This post discusses plot points from Nine Perfect Strangers’ first three episodes, “Random Acts Of Mayhem,” “The Critical Path,” and “Earth Day.”
One of the smartest things about the debut of Nine Perfect Strangers is that it gives viewers three full episodes to get acclimated to its tone, a mix of frothy fun and soapy drama, with a little bit of chaos thrown in via Nicole Kidman’s mysterious Masha. Moving forward, Hulu’s starry limited series will go the more traditional route, dropping new episodes on a week-to-week basis, but this trio of installments up front proves to be the perfect appetizer for this late-summer fare.
From the jump, it’s clear that there’s more to these nine perfect strangers than meets the eye when they first arrive to the mysterious Tranquillum House. The retreat’s reputation precedes itself, but the guests know nothing about one another, and they certainly have no idea what to expect of Masha, who runs the place with a delicate but commanding presence. All the unknowns can make it an intriguing if frustrating watch in the early goings—especially for those who haven’t read the Liane Moriarty novel it’s based on, and are still having trouble figuring out who’s who.
Thankfully, by the end of episode three, “Earth Day,” Nine Perfect Strangers has revealed some illuminating details about its ensemble, breaking down the walls they had up when they first arrived. Something about being divided by gender and forced to live off the land has inspired the Tranquillum House guests to loosen up a bit—or could it be those smoothies? Either way, Ben (Melvin Gregg) feels comfortable enough to tell the guys he and Jessica (Samara Weaving) are recent $22 million lottery winners, which goes a long way to explain the brand-new Lamborghini the couple rolled up in. But that comes after Ben outs the reluctant Tony (Bobby Cannavale) as “Smiley” Hogburn, a football star whose all-star dreams were crushed by a shattered knee. To learn more about these revelations, and what they mean for the characters moving forward, The A.V. Club spoke with Cannavale, Gregg, and Weaving about Nine Perfect Strangers’ three-episode premiere.
For Tony, Tranquillum House isn’t just a retreat, it’s a last resort. “He’s in the dregs,” Cannavale shares. “He’s got this massive addiction, he’s got no family left, and I think he’s closer to the end of the rope than most people.” The actor—who says he’s always wanted to play a professional athlete—was interested in exploring a character with nothing else to lose: “What happens when you’re at the top and everybody wants to be you and then you’re nothing?” The fact that he even made it to Tranquillum is a step in the right direction for Tony, but Cannavale notes the sad fact that, thus far, he’s spent most of his time there trying to get out. The fact that Masha has insisted on confiscating his drugs and medication certainly hasn’t helped.
But “Earth Day” presents two personal wins for Tony, dusting off his competitive streak and showing that there just might be some life left in him. You can see it when his team wins the sack race—it’s that victory dance that tips off his cohorts to his footballer past—and that fighting spirit comes to the forefront again when he hunts down a wild goat with his bare hands. “I think that is a victory for him,” Cannavale says, “and I think that will go probably a long way towards his healing, if he can see it all the way through.” As he teases, “There’s going to be some revelations coming up that I think will be able to better explain the euphoria of that moment.” For more of our interview with Cannavale, check out the video above.
“It’s more money, more problems,” Samara Weaving jokes about what brought Jessica and Ben to Tranquillum. It’s pretty apparent from episode one that this picture-perfect couple arrived with a fair amount of emotional baggage, and Ben’s revelation of the eight-figure lottery win seems to imply that the money has wedged between them in more ways than one. “[After that,] they didn’t really have a purpose anymore,” says Weaving. “They didn’t have to work, they didn’t really have to do anything. I think, initially, it was really freeing, and then after a while there is something that’s inhumane about just not having to—you don’t a purpose. But humans do, it’s their soul!”
So if money’s changed Jessica and Ben for the worse, who were they before that? Was there ever love between them, and can they find it again? Melvin Gregg shares that, though there are some differences between the series and Moriarty’s novel, the book really was “the blueprint” in terms of figuring out where these characters came from. “We talked about [them] being in high school [together,] and we tried to go back as far as possible,” Gregg says of fleshing out their story. “It was mainly figuring out who they were before, what type of relationship they had, why they were together, what they liked about each other—and that would take us to the place of what they lost.” As the actors teased, there’s a chance they may soon re-discover that initial spark—with a little help from Masha’s smoothies. You can watch more of our interview with Weaving and Gregg in the video above.
For more on the first three episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers, you can check out Gwen Ihnat’s TV Club recaps here.