• Wendy Shreve


Watching a limited television series on streaming channels has its plusses and minuses. Longer than a movie, these extended mini-dramas or comedies have room to explore story arcs, develop plots and appeal to those who have time on their hands.

Being a movie critic, I rarely review these shows. 9 Perfect Strangers (based on the book by Liane Moriarty) appealed to my yearning for a Zen moment. To summarize, as the title indicates, nine people (a family of three; a couple and four individuals) come together at a mindfulness retreat run by a nefarious guru--of sorts--Masha (Nichole Kidman with a Russian accent). This ghostly woman in appearance and behavior emerges unexpectedly after her cohorts have oriented their guests, using soft, hands-on techniques to help the nervous participants to relax. We learn early on about her background; her reasons for opening "Tranquillum House."

Each has their own story to tell, giving hints that even among family members or partners, they behave like strangers.

Underneath the comfortable façade, lies a Fantasy Island-like subterfuge. Natural drinks, each tailored to specific dietary and emotional needs, also contain controlled substances used to induce hallucinations. Masha, the chess master, plays her paying customers as well as her associates with precision. Now, most would have swallowed their large fees (except for those with stretched incomes) and hightailed it out of the retreat. No, this eight-episode series (critics have been given six out of eight shows to screen) has to resolve the many emotional traumas, obstacles of its stars as if in real time.

Credentials abound: David E. Kelley and co-writer John Henry Butterworth; actors, in alphabetical order, Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, Regina Hall, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon and Grace Van Patten, for example; Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies, movie) most likely couldn't resist filming in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia (COVID-safer).

Once the storyline employs fiendish tricks to help those assembled find their way--and no one has a clue--this strange, unsatisfying journey stops short.

All the performers help lift the monotony to a higher plane. Too bad the passage couldn't have been a two- or three-hour stopover.

Looking for a quiet, temporary respite from the noise, try 9 Perfect Strangers for a diversion.

Now streaming on Hulu.

Rating: fine for ages thirteen and up.

Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on or my previous blog site,

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