DVD Review: Mare of Easttown


HBO, 2021. $24.98 DVD, $22.99 Blu-Ray

Mare of Easttown, HBO’s latest crime-centric “limited series,” is both brilliant and pedestrian. There is a lot to rave about here—most notably the excellent cast, particularly Kate Winslet as the title character (a police detective with a tragic personal life), Julianne Nicholson as her best friend, and Jean Smart as Mare’s mother.

The show is set in a working-class Pennsylvania town where the homes seem to have been designed along the same patterns and people rarely have the money for extravagances and often have a great many emotional burdens. But it’s a town where everybody knows one another and whose residents also have a great deal of dignity and love for their families, even when their family members are driving them insane.

Unfortunately, Easttown is also plagued by drugs, adultery, divorce, and broken families; add to that a teenage wasteland fueled by substance abuse, lusty and destructive relationships, and a craving for something more. The show depicts the town’s residents striving for happiness and making idiotic decisions that harm themselves and others. There are a lot of subplots and background revelations which produce a tender, sympathetic portrait of the kind of community that deserves a lot more respect than it often gets from Hollywood.

If this were just a community drama, it would be a terrific character study, but it wouldn’t have the overarching plot needed to tie all the story lines together into a compelling narrative. That’s where murder comes in.  By the end of the first episode, one of the characters is found shot to death in the woods.

Ironically, it’s the mystery itself that seasoned viewers of crime drama will feel is one of the weaker parts of the series. The show’s mystery element brilliantly runs the gamut of familiar tropes seen in recent crime dramas. Paternity questions, tragic backstories, con artistry, a climax with a killer, and the ensuing emotional fallout as a result of the ultimate revelation are all covered in Mare of Easttown, and to good effect. However, experienced viewers looking for something fresh when it comes to the mystery angle won’t find it here.

What viewers will find are excellent performances by the cast. What starts as depressing turns oddly inspiring, with a one-for-the-books character turn by Winslet, never better than she is here. Smart’s Helen is probably my favorite character of the ensemble, and the others all inhabit their roles in a way that’s completely convincing in a show that portrays everyday working-class people as deserving of respect.

—Chris Chan