Tiny Beautiful Things Review: Cheryl Strayed Fans Are In For a Treat

Love, pain, regrets — Liz Tigelaar’s new dramedy miniseries has it all.

If you haven’t read or at least heard about Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 bestseller memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by now — in which she talks about her heroin addiction, infidelity, and the loss of her mother that nearly destroyed her  — you might as well live on the Moon. Strayed’s book found astronomical success and was even made into a hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon in 2014.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, a collection of essays initially written anonymously by Strayed in a weekly column, is like a little sister to Wild. It was published only a few months after her memoir (although she had written the essays before the book), and the intersections of her life are pretty obvious.

It took longer for Tiny Beautiful Things to find its way to the screen as a miniseries on Disney+, which feels like both a pre-and-afterthought of Wild. It’s not as extensive and deep-diving, but still able to land a punch due to its potent source material and a relatable lead performance by Kathryn Hahn.

We follow Clare (Hahn) as her life slowly falls apart around her. Her second marriage to Danny (Quentin Plair) is in shambles and the two are in couple’s therapy. The latest source of their confrontation is that Clare gave away the entire college fund of their daughter Rae (Tanzyn Crawford) to her troubled brother Lucas (Owen Painter) without telling Danny. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of their dysfunctional relationship.


Clare’s connection with Rae is just as messy and turbulent, balancing on a love/hate dynamic that often brings out the worst out in each other. On top of everything, her writing career is in the toilet, too. She’s forced to work in admissions at a retirement community to make a living. When an old friend pays her a surprise visit, he basically drops the anonymous advice column “Dear Sugar” on her, which he was writing pretending to be a woman.

It’s the last thing she wants right now and it couldn’t be more evident why. Clare is in no position to give life advice to anyone (which she’s painfully aware of). However, she eventually takes the payless job and becomes a brutally honest yet comforting voice on the other end of a screen for strangers who seek advice through the column.

Make no mistake; despite that elaborate plot, Tiny Beautiful Things is a vehicle to depict (and reflect on) Strayed’s unprocessed grief toward her late mother, Frankie (played by a soulful and endearing Merritt Wever). The names might be different, and the stories might unfold in longer and more fleshed-out ways, but what we see here is clearly a large chunk of Strayed’s life.

The show effectively draws a parallel between Clare’s current life and her youth, which was just as convoluted and out of control at times. Through flashbacks, we learn about her mom’s devastating cancer that she simply couldn’t handle at that young of an age. As she goes through some of the questions submitted to Dear Sugar, memories show up like uninvited guests. A Christmas present from her mom that she hated. The acceptance letter from college. A magical night spent on the field behind her childhood home with her mother and brother, surrounded by wild horses. All these strike us as deeply intimate and closely guarded details from a life we can easily identify with. That explicit rawness is what makes Tiny Beautiful Things genuine and hard-hitting.


The structure of the series — jumping in and out of memories, connecting dots between past and present — can feel messy and uneven sometimes, but it actually fits the highs and lows of the emotions Clare is going through. The writing never tries to make her character brave or inspiring, something she’s most certainly not most of the time. She doesn’t have her shit together, and we know it as much as she does. She frequently fails as a wife and mother, making the wrong calls repeatedly, and that’s why she feels realistic and natural.

Hahn’s energetic and vivacious performance provides Clare with quirks and raw emotions that often blast out of her at the worst moments. She’s not always likable, attractive, or agreeable, but all those traits help ground her portrayal. Her younger self in flashbacks (played by Sarah Pidgeon) is equally strong, matching the same qualities that Hahn brings to the character in the present.

The one area where Tiny Beautiful Things falls short is the secondary characters, whose arcs feel incomplete compared to the protagonist. For instance, we see Danny and Rae go through their own individual intimacy issues, but the plot is so locked in on Clare’s path that it forgets to give them a proper closure at the end — which would be acceptable if the medium wasn’t a miniseries. In that, the writing feels somewhat self-centered, just like its lead is, but it’s undeniable that Tiny Beautiful Things works best when it pays utmost attention to Clare’s trauma and dissects her every emotion (past and present) exclusively.

Overall, at its essence, the series accurately conveys what it feels like to lose a parent. To no longer have someone so crucial be part of our lives is simply baffling and incomprehensible. Whether you went through that experience yet or not, Tiny Beautiful Things might stir up thoughts, emotions, and memories in you (good and bad), which will make you reflect on your own relationship with your parents. In itself, that’s an attribute that very few TV shows possess on such an intimate, explicit, and emotional level.


All episodes of Tiny Beautiful Things are now available to stream on Disney+.