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tv Expats Review: Nicole Kidman Leads a Beautifully Devastating Drama

Prime Video's series, created by The Farewell’s Lulu Wang, is a tragic and truthful rumination on womanhood. The show also sprinkles in arcs about class differences, racism, and motherhood.

Nicole Kidman in Expats,Photo: Prime Video

Expats is designed to both emotionally wreck and inspire its audience. Prime Video’s six-part series, which premieres January 26, has a keen understanding of womanhood, with the type of brutal authenticity that only comes from having women in front of and behind the camera. Helmed by The Farewells Lulu Wang, the all-female writers’ room doles out an affecting hit in Expats. To top it off, the show is led by Nicole Kidman who, not surprisingly, is a force of nature here. She’s the big hook, of course, but Kidman isn’t the only marvel. Her co-stars, Sarayu Blue and Ji-young Yoo, are equally powerful, helping to tell a profound story about grief, loss, and the burden of trying to move on.

The show does risk self-indulgence at times, especially with its luxurious pacing and the way it milks one horrendous incident in the lives of its leading trio for theatrical effect. Luckily, the expected bouts of melodrama are circumvented because Expats grounds itself in an unflinching reality, no matter how sad, shocking, or sublime. Wang’s audaciousness as a creator—and as an artist unafraid to take risks while championing diverse stories—is rewarding, too. She captures Hong Kong beautifully, with some particularly lovely camerawork in the premiere, and the show’s potent, 97-minute penultimate episode is basically an indie movie all its own.



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Expats’ overarching thesis is similar to the novel on which it’s based, Janice Y.K. Lee’s acclaimed The Expatriates. The show dwells on three American expats and how they adapt to a tragedy in their tight-knit, fast-paced Hong Kong community. There’s Margaret (Kidman), a mother of three who gives up her career in the U.S. to move across the world for her husband’s new job. Then there’s Mercy (Yoo), a rebellious 24-year-old Korean who recently graduated from Columbia and is hoping for a fresh start. Meanwhile, an ambitious Hilary (Blue) suffers from marital strife as she debates whether or not she wants a child.

But Expats also differs from the book thanks to a few inventive choices. First among them is the decision to make Hilary, a.k.a. Harpreet Singh, a character of Indian origin. This lends a deeper perspective to both Hilary’s storyline and to Expats as a whole. Episode four, for instance, features a masterful guest appearance from British theater star Sudha Bhuchar as Hilary’s mother, with the two going back and forth about Hilary’s solemn upbringing. Their conversation is steeped in honesty and hurt, and the drama hits even harder as the actors seamlessly switch from English to Punjabi.

There’s also an expanded spotlight on talented Filipino supporting cast members like Ruby Ruiz and Amelyn Pardenilla, who play the house staff of the wealthy protagonists. Expats doesn’t leave these characters in the shadows. Instead, it provides a meaningful portrait of their day-to-day lives, including exchanges in Tagalog that help create a deeply immersive experience. The show weaves its characters’ journeys together to form an unshakeable tale, and Wang and her team somehow achieve this without making Expats feel rushed or overstuffed.

Expats - Official Trailer | Prime Video

The writing makes a point to distinguish the personalities and backgrounds of the three lead characters, which helps each of the women resonate with viewers. Through them, Expats examines the tough process of dealing with unavoidable emotions like loneliness, guilt, grief, and abandonment. The tragic, almost cataclysmic, event that binds them occurs when Mercy, who is taking care of Margaret’s youngest son, loses him in a crowded night market. Hilary’s husband, David (Jack Huston), briefly becomes a suspect, and the events permanently scar the friendship between Margaret and Hilary, who live in the same high-rise building.

Kidman is gut-wrenching as a grieving mom, communicating her ache in every way, most crucially through her eyes and expressions. It’s impossible to look away from her. Blue and Yoo match Kidman’s energy, and together they’re a trio to be reckoned with. Through these performances, Expats excruciatingly examines what it’s like to make mistakes, to learn to live with them and to embrace the future despite uncertainty and agony. It’s a poignant drama about simply being human.

The show also sprinkles in arcs about class differences, racism, and motherhood, without making any of those issues feel tacked on. The project is aided by a terrific ensemble, including Brian Tee as Margaret’s caring partner, Clarke. At its core, though, Expats is a meditation on womanhood and the ancillary pressures placed on them by society, parents, children, partners, and even themselves. a deeply heart-wrenching drama, Expats is not always an easy watch. But Wang has gifted us with a truly formidable show, the kind that sticks with you long after the credits roll.