Review by Sean Boelman
At this point, it feels as if HBO has at least one limited series every season that is tailor-built to win the network awards. The Kate Winslet vehicle Mare of Easttown certainly falls into that category, overcoming its busy plotting with some strong direction from Craig Zobel and genuinely great performances all-around.
The series follows a small-town detective whose life begins to unravel as she investigates the tragic murder of a young girl. Written by Brad Ingelsby (The Way Back), the story itself is a relatively standard mystery/melodrama hybrid, but the A-list talent involved is able to hold the audience’s interest nevertheless.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the series is that it seems too involved in its subplots. Despite what the title would suggest, this show is less about Winslet’s eponymous detective and more about the residents of the town as a whole. While these threads may all come together in the final two episodes, it’s still an overwhelming amount of moving parts.
The strongest storyline of the series is certainly the protagonist’s, making one wonder why they felt the need to include all of these other players. The intention seems to be to throw off the audience with a series of red herrings before making the big reveal in the final episodes, but viewers will likely be more invested in the human aspects of the story than the twists and turns.
This overstuffed writing also comes at the expense of depth. There are some really interesting things in the main storyline about grief, but this theme is largely explored through exposition. As a result, it ends up feeling more like a tropey cop with a troubled past arc than a legitimate mourning arc.
Without a doubt, the strongest aspect of the series is its performances. Winslet is at her best in years as the weathered detective who has been broken down over the years. Her turn is equal parts intimidating and intimate, and it’s thoroughly impressive to watch. The supporting cast is filled with great appearances from Evan Peters, Angourie Rice, and Cailee Spaeny, among others.
There isn’t a whole lot of investment in visual style or atmosphere here, but the series is shot very competently and does a good job of building suspense. Zobel recognizes that the strength of this show is in the performances, and as such, he emphasizes their contribution, not distracting the audience with an overly pulpy flair.
Mare of Easttown is a mostly strong series that will hook audiences and leave them wanting to see more every week. Viewers shouldn’t be surprised to see this pop up in conversations about some of the best performances of the television season.
Mare of Easttown debuts on HBO on April 18 at 10pm ET/PT with subsequent episodes airing on Sundays at the same time. Five out of seven episodes reviewed.