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HBO's Mare at Easttown takes its time, but will suck you in and refuse to let you go

  • "There’s nothing like coming 'home,' which could be said of Kate Winslet’s return to HBO in Mare of Easttown, one decade after her Emmy-winning turn in Mildred Pierce," says Kimberly Ricci. "This is also true, in a metaphorical sense, of Winslet’s title character in HBO’s new limited series, Mare of Easttown, although this character is living in a perpetual homecoming when she’s never left home in the first place. The show’s a lot of things: character study, world-building portrait of small-town life, and crime drama with (here’s the kicker) a sharp-witted dramedy embedded within the confines. It must also be noted that this show wasn’t exactly well-served by the show’s trailer. Sure, people expect a quality project when Kate Winslet is involved, but the trailer forecast yet another 'gritty' cop drama focused upon a world-weary, probably hard-drinking, 'complicated' protagonist. Yes, Winslet does embody that trope of a TV-cop, but this show ain’t overly gritty, even if the drab color palette would suggest otherwise. Instead, Mare of Easttown, which is very serious in subject matter, is also quite charming at times. It will lure you in with a slow-burning first few episodes as we get to know our protagonist by how others perceive her, and then all (controlled) hell breaks loose. Kate Winslet doing a Philadelphia-adjacent accent then becomes only one of the main draws; she is thoroughly fascinating."


    • Mare of the Easttown is one of those shows that makes it hard to fall asleep after watching: "It may not seem that way after its scene-setting, though still engrossing, premiere on HBO Sunday night, but the mystery-thriller speeds through a winding maze of twists, startling you after each hairpin plot turn," says Kevin Fallon. "Marketing materials tease the Kate Winslet-starring drama using a line of dialogue that compares solving one of the show’s crimes to finding “a needle in a thousand haystacks.” As the episodes unfold, in each of those haystacks is another disturbing grenade of information, just waiting to detonate. You’d be excused for assuming Mare of Easttown, based on a first-episode impression, is the kind of crime drama you’ve seen before. “It’s like True Detective! Or Broadchurch! Or Top of the Lake! you could rightfully recommend to a friend. That’s not meant as a deterrent; you’ve probably loved and devoured those shows...What starts as the familiar slow burn of those other shows—a close-knit community is rocked by a murder that a hardened local detective must investigate—quickly catches fire, becoming a powerful portrait of grief, trauma, and the devastating secrets buried in this claustrophobic town’s tangled web of relationships."
    • Mare of Easttown is as much a portrait of a town as it is a crime drama: "The seven-part limited series acutely recalls Happy Valley, Sally Wainwright’s (far superior) BBC/Netflix show about a middle-aged female cop who often seems to be the only person holding together her drug-ravaged working-class town, even as its dysfunctions follow her home," says Inkoo Kang. "Like Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood on Happy Valley, Mare took on the responsibility of bringing up her toddler grandson, Drew (Izzy King) — in his unfortunate case, after his parents became mired in addiction. Helping the overextended Mare raise Drew and her remaining child, college-bound Siobhan (Angourie Rice), is Mare’s mom Helen (Jean Smart in a fright wig), who naturally gets under her daughter’s skin like no one else. Mare of Easttown is most compelling when it sticks to the Happy Valley model of illustrating how its titular character is both a product of and an outlier in her hometown — and noticeably flags when it hews closer to tropes like the love triangle that ensnares its female protagonist between two thinly sketched, relentlessly devoted men (Guy Pearce and Evan Peters)...Disappointingly, the slice-of-life quality that so distinguishes the series — and forces Mare into uncomfortable situations with neighbors or ex-classmates she’s clearly known for years — slowly dissipates as the story progresses. The more we learn about the young women who disappear, the more relatable they are — making one terrifying but one-dimensional villain, introduced midway through the season, feel imported from an entirely different show."
    • Mare of Easttown is far better than any detective show should be: The HBO drama "doesn't go so far as to reinvent the detective story, it does offer a version of the tale more nuanced and thoughtful than the vast majority of its peers," says Kelly Lawler. "Starring Kate Winslet as a small town cop just outside of Philadelphia, Mare is a mystery on the outside and a personal family drama in its interior. Its characters are deeply real and expertly drawn, its sense of place firmly established and specific, and its clues genuinely shocking. It's an intense and satisfying to watch, going to places your average murder mystery wouldn't aspire."
    • Mare of Easttown is in the tradition of Middle American miserabilism: It's a genre HBO has cultivated before in Mark Ruffalo's I Know This Much is True, says Mike Hale. "They’re shows that aren’t about much of anything besides their characters’ despair and the painstakingly rendered small-town or suburban milieus that inevitably cause it," he says. "In Mare of Easttown, which takes the form of a crime drama, the fruits of middle-class American life include addiction, adultery, beatings, abduction, rape and murder, and that’s just in the five episodes available to critics. Some style in the direction or honest feeling in the screenplay could have mitigated the dreariness, but Mare doesn’t offer much beyond Ben Richardson’s burnished cinematography. The moments of fright and danger don’t have much force, and the psychological and sociological framework surrounding the mystery (which grows to involve several other missing or dead girls) doesn’t deliver the emotion it needs to."
    • It's a drama that cares about its characters: "Mare of Easttown sounds like it’s going to be a YA equestrian novel or a Masterpiece miniseries set on a Victorian farm," says Judy Berman. "In fact, deceptively stodgy title notwithstanding, it is a poignant, richly observed, if occasionally over-the-top HBO crime drama starring Kate Winslet, in her first big TV role since winning an Emmy in 2011 for Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce miniseries. Winslet’s Mare Sheehan is a human police detective (sorry, horse girls) in rural Pennsylvania. That the show is named for its protagonist and her hometown, in defiance of genre norms that favor ominous phrases (The Killing, The Sinner, The Missing), underscores that people and place are as crucial here as any investigation."
    • Mare of Easttown is a murder mystery, but only generally speaking: "The new HBO miniseries is more precisely a relentless and stirring portrait of a small-town Pennsylvania woman caught between her tenacious resilience and her unexplored grief," says Matthew Gilbert. "She’ll talk plainly about her losses, which we learn about slowly across the seven episodes; but she can’t afford to let them sink from her head to her heart. She is a single-parent police detective supporting her extended family, and drive — not neutral and definitely not reverse — is the only option she sees. The cases she’s currently working on — the still-unsolved disappearance of a young woman a year ago, followed by a recent murder— are absorbing in their own right, whodunits that, true to the genre, make everyone look a little suspicious at certain moments. As in the excellent British series “Broadchurch,” the entire intertwined town — in this case Easttown — is engaged in, terrified by, and frustrated over the crimes, and she feels the weight of it, not least of all since the mother of the missing girl happens to be an old friend (who happens to have cancer). She is searching for the answers, and, simultaneously, and much less consciously, she is searching for a way out of her deep-seated misery."
    • Mare of Easttown is enhanced by its limited-series structure: "Perhaps the best aspect in Mare of Eastown... is its self-contained nature," says Ben Travers. "Knowing the mystery will be solved by the end of seven episodes enhances expectations, but there’s also an introspective investment in the main character. The time devoted to Mare’s internal dilemmas provides insight into her choices where other shows and movies might gloss over them. (Her co-stars aren’t as thoroughly fleshed out, in part because they’re holding secrets or meant to be seen as suspects.) Mare feels trapped in a town that she’s come to resent, but escape isn’t the solution because the problem lies within her. As the series examines grief and regret as she strains to overcome both, it unearths rich subtext everyone should be able to appreciate."
    • Why most actors -- except Kate Winslet -- won't even attempt a Philadelphia accent: "The moment Kate Winslet’s character in HBO’s Mare of Easttown says the word overdose, dragging out the O’s so the word is closer to five syllables than three, you know exactly where the small-town murder mystery takes place—at least, that is, if you’ve ever heard a Philadelphia accent before," says Sam Adams. "Unless you’ve spent time in the region, there’s a strong possibility you haven’t. The characters in Rocky don’t talk like they’re from Philadelphia. Neither do the ones in Silver Linings Playbook or The Irishman. For all the stories that have been set in and around the city, there’s a pronounced lack of authenticity when it comes to speaking the way the locals do—not a matter of failed attempts, but a failure to attempt it at all."
    • Guy Pierce on reuniting with Kate Winslet a decade after Mildred Pierce: "To have Kate call me and say, 'I'm doing a show. You have to come and play this role. This is the story. This is the connection between the two characters. Let me explain it all to you,' I just go, 'Well, yes.'" Winslet adds: "Guy was my childhood crush. He was in a show called Neighbours, and I was completely obsessed with him from the age of 11 years old to the point I would skip school so I could watch the midday edition as well as the repeat at 5:30."
    • Kate Winslet says her Mare of Easttown character almost became "an alter ego for me" during the pandemic:  "People have done lots of different things through COVID to get through it. I was busy knitting the sweater of Mare the entire time," she says, adding: “Mare’s backstory and her past was as equally important in its creation in playing her as the words that came out of my mouth on set every day," he says. "I couldn’t just show up and magically be it; I had to really find it and create it — to the point that my kids would be like, ‘Mom, Kevin’s not real,’ and I’d be like, ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, he’s real, he’s real, he’s real.' I'm like, 'Say yes. Just say yes.'"
    • Winslet says Mare of Easttown marked her first time handling a gun on screen :  "You know what was even more shocking than the fact that I'd never held a gun was how shocked everyone was that I'd never held a gun," Winslet says with a laugh, adding that it was her least favorite part of the job.
    • Winslet says she worked really hard to adopt an Eastern Pennsylvanian accent: "I was doing the work every damn day,” Winslet says, adding that she worked with a dialect coach and practiced with locals. “I would listen to my dialect samples all the way to work, and in the hair and makeup chair, and then on set as well, and then on the way back home in the evening. It was just absolutely constant, this trickle of sound in my ear.”

    TOPICS: Mare of Easttown, HBO, Brad Ingelsby, Guy Pearce, Kate Winslet