The Undoing: like Gossip Girl 40 years on, with added murder

Good news for fans of sumptuous wallpaper and Nicole Kidman, because The Undoing (Monday, 9pm, Sky Atlantic) has both in spades. Firstly, the wallpaper: acres of it, in lofty-ceilinged apartments; duck-egg blue with golden lineaments, or linen hung decades ago by master craftsmen, or just an alcove lined with subtle candystripes leading down to a ripe mahogany floor. There is more to The Undoing than gazing adoringly at Wasp-ish interior design, yes, but it’s such a big part of the show you suspect Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen will watch it alone to unwind.

The Undoing is the latest Gone Girl, in that it is a book-club thriller about a couple who are very wealthy but then fall apart because of a secret, and it has been optioned for an A-list-starring, grey colour palette-having film or miniseries. Kidman plays Grace Sachs, a high-flying New York psychologist with a wealthy father (Donald Sutherland), a charmingly bright son (Noah Jupe, whose path to the A-list is so assured I can already see him on the Graham Norton show in 15 years’ time, watching politely in a tuxedo while Graham replays old clips of this exact show, giggling at how young he looks), and a horny Hugh Grant-shaped husband (played by, obviously, Hugh Grant). Everything seems fine for 40 to 45 minutes and then someone gets accused of murder and life as we knew it so far is gone, blah blah blah.

Thing is, it’s meant to be this unnerving story about what happens when your world falls out from under you; how it feels to kick your legs in water when you thought you were on firm land. But also, quite often, it is just about how it’s quite nice to be old-money rich in New York; the vampish glamour of untouchable wealth. Grace’s NYC isn’t the NYC of steam coming out of the sewers and getting flashed on the subway; it’s a New York of playing a grand piano in an otherwise empty room, smoking a single cigarette on a balcony overlooking Central Park, of “having a driver”. One of the locations for all the mystery and intrigue is an esteemed private school, and often it really does just feel like everyone in Gossip Girl aged 40 years and someone got killed.

I gobbled it up, though, because it’s so … plush. For something I am almost legally bound to call a thriller, it is not wildly thrilling (I predicted three entire plot pivots, which is an astonishing get for a man who has never once called the killer in a single episode of CSI, and that includes some repeats of episodes I’ve already seen), but that soon stops being the point. Instead, The Undoing becomes a story of unravelling, of school-gate gossip (the writer, David E Kelley, brings that same premium touch from Big Little Lies over to this), of watching a closeup of Kidman’s astonishingly poreless skin as she tries very hard not to cry.

It clanks here and there – the courtroom scenes are, and I know I’m not a lawyer so I can’t actually say this, deeply unprofessional – and the show suffers from meaningfulitis, where every glance and interaction and this-person-actually-knows-something-they’re-not-saying hint is clanged over your head like a gorgeous copper pan. But when you’re watching Nicole Kidman walk around New York in a big, expensive scarf, do you really actually care? I’m telling you right now: you won’t.



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