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The ‘Big Little Lies’ Awards for Best Cursing

Petty scandals and vicious infighting are the stock in trade for a show that has made high art out of its characters’ cuss words

HBO/Ringer illustration

As we all know, the wealthy and professionally successful have attained their status through the forces of their wisdom, talent, and exceedingly fine manners. Which is to say that the upper crust of (fictional) Monterey, California, are some of the nastiest, pettiest, and most foul-mouthed humans ever to grace the small screen.

The second season of Big Little Lies is underway, bringing us a whole new array of jealousies, grudges, lashings out, and other acts of malevolence. It’s high time to celebrate what Lies is really all about: how the hidden depths of family shape who we are. Just kidding—let’s look at the worst, meanest, weirdest, most on-the-nose bouts of cursing (so far).

Best Monologue: “You can go fuck yourself on the head.” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Madeline loves the First Amendment. And winning. Her dedication to making sure that the local theater was able to perform Avenue Q, fornicating puppet scene and all, reaches some rather lofty heights.

“Do not yell at me,” she tells Joseph over the phone from her kitchen (yes, that Joseph). “You’re the one—” She pauses to ask of her youngest daughter, Chloe, “Honey, can you turn it down, please?”

“Do you understand the precedent that you’d be setting?” she continues. Music successfully quieted, she steps out of the kitchen for privacy. “Don’t yell at me. You know what? I’m a lady, and I’ve never said this to anybody, ever, in my entire life, but I’m gonna say it to you: You can go fuck yourself on the head.” She hangs up, hurries back into the kitchen, and takes a gulp of coffee. “Right on the head?” Abigail, her eldest daughter, asks her.

Runner-up: “You’re a snide fuck.” (Season 2, Episode 1)

“Why do you always have to be so snide?” Nathan asks Ed, who tells him, sincerely, that he doesn’t mean to be. “You don’t mean to be, it just comes natural. It’s like you’re a snide fuck. That’s what you are, you’re a snide fuck. … Yeah, you’re snide. You’re a snide fuck. Whatever. Snide fuck.”

Fan favorite: “You’re dead in this town, as is your fucking puppet show.” (Season 1, Episode 3)

After Renata declines to invite Ziggy to Amabella’s birthday party, Madeline responds by planning a Disney on Ice outing with some of the other partygoers in retaliation. Renata calls her, hat in hand, to beg her to cancel it, even offering to take the kids on an all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland. Madeline, having never turned down an opportunity to escalate, does so here, refusing Renata’s offer and sending her into a rage: “I’ll even get Snow White to sit on your husband’s face. Maybe Dumbo can take a squat on yours. ... You’re dead in this town, as is your fucking puppet show.” “Dead in this town,” incidentally, is the name of The Ringer’s Big Little Lies Slack channel.

Runner-up: “Why don’t you get fucked?” (Season 1, Episode 2)

To put it mildly, Renata and Madeline did not get along during Season 1 of Big Little Lies. Nothing like a little sparring at the local beer garden:

Renata: “I like you, Madeline, and I actually admire you for sticking up for your unapologetic friend. But if I can offer something as objectively as I possibly can, [whispers] do not fuck with my daughter’s birthday.”

Madeline, as Renata starts to walk away: “What a cunt.”

Renata: “Excuse me?!”

Madeline: “Why don’t you get fucked?”

Second Runner-up: “Give me a fucking break.” (Season 1, Episode 5)

As Celeste and Perry have sex on the kitchen counter, a parent from Season 1’s interstitial Greek chorus is heard saying, “People out there that say they have satisfying sex lives? Give me a fucking break.” A description of this act later prompts a “yeah right” from Madeline. Still, inspired, she attempts the same with Ed: “Just shut up and fuck me,” she tells him. Love!

Most Bizarrely Revealing Evidence of Marital Discord: “I can’t believe you’re eating that shit.” (Season 1, Episode 6)

So says Bonnie to Nathan, who’s helping himself to a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, and then takes this moment to pour himself another one. What does Bonnie see in Nathan, who has definitely eaten Cocoa Puffs since the day they met? We might never know.

Most Normal Use of Cursing: “I fucking miss it!” (Season 1, Episode 4)

An uncharacteristically unrestrained Celeste slams emphatically on her car horn and declares that she misses being a lawyer after all.

Runner-up: “God DAMN IT!” (Season 1, Episode 6)

“Let’s all just settle for a minute, OK? Please, let’s just settle. Let’s remember that we are living in the time of, of Facebook, and reality T—oh, god DAMN IT! Shit!” So says Bonnie trying to make nice at dinner over a discussion of Abigail’s school project (the one to auction off her virginity, NBD), only to have Madeline projectile vomit over the dinner table.

Best Madeline-Being-Madeline Moment: “Get laid, bitch!” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Never doubt Madeline’s ability to go from zero to 60, as she did here at a parent who had the nerve to honk at her for blocking traffic in the Otter Bay parking lot. She had a similar moment in Season 2, screaming at a car, “Why are you cutting me off, dick?” before telling Celeste, warmly, “Once I lean in, you know how I am.”

Runner-up: “Stick that up your tight ass, bitch!” (Season 1, Episode 4)

This counts for celebration in Madeline’s world—here, she’s defeated Renata’s attempts to shut down the Avenue Q production.

Second Runner-up: “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK! I DON’T CARE ABOUT FUCKING HOMELESS PEOPLE!” (Season 2, Episode 1)

This, it turns out, was not a particularly persuasive argument against Abigail’s budding interest in working at a startup.

Most Fateful Curse: “Damnit.” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Madeline says this when, having told off a group of teens (including her own daughter, Abigail) for texting and driving, she turns on her heel—only to trip and fall, setting up a meet-cute with Jane, who, en route to Ziggy’s first day at Otter Bay, pulls over to make sure she’s OK. As a member of parent Greek chorus put it, “It’s possible none of this would have happened” had Madeline not tripped that day.

Runner-up: “But these gems—they’re fucking kamikazes, and I’m not kidding.” (Season 1, Episode 2)

“Actually, in my graduate thesis I coined the term ‘helicopter parent,’” principal Nippal tells us (or the cops, anyway). “But these gems—they’re fucking kamikazes, and I’m not kidding.” If he only knew!

Most Touching Use of Cursing: “I’m not fucking perfect.” (Season 1, Episode 6)

Madeline is, shall we say, less than supportive of Abigail’s idea to auction off her virginity to raise awareness about sex trafficking. And while her usual parenting technique might be summed up as “bellow the word ‘no,’” on this occasion, she took a softer and much more honest approach. (This honesty would eventually come back to haunt her, alas.) “One day,” she tells Abigail, “you are going to look back at this, probably pretty soon, and think, what the fuck was I thinking? Why was I gonna fuck up my life like that?”

“Must be nice to be so right,” Abigail replies.

“I’m not right!” Madeline shoots back.

“And so perfect,” Abigail continues. (Thoughts and prayers to everyone with a teen or future teen anywhere near their home.)

“I’m not fucking perfect!” Madeline says. “You think you know me so well? I fuck up too. I make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes bigger than this. Last year I cheated on Ed. I ended it very quickly, but the two things I value most are my kids and my marriage, and I risked destroying both of them just because I was selfish, or …” She trails off. “So don’t tell me I’m perfect, OK? I know about fucking up. And fucking up doesn’t make your dad and I get back together. Fucking up doesn’t fix your life. OK?”

Runner-up: “You know, despite all of our shit, I root for you.” (Season 1, Episode 7)

Whoda thunk it: Nathan has a heart, as well as grudging respect for his ex-wife, even after all the years (and, yes, shit).

Most Damning Curse: “I’m so sick of these fucking lies.” (Season 1, Episode 7)

By the Season 1 finale, we get detective Quinlan’s take on the Monterey Five’s accounts of the night that Perry Wright died: “Turn it off. I’m so sick of these fucking lies. It wasn’t an accident.”

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.