The setting of Hulu's new miniseries Little Fires Everywhere is so precisely idyllic that it doesn't even seem real. The show is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a town that may appear to be an over-the-top satire of image-obsessed, affluent small towns in America, similar to the fictional Stepford, Connecticut, of The Stepford Wives. But unlike Stepford, Shaker Heights is a real place, and there is an important reason why Little Fires Everywhere is set there.
In its first three episodes that premiered on Hulu on Wednesday, March 18, Little Fires Everywhere introduces viewers to Shaker Heights through the eyes of outsiders Mia and Pearl Warren. The vagabond mother-daughter duo are surprised by the town's big homes, picture-perfect landscaping, and most of all, the pages of strict rules that come with being a resident. Once Elena Richardson rents her apartment to Mia and Pearl, she hands them a booklet full of rules, including a requirement for the maximum height the grass in their lawn can reach and a special garbage-collection system that prevents trashcans from ruining the beautiful aesthetic of the town.
Elena herself encapsulates the image-conscious, rule-abiding, perfect Shaker Heights citizen, as she is constantly dressed to the nines and adding color-coded Post-its to her giant kitchen calendar. It's enough to make viewers think the town was invented as a piece of satire, but Shaker Heights, Ohio is a real place.
Shaker Heights was founded in 1912 as a planned community, envisioned to be a suburban retreat from the industrialism of nearby Cleveland. Strict building codes and zoning laws have become part of the town's signature identity through the years.
The real reason Shaker Heights is the setting for Little Fires Everywhere, though, is because it was where author Celeste Ng was raised. Ng wrote the 2017 novel of the same name that the new miniseries is based on, and she spoke to Cleveland.com about how growing up in the surprisingly progressive community helped form her views on race and class:
I loved growing up in Shaker, and I didn't realize until after I left what an unusual place it is: how progressive the community is, how many opportunities we had at school (a planetarium! creative writing courses! the theatre program!). Growing up in Shaker made me conscious of race, in the best possible way. I was part of SGORR (the Student Group on Race Relations) for three years in high school, where we visited elementary school classrooms to talk about things like discrimination and stereotyping. Our teams met weekly to discuss these issues ourselves, and hearing others' perspectives made me think deeply about how others perceive us versus how we perceive ourselves.
Of course, many issues involving race and class can be incredibly tricky topics, and the most complex parts of the series will tackle those gray areas and tough questions, with Shaker Heights as the backdrop.
New episodes of Little Fires Everywhere drop on Wednesdays on Hulu.