Streep vs. Witherspoon: Whose Iconic TV Scream Is Best?

Lauren Puckett
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy


In my under-qualified opinion, far too much praise is given to those actors and actresses who can master the single-tear cry. In fact, the true sign of Hollywood greatness is an earth-shaking banshee shriek. If you can make a good enough scream to go viral, it's likely you deserve an Emmy—and you'll probably even get one.

Evidence: Both Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere have each been nominated for five Emmys. You could say it's due to stellar performances, complex women-centric narratives, etc., etc., but no. Think back with me here. When Meryl Streep signed on to join the second scene of the HBO series Big Little Lies, we had no idea we were about to witness one of the single most important television moments of the last decade: The Meryl Streep Scream. In Lies, Streep plays Mary Louise, the unsettling (albeit grief-stricken) mother of Perry Wright, who was killed during the first season’s finale.

In a now-legendary scene that has since been parodied by Jimmy Fallon and turned into a club remix, Streep tells the Wright family that the injustice of Perry’s death makes her want to scream. So, right at the dinner table, she screams. It is absolutely blood-chilling, and I could watch it every single day forever.

For many mournful weeks, we had no other such scream to meme. But then, on April 22, 2020, Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere released its finale, featuring Reese Witherspoon at peak rich white mom. During a series of events that eventually lead to her house burning down, Witherspoon’s character confronts her eldest daughter, who tries to convince her mother she's not as perfect as she seems.

Witherspoon turns into a woman who’s just had the last half-price toaster ripped from her fingers on Black Friday and caterwauls: “YES, YOU ARE!”

The scene has been heralded as a prime “Karen moment,” but can it really hold a candle to the legendary Oscar-sweeper herself? Let’s break this down between #StreepScream and #SpoonScream as we prepare for this year's Emmys.


By my count, Streep’s dinner-table wail lasts a full 10 seconds. Witherspoon’s hallway shriek lasts a short (but solid) three. Winner? #StreepScream.


Witherspoon’s cry is more immediately high-pitched and vicious. (Plus I’m pretty sure her eyes turn black, but I might’ve just passed out for a moment.) Streep’s screech goes on its own hero’s journey from shocked to agonized to grumbling before it finally turns into laughter. Winner? #StreepScream.

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO


After Mary Louise tells her grandsons she’s about to scream, Streep spends eight seconds preparing for said scream. She takes a deep breath, rolls out her neck, lets herself simmer. But Witherspoon rolls into her holler with absolutely no warning. Winner? #SpoonScream.


This is a hard category to judge, because who can really say whether one display of anger is more valid than another? We all process rage differently. Some of us like quick little explosions like Witherspoon’s. Others need to get the entire volume of their lungs out into the world. Personally, I'm a pillow-screamer, not a snipper, so I’m gonna have to give this one to #StreepScream.

So, we have a winner, and it’ll come as absolutely no surprise that it's the queen herself, Meryl Streep. She did receive an Emmy nom for this performance, after all.

But don’t worry, Reese. There’s another season of The Morning Show on the way. Here’s hoping you’ll have plenty more opportunities to lose your cool.

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