Mare of Easttown review: Weary Kate Winslet stars in middling HBO murder mystery that pales in comparison to Broadchurch
- Mare of Easttown review: HBO's latest prestige offering is a mystery miniseries starring Kate Winslet that suffers in comparison to Broachchurch, The Killing, and Top of the Lake -- three shows it borrows heavily from.
Television dramas don’t get more prestigious than Mare of Easttown, a seven-episode HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet. The Oscar-winner plays Mare Sheehan, a grizzled detective investigating a series of crimes against women in an insular Pennsylvania community.
Created by Brad Inglesby (The Way Back) and directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance), the show is a great example of the faux-edginess that recent HBO projects have adopted. Gone are the days when the premium cable network would produce only outright classics targeted at discerning audiences — in the streaming age, a wider clientele must be catered to.
Watch the Mare of Easttown trailer here
Mare of Easttown unfolds like the dozens of other small-town mysteries that we’ve seen; routinely revisiting familiar themes and walking down well-trod narrative nooks. As is customary for protagonists in shows such as this, Mare is an emotional recluse, clearly affected by a past trauma. The dependably strong Winslet gives her a gruff manner and a John Wayne-walk, but Mare isn't as instantly memorable as, say, Benoit Blanc, or Luther.
Episode one is devoted, almost entirely, to introducing the large cast of characters — Mare is on first-name basis with each of them, like any mayor would be.
It’s understandable why they chose to devote an hour to table-setting; in addition to being a solid mystery, Inglesby probably wants the show to function as a character study as well. But as you watch Mare interact with dozens of people, each of whom has a different tolerance level for her, you realise that all you’re really doing is waiting for one of them to have the decency to drop dead and kick the plot into motion.
Eventually, a teenage girl is found in the woods by a jogger, her naked body almost ritualistically splayed out on the creek — yes, it’s that kind of show — and Mare finds herself surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of suspects, including a tainted priest, a scorned ex-boyfriend, an abusive father, and an over-friendly school teacher. Yes, it’s that kind of show.
Five episodes were made available for preview, the last of which, I should mention, was a work-in-progress, with blue screen aplenty and placeholder sound. If I didn’t know any better, I’d be willing to wager that the show has already revealed the culprit, not through carefully laid-out clues, but by committing the same mistake that most of these murder mysteries make — casting. One character is played by a comparatively more accomplished actor, especially if you take into account their screen time.
“Is there anybody you aren’t related to?” an incredulous outsider detective, played by Evan Peters, asks Mare in one scene. And he has a point. There’s a sense that Easttown has sort of kept its people prisoner. The closed-off nature of the town has also seemingly spawned a teen pregnancy epidemic. Mare, for instance, is a grandmother. Erin, the dead 17-year-old, also had a baby.
Because of how closely integrated the community is, and a creeping suspicion that Mare might have a conflict of interest, the chief decides to bring in external help — Peters’ Detective Colin Zabel. The pair isn’t as immediately engaging as Mirelle Enos and Joel Kinnaman in The Killing or David Tennant and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch — the cornerstones for this type of television show — but they’re mismatched enough from some ripe drama.
There’s no way of telling how satisfying the show’s ending will be — I’ve seen fans change their minds drastically about everything from WandaVision to The Undoing recently — but regardless of how well it sticks the landing, one thing is for sure, it is nowhere near as good as it should have been.
And that’s because a lot of it feels contrived — there’s a utilitarian quality to the characters; instead of being used like colours in a tapestry, they’re reduced to pre-designed pieces of a puzzle. It’s perfectly acceptable for the show to examine Mare’s personal life in parallel to the investigation, but your suspension of disbelief is challenged when characters from one narrative thread begin to intersect with the other, when they have no logical reason to.
After a point, everyone in the town seems to have some connection with the crimes. It should’ve been called Mare of Haridwar instead.
Mare of Easttown
Creator - Brad Inglesby
Cast - Kate Winslet, Evan Peters, Julianne Nicholson, Guy Pearce
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar