MARE OF EASTTOWN (Craig Zobel). Seven episodes begin streaming Sunday (April 18) on Crave. Rating: NNNN
Mare Of Easttown, HBO’s gritty new murder mystery, is a limited series consisting of seven episodes, five of which were available for critics to review. But its characters and setting are so well-developed and entertaining that I could easily watch another couple of seasons.
Kate Winslet plays the eponymous detective investigating the murder of a troubled teenager. Easttown is such a small Pennsylvania town that Mare knows everyone involved in the case, including the deceased, the deceased’s ex and relatives. The night of the murder, the victim was captured on video with some of the town’s other teens, including someone very close to Mare. So whodunnit?
Because Mare failed to solve another teen’s disappearance the year before, a county cop (Evan Peters) has been brought in to help her out, and they have a prickly dynamic together. Meanwhile, Mare is dealing with lots of family stuff: her ex-husband, Frank (David Denman), has recently got engaged, and is living practically in her backyard; her grandson Drew (Izzy King) is living with her, and it turns out his former addict mother wants custody of him; and Mare’s meddling mom (Jean Smart) has also moved in but is busier drinking Manhattans and playing games on her iPad than she is taking care of the house. Plus, Mare still hasn’t come to terms with the death of her son, Drew’s father.
If this sounds like a rehash of HBO’s stylish, neo-noir Sharp Objects, the tone is much more interesting, mixing mystery with mordantly funny laughs. Zobel (The Hunt, Z For Zachariah) has a genuine affection for all his characters, and he amusingly plants lots of red herrings as cliff-hangers at the end of each episode.
Winslet, sporting an authentic-sounding accent, is utterly believable as a broken, blunt-talking cop interacting with her family, friends, the case’s suspects and… oh yeah, there’s a romantic subplot involving a visiting novelist played by her Mildred Pierce co-star Guy Pearce. Mare and her mom have a bitchy rapport that suggests decades of complicated history. And the way her relationship with Peters’s up-and-coming detective evolves provides some of the series’ biggest surprises; there’s a scene of the two cops in a bar that is simultaneously comic and tragic.
And while the murder mystery plot is what drives the narrative, what keeps our interest is how this close-knit community of characters will react to what’s going on.
Seriously, I hope Mare Of Easttown returns for some more cases. I probably wouldn’t want to live in Easttown. But it’s a great place to visit on my TV.