2 out of 5
Created by: Brad Ingelsby
There are some fantastic actors, and some really enjoyable-to-watch actors caught up in a fantastic muddle of a post-Broadchurch small town murder mystery, with unenjoyable-to-watch self-defeating twists and pointless plot threads that that keep resetting the show’s tension.
Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) is Easttown, Philly’s all-star detective. She’s got fame echoing from her high school days’ basketball championship, and knowing all the ins and outs around town, she’s the one to call for any dispute, big or small. But this stuff sits over her like a weight: her divorce – while living next door to her husband and his fiancee – and the death of her son are but two factors that’ve seemingly sucked any joy out of her life, and there’s the albatross of a cold case of a missing girl that haunts her as well.
The death of a young, single mother, Erin (Cailee Spaeny) suggests ties to that case, reinvigorating Mare’s passion on it, while also going full steam ahead on this new tragedy. She reluctantly accepts the partnership of another detective – Colin (Evan Peters) – called in to navigate some of the high-profileness of the murder, but essentially continues to operate solo.
Other things pop up along the way to distract Mare: a tricky relationship with her daughter (Angourie Rice), a custody battle for her grandson with her passed son’s recovering junky wife (Sosie Bacon), and a potential new suitor (Guy Pearce), who stumblingly chats Mare up at a bar one night. These things, as well acted as they can be – Rice puts in an immediately notable performance; Pearce is endlessly charming – also come across as distractions for the viewer. Fleshing out character backgrounds is part and parcel for shows of this nature, but it’s either filler or it’s done as some kind of flirtatious red herring to the main plot. (Or, I mean, actually relevant in some way, but that’s the most rare variant.) Oddly, though, Mare of Easttown is none of these: perhaps taking a cue from its sleepy suburb setting, all of the additional storylines – and even the main storyline, to an extent – come across as almost incidental. Writer Brad Ingelsby apparently just wants to observe, and the moments are pleasant enough to do so, but once the moment passes, it no longer feels like it matters. And yet, more than half of the show feels dedicated to these segues, leaving precious little time for the actual mystery, and procedural elements. When we do get to those, there’s a similar drifting tone – it never really seems like Mare is pursuing a lead, so much as just showing up where appointed, asking some questions, and waiting for the episode where detail X will be revealed.
This is not on Kate Winslet – she’s fantastic. This behavior feels true to Mare, and Mare feels true to Easttown. It’s just the case/s that she’s investigating never seems as important as the HBO-prestige of things would suggest; the tone is very much akin to any given weekly procedural, but it’s dressed up with the finality of a mini-series. And instead of the reveals being onion layers, inserting us deeper into the middle of things, they just… resolve that piece of the puzzle, the momentum dissipates, and we start idly picking at the next onion. Whodunnits / whydunnits are trick, I get that: we know if the killer is fingered in episode 3 of 5, it’s probably not the killer, but we should be led on a logical path to that conclusion, which then leads us to the next conclusion in episode 4 or so. This is lacking in Mare. When we hit those mid-season Ah-Has, it’s just like a checkbox – suspect X, check; suspect Y, check – and marked with so little fanfare as to make the prospect of investigating whoever’s inevitably next on the list tiring. Substituting for any of this necessary tension is a pretty shamefully dumb death, which gets tossed on the pile of half-hearted subplots anyway.
The thing is, you can watch this solely for Winslet, and her chemistry with Pearce, and her banter with Peters, and Ben Richardson’s pleasantly chilly cinematography, and Craig Zobel’s comfortable, easy-going direction. I wasn’t immersed at any point, and I’d even say I was bored… but these aspects allowed the show to pass the time reasonably, and I could tease myself into imagining a case-of-the-week comedy-drama with Kate and Guy, to which I’m convinced the show’s general formula and vibe could translate especially well.