Series Review: Mare of Easttown
Mare of Easttown
Created by Brad Inglesby
HBO and wiip
Premiering on HBO 04.18
There’s a moment in watching Mare of Easttown, the new HBO limited series starring Oscar winner Kate Winslet, where Winslet is sitting in a bar talking to Guy Pearce. As a cinephile, I was really struck by the fact that I was seeing Rose DeWitt-Bucater from Titanic having a drink with Ed Exley of LA Confidential nearly 24 years after the two films went head to head in the battle for Best Picture, and gave their stars the prolific, long-lasting careers that they have today. Pearce may not be quite in the same league as Winslet, but that can be said of 99% of the actors in Hollywood. It’s tempting to compare her to a fine wine that just gets better with age, but that’s a line that is corny enough to have been used in Titanic itself.
Mare of Easttown follows Mare Sheehan (Winslet), a small-town Pennsylvania police detective in a tight-knit community, who garnered a certain level of fame in a high school basketball game, when she scored a shot that won her team, the Lady Hawks, the state championships. Mare isn’t fond of being constantly reminded of this, though it certainly beats her current claim to fame, namely, not having solved a missing-girl case that has had no solid leads for a year. It’s a fact that the victim’s mother, Dawn Bailey (Enid Graham, The Glorias, Mindhunter) won’t let anyone forget.
Mare is also dealing with the aftermath of an unspeakable family tragedy, a divorce from her husband Frank (David Denman, The Office, Greenland) and raising her grandson Drew (Izzy King) with the “help” of her mother, Helen (Jean Smart, Designing Women, 24), whom she clashes with on a daily basis. But when a shocking murder case rocks the town, Mare must rise to the challenge, aided by a younger big-city detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters, X-Men: Days of Future Past, WandaVision) who’s been brought in to partner with her. Mare must try to focus on solving this explosive case as her life continues to crumble around her.
Winslet has never been better, and that’s really saying a lot. It’s a breathtakingly honest, no-frills performance that will be remembered among her career-defining roles. Her chemistry with both Peters and Smart is reason enough to hail the show as a triumph. But every single performance is top-notch, with Denman and Graham having some major standout moments. Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man: Homecoming) is quite good as Mare’s daughter, Siobhan, though her plot, as well as the subplot involving Pearce as a writer who has moved to town and takes a liking to Mare, are not among the most compelling elements of the show. Cailee Spaeny (On The Basis of Sex, How it Ends) is heartbreaking in a daring performance as a young single mother, and Sosie Bacon (13 Reasons Why) provides an interesting presence as young Drew’s mother.
The writing by Brad Inglesby (The Way Back, Our Friend), the series creator, is smart, sensitive and as bitingly funny as it is unflinchingly disturbing. It signals the arrival of a new name-brand creative voice. Director Craig Zobel (Z for Zachariah, The Hunt) keeps the pacing mostly tight, and brings a noirish atmosphere that had me on the edge of my seat.
Where The Nevers revels in pushing the same kind of lurid “you can’t do that on network television” HBO excesses that made Game of Thrones famous, Mare of Easttown uses its most shocking content all in the service of the reality of the story. This is television for grownups in the best sense and easily the most addictive (no pun intended) character-driven dramatic series I’ve seen since The Queen’s Gambit.
Mare of Easttown is a soul-searching story of guilt, love, loss, secrets and facing our worst fears, as well as a riveting exploration of small-town life at its absolute darkest. The series shoots and scores just as spectacularly as its title character, and it’s likely to be among the most talked about and decorated shows when the Emmys come around this year. But most of all, it’s a reminder that 24 years after surviving the most infamous shipwreck in history, Kate Winslet’s ability to surprise, to excel at her craft and command our attention will go on and on. –Patrick Gibbs