (again), and c) Grace walking.

If anyone cares enough to put in the time, “The Undoing” could produce a few funny supercuts: one of Grace walking aimlessly, another of Grace being needlessly frightened by her son, and, sadly, another of various actors’ peculiar elocution. Kidman’s American accent remains… passable, but Donald Sutherland steals the audible spotlight for how he pronounces “cocksucker” in Episode 4. Grant leans in to his rakish charm and walks a convincing tightrope when it comes to Jonathan’s perceived duality, but a few of his bigger choices will only work depending on how the last episode plays out.

Even if “The Undoing” finds its way around to acknowledging its rich, white protagonists are bad people — and they definitely are — it’s already too late to turn the six-episode series into a scathing censure on privilege. Too much time is spent manipulating our pity for the not-at-all-poor therapist and her entitled family, rather than inviting that empathy with any designs to undercut it. Wealth offers so many advantages in America, but it can’t buy our attention.

“The Undoing” premieres Sunday, October 25 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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The Undoing ’s Fall From Grace

Portrait of Jen Chaney

After watching the final episode of The Undoing , I finally realized what The Undoing was: one extended red herring disguised as a limited series.

For most of the six episodes, up until the final-act flashback to the night of Elena Alves’s murder, the show repeatedly suggested that someone other than Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) could have been responsible for killing Elena (Matilda De Angelis). Given all the Hitchcockian close-ups on the panicked eyes of Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) and the gaps in both her memory and her knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts in previous episodes, it seemed very likely that Grace could be revealed as the real killer. But no: It was Jonathan all along.

Jonathan, the adulterer to whom all of the available evidence and basic logic pointed. Jonathan, the guy who was described by his own mother as having zero empathy or remorse. Jonathan, the same dude who did it in the book on which this series was based! It was so obvious and therefore so misleading. It seemed too boring to believe that he would actually wind up being the bad guy — especially in a drama that ended each episode with a reveal that invited the audience to rearrange their brain cells around yet another new theory.

What The Undoing was, ahem, doing all along was distracting us from the blatant truth. It turned us, the viewers, into the equivalent of Grace, the protagonist in the story who spent years batting away potential red flags about her spouse and refusing to see what was right in front of her. The whole series made us victims of confirmation bias — the tendency, as defined by Grace on the witness stand, to see things according to your own preconceived notions. We assumed that any series with this many twists would do something unexpected in the finale. But its version of the unexpected involved the most expected thing: confirming that the patently guilty party was the actually guilty party.

While there is a measure of cleverness in the concept of making us feel like Grace, that ending didn’t make for particularly satisfying television. No one likes to feel that they have been duped or that they wasted their time, even if eliciting that feeling serves a broader storytelling point, and that’s basically what this series did. Once The Undoing moved entirely into courtroom-drama territory, it started to lose some steam. Sunday’s episode, “The Bloody Truth,” was an hour during which any remaining heat quickly turned to vapor.

So many details in the finale defied belief. Henry (Noah Jupe), the son of Grace and Jonathan who desperately wants things to return to normal, not only kept the murder weapon in a violin case, as revealed at the end of the previous episode, but ran it through the dishwasher — twice — to remove all traces of DNA from it? Haley (Noma Dumezweni), the defense attorney, decides in the moment to put Miguel (Edan Alexander), Elena’s cancer-survivor son, on the witness stand without giving the boy or his father any advance warning? Grace and her father, played by Donald Sutherland and his deliberately unruly pair of eyebrows, hop in a helicopter to pursue an on-the-lam Jonathan, which seems like something thing that law enforcement would, I don’t know, discourage? Details can elevate a show in a familiar genre — like a murder mystery or courtroom drama — from the usual into something exceptional. But details in this finale were treated as inconveniences that had to be bypassed in order for the series to reach its conclusion.

That conclusion turned The Undoing into a version of a revenge fantasy. It was Grace’s testimony that seemed to guarantee a conviction for Jonathan, and that was entirely Grace’s plan, one she concocted with the help of her best friend, Sylvia (Lily Rabe). There is no way the prosecutor, an old friend of Sylvia’s, could have known all those details about Grace’s private conversations with Jonathan’s mother or with Sylvia if she had not been fed the information. Put another way: A trio of white women conspired to give a terrible white man his comeuppance. That’s not so different from the way things turned out in season one of Big Little Lies , except that in that finale, the reveal of Perry’s fate was a true reveal and it made the audience feel something. The Undoing doesn’t really leave us with feelings of any kind, and that’s because of the show’s Grace problem.

It has always been impossible to get a read on Grace because her behavior has been so erratic, something Roxana Hadadi pointed out more than once in her Vulture recaps of The Undoing . At first, it seemed like series creator and writer David E. Kelley had purposefully made her inscrutable because it was serving some larger purpose (i.e. that Grace had actually killed Elena or was hiding some other crucial piece of knowledge about what happened). But that wasn’t the case. Her inability to make up her mind and be forthright was just a character flaw, and a flaw in The Undoing .

The whole sequence with Grace on the stand, in which she starts out as the dutiful wife saying nice things about Jonathan — before doing a full U-turn and admitting that she thinks he’s a narcissist incapable of empathy — is emblematic of the show’s Grace problem. She’s of two completely different, wholly unconnected minds during her testimony, which (a) makes her a bad witness — I would have no idea, as a juror, what to make of her testimony — and (b) doesn’t help us to identify with her, which is what The Undoing very much wants us to do. By the end of the episode, Grace has saved her son from her husband and, thanks largely to her comments in court, caused Jonathan to end up in handcuffs. We should feel relieved and happy for her, but we don’t feel anything … precisely because of the whole red herring conceit. By keeping its audience in the dark about whether Jonathan did it, The Undoing may have been trying to make us feel like Grace, but that also made it impossible to like her. The show’s need to generate mystery suggested that Grace, among others, was still a potential suspect. You can’t empathize with someone toward whom you also feel suspicion, a lesson Grace learns in her marriage.

In the end, Grace’s role in The Undoing proves two things — first, that it’s possible to be so comfortable in life that you don’t even recognize how messed up that life is; second, that the establishment always wins. Jonathan was a privileged white man — you surely noticed how calmly police took him into custody even though he was a murderer attempting to flee prosecution — but in the end, he didn’t have what Grace, a wealthy white woman, did: a rich father and an equally rich best friend with connections. Jonathan was, to borrow a phrase used by Hugh Grant in the movie About a Boy , an island, but Grace came with a well-to-do army.

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Will of the voters? Ohio Republicans pledge to push back on abortion, marijuana

Ohio senate president matt huffman said voters could see abortion issues on the ballot again in the future.

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A majority of Ohio voters on Tuesday chose to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution and legalize recreational marijuana.

Almost immediately, the state's top Republican leaders promised they would try to unravel what voters approved.

More: Ohio votes to legalize recreational marijuana

Unofficial results show about 57% of voters backed Issue 1, a constitutional amendment that codifies the right to abortion access and other reproductive health care. Issue 2 , which also passed with 57% of the vote, is a state law that will allow adults 21 and older to buy, possess and grow marijuana. Both take effect in 30 days.

"I can't believe in 2023 we're actually talking about elected officials not respecting the will of the voters and not respecting the outcome of an election," said Tom Haren, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "I expect, I think that every single voter in Ohio has a right to expect, that elected officials will implement and respect the will of voters."

Since Issue 2 is an initiated statute, lawmakers can easily change it − and were promising to do so even before the election. House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, said Tuesday night that the Legislature should reallocate tax revenue from the adult-use program to invest more in jail construction and law enforcement training.

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Stephens' home Lawrence County voted in favor of Issue 2, as did several other reliably Republican counties.

Despite that, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, has a full list of changes he wants to make.

"This statute was written by the marijuana industry and should not be treated as a cash grab for their cash crop at the expense of a state trying to emerge from the opioid epidemic," Huffman said. "The General Assembly may consider amending the statute to clarify the questionable language regarding limits for THC and tax rates as well as other parts of the statute."

What Ohio Republicans are saying about Issue 1

The two GOP leaders issued similar warnings about the abortion amendment, even though it's difficult to repeal a constitutional amendment once it's on the books. Both Huffman and Stephens supported a failed effort in August to make it harder to change the constitution, which aimed to thwart the abortion amendment.

Stephens said Tuesday's vote isn't the end of the conversation: "The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life."

Huffman echoed that sentiment, suggesting voters could see abortion issues on the ballot again in the future.

"Life is worth fighting for. As a grandparent of eight, the life of a baby is always worth the fight," Huffman said. "The national abortion industry funded by wealthy out-of-state special interests spent millions to pass this radical language that goes far past abortion on demand. This isn't the end. It is really just the beginning of a revolving door of ballot campaigns to repeal or replace Issue 1."

A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine declined to comment Tuesday night.

Democrats, for their part, said the election proved Ohioans support abortion access and don't want the GOP-controlled Legislature restricting it.

"I never underestimate with this Republican supermajority that is drunk on power, what they will plan to do," House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said. "But at the end of the day, the people of Ohio have spoken very loudly and clearly on this issue − not (just) tonight, but also in August − that they want abortion rights and they want personal freedom."

USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau reporter Jessie Balmert contributed.

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

Ohio GOP lawmakers propose stripping judges of power to interpret abortion rights, Issue 1

the undoing review

Several Republican lawmakers plan to fight the recently approved abortion rights amendment by trying to overthrow the judicial branch's authority to interpret it.

Ohio voters approved protections for abortion and other reproductive rights , 57-43%, Tuesday. Abortion rights advocates will soon head to court to repeal restrictions and bans on the procedure.

But four GOP lawmakers had another idea.

"To prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts with Issue 1, Ohio legislators will consider removing jurisdiction from the judiciary over this ambiguous ballot initiative," according to a Thursday night news release with quotes from four GOP House representatives. "The Ohio legislature alone will consider what, if any, modifications to make to existing laws based on public hearings and input from legal experts on both sides."

Opinion: Election results show Ohio lawmakers 'insulated from reality,' negligent in serving Ohioans

The news release from Reps. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester; Bill Dean, R-Xenia; Melanie Miller, R-Miller; and Beth Lear, R-Galena and was titled: "DECEPTIVE OHIO ISSUE 1 MISLED THE PUBLIC BUT DOESN'T REPEAL OUR LAWS." Ohio Value Voters , an anti-abortion organization, shared the same quotes in a Friday news release.

“We will withdraw jurisdiction from the courts so that they cannot misapply Issue 1 for the benefit of the abortion industry,” Gross said in the Ohio Value Voters' release. 

Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, declined to comment on the release or the idea through a spokesman. But Paul Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, pushed back against the proposal.

"The Supreme Court of Ohio is the final arbiter of constitutional issues. Period," said Pfeifer, a former justice and Republican lawmaker. "There’s no getting around that, so legislation that attempts to circumvent the constitution eventually isn’t going to go anywhere."

Gabriel Mann, a spokesman for the Issue 1 campaign, said the idea was more bad behavior from Republican lawmakers. "Issue 1 passed thanks to the votes of a lot of Republicans who do not like the idea of government overstep. They don’t want government interference in people’s private lives," Mann said.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, responded to the proposal, saying: "Instead of creating a constitutional crisis with desperate, anti-American attacks on the rule of law and the power of citizens, out-of-touch politicians should work to uphold the bipartisan will of the people by respecting health care decisions between women and their doctors.”

On Wednesday, more than two dozen House Republicans promised to push back against Issue 1. On Tuesday, Stephens said in a statement: "The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life. This is not the end of the conversation."

House Democrats recently announced they would introduce a bill to repeal abortion restrictions and add protections against discrimination because of abortions. These proposals face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio

Julia Evans

Git rebase: what can go wrong.

Hello! While talking with folks about Git, I’ve been seeing a comment over and over to the effect of “I hate rebase”. People seemed to feel pretty strongly about this, and I was really surprised because I don’t run into a lot of problems with rebase and I use it all the time.

I’ve found that if many people have a very strong opinion that’s different from mine, usually it’s because they have different experiences around that thing from me.

So I asked on Mastodon :

today I’m thinking about the tradeoffs of using git rebase a bit. I think the goal of rebase is to have a nice linear commit history, which is something I like. but what are the costs of using rebase? what problems has it caused for you in practice? I’m really only interested in specific bad experiences you’ve had here – not opinions or general statements like “rewriting history is bad”

I got a huge number of incredible answers to this, and I’m going to do my best to summarize them here. I’ll also mention solutions or workarounds to those problems in cases where I know of a solution. Here’s the list:

fixing the same conflict repeatedly is annoying

Rebasing a lot of commits is hard, undoing a rebase is hard, force pushing to shared branches can cause lost work, force pushing makes code reviews harder, losing commit metadata, more difficult reverts, rebasing can break intermediate commits.

  • accidentally run git commit –amend instead of git rebase –continue

splitting commits in an interactive rebase is hard

Complex rebases are hard, rebasing long lived branches can be annoying, rebase and commit discipline, a “squash and merge” workflow, miscellaneous problems.

My goal with this isn’t to convince anyone that rebase is bad and you shouldn’t use it (I’m certainly going to keep using rebase!). But seeing all these problems made me want to be more cautious about recommending rebase to newcomers without explaining how to use it safely. It also makes me wonder if there’s an easier workflow for cleaning up your commit history that’s harder to accidentally mess up.

my git workflow assumptions

First, I know that people use a lot of different Git workflows. I’m going to be talking about the workflow I’m used to when working on a team, which is:

  • the team uses a central Github/Gitlab repo to coordinate
  • there’s one central main branch. It’s protected from force pushes.
  • people write code in feature branches and make pull requests to main
  • The web service is deployed from main every time a pull request is merged.
  • the only way to make a change to main is by making a pull request on Github/Gitlab and merging it

This is not the only “correct” git workflow (it’s a very “we run a web service” workflow and open source project or desktop software with releases generally use a slightly different workflow). But it’s what I know so that’s what I’ll talk about.

two kinds of rebase

Also before we start: one big thing I noticed is that there were 2 different kinds of rebase that kept coming up, and only one of them requires you to deal with merge conflicts.

  • rebasing on an ancestor , like git rebase -i HEAD^^^^^^^ to squash many small commits into one. As long as you’re just squashing commits, you’ll never have to resolve a merge conflict while doing this.
  • rebasing onto a branch that has diverged , like git rebase main . This can cause merge conflicts.

I think it’s useful to make this distinction because sometimes I’m thinking about rebase type 1 (which is a lot less likely to cause problems), but people who are struggling with it are thinking about rebase type 2.

Now let’s move on to all the problems!

If you make many tiny commits, sometimes you end up in a hellish loop where you have to fix the same merge conflict 10 times. You can also end up fixing merge conflicts totally unnecessarily (like dealing with a merge conflict in code that a future commit deletes).

There are a few ways to make this better:

  • first do a git rebase -i HEAD^^^^^^^^^^^ to squash all of the tiny commits into 1 big commit and then a git rebase main to rebase onto a different branch. Then you only have to fix the conflicts once.
  • use git rerere to automate repeatedly resolving the same merge conflicts (“rerere” stands for “reuse recorded resolution”, it’ll record your previous merge conflict resolutions and replay them). I’ve never tried this but I think you need to set git config rerere.enabled true and then it’ll automatically help you.

Also if I find myself resolving merge conflicts more than once in a rebase, I’ll usually run git rebase --abort to stop it and then squash my commits into one and try again.

Generally when I’m doing a rebase onto a different branch, I’m rebasing 1-2 commits. Maybe sometimes 5! Usually there are no conflicts and it works fine.

Some people described rebasing hundreds of commits by many different people onto a different branch. That sounds really difficult and I don’t envy that task.

I heard from several people that when they were new to rebase, they messed up a rebase and permanently lost a week of work that they then had to redo.

The problem here is that undoing a rebase that went wrong is much more complicated than undoing a merge that went wrong (you can undo a bad merge with something like git reset --hard HEAD^ ). Many newcomers to rebase don’t even realize that undoing a rebase is even possible, and I think it’s pretty easy to understand why.

That said, it is possible to undo a rebase that went wrong. Here’s an example of how to undo a rebase using git reflog .

step 1 : Do a bad rebase (for example run git rebase -I HEAD^^^^^ and just delete 3 commits)

step 2 : Run git reflog . You should see something like this:

step 3 : Find the entry immediately before rebase (start) . In my case that’s ca7fe25

step 4 : Run git reset --hard ca7fe25

A couple of other ways to undo a rebase:

  • Apparently @ always refers to your current branch in git, so you can run git reset --hard @{1} to reset your branch to its previous location.
  • Another solution folks mentioned that avoids having to use the reflog is to make a “backup branch” with git switch -c backup before rebasing, so you can easily get back to the old commit.

A few people mentioned the following situation:

  • You’re collaborating on a branch with someone
  • You push some changes
  • They rebase the branch and run git push --force (maybe by accident)
  • Now when you run git pull , it’s a mess – you get the a fatal: Need to specify how to reconcile divergent branches error
  • While trying to deal with the fallout you might lose some commits, especially if some of the people are involved aren’t very comfortable with git

This is an even worse situation than the “undoing a rebase is hard” situation because the missing commits might be split across many different people’s and the only worse thing than having to hunt through the reflog is multiple different people having to hunt through the reflog.

This has never happened to me because the only branch I’ve ever collaborated on is main , and main has always been protected from force pushing (in my experience the only way you can get something into main is through a pull request). So I’ve never even really been in a situation where this could happen. But I can definitely see how this would cause problems.

The main tools I know to avoid this are:

  • don’t rebase on shared branches
  • use --force-with-lease when force pushing, to make sure that nobody else has pushed to the branch since your last fetch

Apparently the “since your last fetch ” is important here – if you run git fetch immediately before running git push --force-with-lease , the --force-with-lease won’t protect you at all.

I was curious about why people would run git push --force on a shared branch. Some reasons people gave were:

  • they’re working on a collaborative feature branch, and the feature branch needs to be rebased onto main . The idea here is that you’re just really careful about coordinating the rebase so nothing gets lost.
  • as an open source maintainer, sometimes they need to rebase a contributor’s branch to fix a merge conflict
  • they’re new to git, read some instructions online that suggested git rebase and git push --force as a solution, and followed them without understanding the consequences
  • they’re used to doing git push --force on a personal branch and ran it on a shared branch by accident

The situation here is:

  • You make a pull request on GitHub
  • People leave some comments
  • You update the code to address the comments, rebase to clean up your commits, and force push
  • Now when the reviewer comes back, it’s hard for them to tell what you changed since the last time you saw it – all the commits show up as “new”.

One way to avoid this is to push new commits addressing the review comments, and then after the PR is approved do a rebase to reorganize everything.

I think some reviewers are more annoyed by this problem than others, it’s kind of a personal preference. Also this might be a Github-specific issue, other code review tools might have better tools for managing this.

If you’re rebasing to squash commits, you can lose important commit metadata like Co-Authored-By . Also if you GPG sign your commits, rebase loses the signatures.

There’s probably other commit metadata that you can lose that I’m not thinking of.

I haven’t run into this one so I’m not sure how to avoid it. I think GPG signing commits isn’t as popular as it used to be.

Someone mentioned that it’s important for them to be able to easily revert merging any branch (in case the branch broke something), and if the branch contains multiple commits and was merged with rebase, then you need to do multiple reverts to undo the commits.

In a merge workflow, I think you can revert merging any branch just by reverting the merge commit.

If you’re trying to have a very clean commit history where the tests pass on every commit (very admirable!), rebasing can result in some intermediate commits that are broken and don’t pass the tests, even if the final commit passes the tests.

Apparently you can avoid this by using git rebase -x to run the test suite at every step of the rebase and make sure that the tests are still passing. I’ve never done that though.

accidentally run git commit --amend instead of git rebase --continue

A couple of people mentioned issues with running git commit --amend instead of git rebase --continue when resolving a merge conflict.

The reason this is confusing is that there are two reasons when you might want to edit files during a rebase:

  • editing a commit (by using edit in git rebase -i ), where you need to write git commit --amend when you’re done
  • a merge conflict, where you need to run git rebase --continue when you’re done

It’s very easy to get these two cases mixed up because they feel very similar. I think what goes wrong here is that you:

  • Start a rebase
  • Run into a merge conflict
  • Resolve the merge conflict, and run git add file.txt
  • Run git commit because that’s what you’re used to doing after you run git add
  • But you were supposed to run git rebase --continue ! Now you have a weird extra commit, and maybe it has the wrong commit message and/or author

The whole point of rebase is to clean up your commit history, and combining commits with rebase is pretty easy. But what if you want to split up a commit into 2 smaller commits? It’s not as easy, especially if the commit you want to split is a few commits back! I actually don’t really know how to do it even though I feel very comfortable with rebase. I’d probably just do git reset HEAD^^^ or something and use git add -p to redo all my commits from scratch.

One person shared their workflow for splitting commits with rebase .

If you try to do too many things in a single git rebase -i (reorder commits AND combine commits AND modify a commit), it can get really confusing.

To avoid this, I personally prefer to only do 1 thing per rebase, and if I want to do 2 different things I’ll do 2 rebases.

If your branch is long-lived (like for 1 month), having to rebase repeatedly gets painful. It might be easier to just do 1 merge at the end and only resolve the conflicts once.

The dream is to avoid this problem by not having long-lived branches but it doesn’t always work out that way in practice.

A few more issues that I think are not that common:

  • Stopping a rebase wrong : If you try to abort a rebase that’s going badly with git reset --hard instead of git rebase --abort , things will behave weirdly until you stop it properly
  • Weird interactions with merge commits : A couple of quotes about this: “If you rebase your working copy to keep a clean history for a branch, but the underlying project uses merges, the result can be ugly. If you do rebase -i HEAD~4 and the fourth commit back is a merge, you can see dozens of commits in the interactive editor.“, “I’ve learned the hard way to never rebase if I’ve merged anything from another branch”

I’ve seen a lot of people arguing about rebase. I’ve been thinking about why this is and I’ve noticed that people work at a few different levels of “commit discipline”:

  • Literally anything goes, “wip”, “fix”, “idk”, “add thing”
  • When you make a pull request (on github/gitlab), squash all of your crappy commits into a single commit with a reasonable message (usually the PR title)
  • Atomic Beautiful Commits – every change is split into the appropriate number of commits, where each one has a nice commit message and where they all tell a story around the change you’re making

Often I think different people inside the same company have different levels of commit discipline, and I’ve seen people argue about this a lot. Personally I’m mostly a Level 2 person. I think Level 3 might be what people mean when they say “clean commit history”.

I think Level 1 and Level 2 are pretty easy to achieve without rebase – for level 1, you don’t have to do anything, and for level 2, you can either press “squash and merge” in github or run git switch main; git merge --squash mybranch on the command line.

But for Level 3, you either need rebase or some other tool (like GitUp) to help you organize your commits to tell a nice story.

I’ve been wondering if when people argue about whether people “should” use rebase or not, they’re really arguing about which minimum level of commit discipline should be required.

I think how this plays out also depends on how big the changes folks are making – if folks are usually making pretty small pull requests anyway, squashing them into 1 commit isn’t a big deal, but if you’re making a 6000-line change you probably want to split it up into multiple commits.

A couple of people mentioned using this workflow that doesn’t use rebase:

  • make commits
  • Run git merge main to merge main into the branch periodically (and fix conflicts if necessary)
  • When you’re done, use GitHub’s “squash and merge” feature (which is the equivalent of running git checkout main; git merge --squash mybranch ) to squash all of the changes into 1 commit. This gets rid of all the “ugly” merge commits.

I originally thought this would make the log of commits on my branch too ugly, but apparently git log main..mybranch will just show you the changes on your branch, like this:

Of course, the goal here isn’t to force people who have made beautiful atomic commits to squash their commits – it’s just to provide an easy option for folks to clean up a messy commit history (“add new feature; wip; wip; fix; fix; fix; fix; fix;“) without having to use rebase.

I’d be curious to hear about other people who use a workflow like this and if it works well.

there are more problems than I expected

I went into this really feeling like “rebase is fine, what could go wrong?” But many of these problems actually have happened to me in the past, it’s just that over the years I’ve learned how to avoid or fix all of them.

And I’ve never really seen anyone share best practices for rebase, other than “never force push to a shared branch”. All of these honestly make me a lot more reluctant to recommend using rebase.

To recap, I think these are my personal rebase rules I follow:

  • stop a rebase if it’s going badly instead of letting it finish (with git rebase --abort )
  • know how to use git reflog to undo a bad rebase
  • don’t rebase a million tiny commits (instead do it in 2 steps: git rebase -i HEAD^^^^ and then git rebase main )
  • don’t do more than one thing in a git rebase -i . Keep it simple.
  • never force push to a shared branch
  • never rebase commits that have already been pushed to main

Thanks to Marco Rogers for encouraging me to think about the problems people have with rebase, and to everyone on Mastodon who helped with this.

WTF is going on at OpenAI? We have theories

the undoing review

In perhaps the most unexpected tech news of the year, billionaire and AI evangelist Sam Altman has been ejected from his CEO role at OpenAI by the company’s board after an apparent vote of no confidence. Its exact wording in a release issued this afternoon: Altman’s “departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”

What the hell is happening at the most hyped company in the world?! Here are some totally speculative theories that occurred to us and others around the web.

1. Did Altman circumvent the board in a major deal?

Based on the board’s language and the way these giant tech companies work, this is the prevailing theory floating around right now. “Not consistently candid” is a very diplomatic way of saying Altman lied.

It’s possible that Altman — and potentially OpenAI President Greg Brockman, who stepped down as chairman simultaneously , then resigned — wanted to make a bold move that he knew the board would not like. It’s not uncommon for these deals to be hammered out quietly in smoke- (or vape-) filled rooms and then presented as a fait accompli , but if it was controversial enough and the board found out about these maneuvers, it could be fuel for an ouster.

But what kind of deal would be big and dangerous enough for a summary dismissal of the CEO and famous face of the company? The man was onstage two weeks ago; I just talked with him! What could have happened since then?

Few would be shocked if Microsoft, which is deeply, deeply embedded in OpenAI as an investor and customer, is a factor here. Could Altman have been working with — or against — OpenAI’s patron in secret? If Altman wanted to kill the golden goose by going independent, that might have activated the board’s fiduciary or otherwise statutory duty. On the other hand, if he was negotiating some other deal, like an acquisition or deeper and more exclusive integration, it could also have caused the board to bristle, either at the idea itself or at being excluded.

But if Microsoft was as shocked as the rest of us, as one report has it , it could hardly be the kind of high-stakes conspiracy some seem to be hoping for. But one must assume that Microsoft would say that either way. Even if they’d been working with Altman on some kind of secret plan, they can truthfully say they were surprised by his firing. (And they “remain committed to our partnership .”)

2. Do they disagree on long-term strategy?

Despite being the hottest tech company in the world right now and everyone talking about ChatGPT, OpenAI isn’t exactly a sound business. It’s shoveling money into the furnace as fast as it can by serving, by all accounts, a fantastically expensive product at bargain-bin prices.

That’s all well and good for a year or two, but at some point that strategy changes from a growth hack to an existential liability. Could Altman and the board have had irreconcilable differences on where that point lies?

This doesn’t seem so likely. The company has been very deliberately pursuing this very publicly, confidently and on a long-term basis. Altman and the board seem to be in sync on this, at least for the present.

OpenAI closes $300M share sale at $27B-29B valuation

3. Do the numbers not add up?

On the other hand, could OpenAI be losing even more money than Altman admitted or projected? It seems impossible, but the costs of running this operation have no precedent, nor really does the operation itself.

Or what if, and again this is purely speculation, Altman has been secretly pursuing an internal project, perhaps at significant cost, against the advice of the board and without the necessary safety measures that probably should accompany such research? It sounds a little wild, but firing your CEO like this is also a little wild.

Some kind of major mismatch in the financial department could be cause for dismissal, but it’s hard to imagine what Altman could have kept from the board and CTO that would be so damning.

There’s also the possibility that Altman was making personal investments in a way that the board disagreed with. With OpenAI poised to be a kingmaker in the field, he would certainly be in a position of power. One would think that, as an ideologically driven person already rich beyond belief and at the head of the world’s leading AI company, Altman would have risen beyond having to do this kind of side deal, or at the very least that scrutiny on him and those close to him would prevent them. But one can never be sure.

4. Could it be a major security or privacy incident?

The idea that the company has experienced a major, perhaps pervasive, security issue is bolstered by the fact that Microsoft reportedly suspended use of ChatGPT internally a few days ago. OpenAI subsequently stopped allowing new signups. If there was a serious security problem in its biggest product and Altman downplayed it, that would obviously create distrust with the board.

There is also the potential for misuse at scale with the enormous amount of personal data that travels through OpenAI’s APIs and services.

Working against this theory is the fact that CTO Mira Murati was just elevated to interim CEO in Altman’s place. It seems unlikely that anything security-related would go through the CEO and not the CTO, or that the two would be at odds to the point where one could be fired like this and the other swapped in to clean up the mess. As the board’s statement notes, Murati is in charge of product and safety, among other things. Any significant snafu in that department would reflect on her, as well as Altman.

5. Perhaps a difference of AI ethics or philosophy?

Altman is a proud techno-optimist, and often speaks fondly of the possibilities of AGI, or artificial general intelligence, a theoretical software system that achieves human-like intellect and versatility.

The board’s statement pointedly includes that “OpenAI was deliberately structured to advance our mission: to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity” and that new leadership was necessary. It’s possible that Sam’s zeal for AGI, even absent a secret project or agreement, led to a major rift between him and the board.

It’s been obvious to all that Altman took the company in a much more corporate direction from its origins, changing its legal status and aggressively pursuing enterprise and consumer applications. That doesn’t sound a lot like the “mission” the board wants to advance. Then again, this shift didn’t happen today, and it certainly doesn’t seem like a plausible reason for abruptly firing the CEO and a few others on a beautiful fall Friday afternoon.

6. What about IP and legal liability?

Altman told me at OpenAI’s Dev Day earlier this month that the company doesn’t want to incur any copyright problems by using (as I had asked about) datasets of pirated books. But a lot of research I’ve been reading contradicts that, as does pretty much every AI data scientist I talk to. It’s exceedingly hard to imagine that OpenAI built GPT-3 with the copyrighted books database (as seems to be the case) but not GPT-4 or succeeding models. (I was going to write this up next week, so thanks OpenAI board for eating my lunch.)

Thousands of authors sign letter urging AI makers to stop stealing books

If you were the board and facing the mounting accusations that your product was built on a dataset that includes thousands or millions of copyrighted works — and your CEO had systematically downplayed the potential liability there — how would you feel? I’d feel very hurt.

But again, if copyright liability was the reason, it seems unlikely that the board would promote the CTO. Presumably, OpenAI’s Chief Science Officer Ilya Sutskever would also have been in the know, and he’s still on the board.

7. Did CTO Mira Murati launch a coup?

Probably not — she seems cool, and anyway what CTO wants to be CEO? Mira, answer my email!

Who is Mira Murati, OpenAI’s new interim CEO?

8. Was it a “personal matter”?

When someone is kicked out in a hurry, it’s not uncommon that there was some kind of unprofessional behavior in the workplace. Some CEOs get a pass on things like having kids with direct reports, but not all.

Altman also has three siblings, and his younger sister Annie has publicly accused him of abuse. We have no way of evaluating these allegations, which involve private matters.

Our read on the board’s language in dismissing Altman, however, is that it was not a legal or personal problem that provoked the action, but a professional or business one.

We probably won’t know the full truth on this for a long time, as the characters in the drama are likely to be NDA’ed up. Per various whispers and leaks, an all-hands meeting about the situation this afternoon didn’t produce any revelations beyond banal reassurances that the company is fine and they’ll get a fresh CEO soon. Expect to hear a lot of rumors before we hear the real thing.


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  2. The Undoing Review: The Undoing (Season 1 Episode 1)

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  3. ‘The Undoing’ Review: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant Star in HBO Drama

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  4. TV Review

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  5. The Undoing Review: The Undoing (Season 1 Episode 1)

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  6. The Undoing review: Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant's New York mystery

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    IMDb RATING 7.4 /10 103K YOUR RATING Rate POPULARITY 967 33 Play trailer 1:47 21 Videos 99+ Photos Crime Drama Mystery A modern twist to a classical "whodunnit" tale, when the life of a wealthy New York therapist turns upside down after she and her family get involved with a murder case. Creator David E. Kelley Stars Nicole Kidman Hugh Grant

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  11. The Undoing review: Rich people suffer beautifully in HBO's latest

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  13. 'The Undoing' Review

    But The Undoing — an adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz's bestselling novel You Should Have Known — is the worst of these projects: a glacially paced, frustratingly scattered and stubbornly...

  14. 'The Undoing' HBO Review: Stream It Or Skip It?

    The Undoing just arrived on HBO, led by BLL's Nicole Kidman and the ever-droll Hugh Grant. And, yes, it's about a rich white family that's disrupted by someone from the working class.

  15. The Undoing series finale review

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  16. The Undoing Review: Nicole Kidman Series Is Addictive But ...

    Like a good book you're always one step ahead of, The Undoing is both addictive and a tad predictable. The first episode is intriguing but slow, as there's a lot of build-up early on, but ...

  17. The Undoing (TV Mini Series 2020)

    The life of privilege that Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) enjoys begins to unravel when her husband Jonathan (Hugh Grant) is accused of murder. The victim is Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis) an artist, whose son attends the same school as the Frasers son, Henry (Noah Jupe).

  18. The Undoing Finale Review: How HBO Show Let Down Audience

    The Undoing's Fatal Flaw Was Its Disrespect for Its Audience. By Judy Berman ... Despite middling reviews, the show became a sleeper hit amid our bleak pandemic autumn. But, if the social-media ...

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    The Undoing Review: HBO's Murder Mystery Is a Sleek, Gripping Thrill Ride. By Dave Nemetz. Dave Nemetz West Coast Bureau Chief. dave_nemetz. More stories by Dave.

  20. The Undoing TV Review

    Slow psychological thriller has nudity, sexual content. TV HBO Drama 2020 Add your rating Parents Say: age 12+ 2 reviews Any Iffy Content? Read more Talk with Your Kids About… Read more A Lot or a Little? What you will—and won't—find in this TV show. Positive Messages Though many of the characters are difficult and co Positive Role Models

  21. 'The Undoing' Review (HBO): Nicole Kidman Series Pities the 1 Percent

    'The Undoing' Review: Nicole Kidman's Misguided HBO Drama Throws a Pity Party for the 1 Percent. David E. Kelley's latest courtroom drama acknowledges its privileged perspective, but a slow ...

  22. The Undoing Finale Exposed the Show's Grace Problem

    A review and analysis of "The Bloody Truth," the final episode of The Undoing, the HBO limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, from writer David E. Kelley.

  23. The Undoing by Jean Hanff Korelitz

    Read 3,541 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. The Undoing is the most talked about TV series of 2020. ... The Undoing). Grace Sachs is happily married and a successful therapist with a newly published book when she is shocked to discover terrible revelations about her husband of 20 years. The novel recounts her extreme ...

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