Mare Of Easttown

(Note: There are some spoilers below.)

A typical HBO show. As in the cast supersedes the story. Guy Pearce in such a small role?

If you watch television, you know this is the most talked-about show on the flat screen. The second? “Startup.” I watched a few “Startups,” I plan to binge all thirty, it’s very watchable, not quite A level material, but the roles and the actors who play them are so good, and supposedly it gets better, I’m not checking my watch while I watch.

I really dug watching “Mare of Easttown.” We burned through all seven episodes in a couple of days. I don’t know how the people who watched week by week could handle it. Especially at the end of was it episode five or six, where it freezes on Mare’s face. I’ve got to wait a week to find out what happens? No way. Not that I expect HBO to change, I hope Apple TV+ does, bingeing is the only way to watch television, if you watch linear television, even worse on appointment, you’re a baby boomer, because the younger generation doesn’t do this, no way. And if you want to make bank, appeal to the younger generation, because they’re getting older every day, while the boomers are starting to die off. But to run an outfit like HBO you’ve had to work your way up the ladder, kissing ass all the way, so the concept of revolution is out the window. Oh wait! John Stankey came in and said they needed more product and then Jason Kilar came along and put all the content on the streaming service and Hollywood WENT NUTS!

The HBO staffers left. Or complained. It was a Tiffany operation, only the best and the brightest. But if you’ve got a streaming service, you need a hell of a lot more content. So people will subscribe and won’t log off. Stankey knew this, the established players did not.

As for Kilar… Word is he handled it poorly, he should have contacted all the players, those above the line, especially those who shared in profits. THEY NEVER EVER WOULD HAVE AGREED! Do you know how long it takes to do a deal in Hollywood? Sometimes the film is in the can before there is paper, and just getting to an agreement can take a year, no problem. So, just like in Silicon Valley, you’ve got to take action and then deal with the fallout. If it weren’t for Napster, we’d have no Spotify. Oh, we’d have something, but established operators only move forward when pushed.

So typically the development process at HBO was interminable. The opposite of Netflix. Netflix gives a go and you shoot. Well, historically anyway. But on HBO, they must insure that the end product is up to their standards. So they make you massage the product until it does. Is it the same since the purchase by AT&T, with more product in the pipeline? I don’t know, but the truth is the acting talent is so good in “Mare of Easttown” that it’s overwhelming, everybody has chops, you don’t see this level of participation on any other outlet.

But it’s superior to the story.

Kate Winslet is a local cop, investigating murders. Even worse, the girls are locked up?  This is B horror material. I was really wincing.

But then the show got much much better.

Except for one thing… Can someone please explain the pact between the three teenagers? Was it just a red herring, to make you think they were involved in the murder or did I miss something?

Having said all of the above, the ending was fantastic, the execution was as good as the surprise. So I give “Mare” a very high mark, I recommend it. But as much as the foreign shows? No way.

Watch “The Bureau.” Slow at first, but the tension will have you squirming in your seat. And everything rings true.

Not quite as much in “Borgen,” but close…it feels like you’re in the government.

And if you want genre, “Spiral” delivers completely, the best cop show on television.

And if you want gravitas, go with “A French Village,” amazing.

So what was the bigger point in “Mare of Easttown”? It was ultimately just about the plot. At first I thought they depicted the perils and prevalence of opioid addiction extremely well, shining a well-needed light, but then that faded away.

But there were excellent personal relationships. As far as the vaunted Jean Smart…I thought she was chewing the scenery at first, but then she got very good.

Speaking of good, Sosie Bacon was completely believable as the mother of Drew. I couldn’t stop wondering where I’d seen her, turns out she was in “Narcos: Mexico,” when is that coming back?

Julianne Nicholson rang true throughout, a fantastic job as Mare’s friend.

Even better was David Denman as Frank Sheehan…he nailed it! Just because you’re big and beefy with a beard, that does not mean you’re an intense bully. Frank is controlled, almost always soft-spoken, he’s a good guy, you’d be surprised how many are out there, despite all the clamor about #MeToo.

God, everybody was good, I haven’t seen an American show with this quality of acting…maybe ever. Everybody believable.

But Kate Winslet carried the show.

All the discussion is about the penumbra, ever since her starring role in “Titanic.” Is she beautiful enough, is she too heavy… That’s an American trope, DO THEY DESERVE TO BE A STAR!

But Winslet is so believable as Mare, you forget all her previous roles. Only at one point, when she was spruced up for dinner with Colin, did she even resemble the star Kate Winslet, here she was just a small town cop, who should have left town and had a better life, but just could not.

As for the psychological elements…

You’ve seen some of this before, but not recently, not in this depth. Winslet is haunted by the deaths of her father and son, she nearly sleepwalks through life. She never seems to lighten up and be in a good mood, the weight of her issues is always on her shoulders.

And Siobhan! She’s afraid to leave town for fear her family will fall apart, I’ve seen this in my own world.

And Siobhan dumping her contemporary for someone older and more sophisticated…this is how it works, especially when you’re young. You think you’re in love, bonded at the hip, and then your significant other jilts you unexpectedly.

And for far too many people it’s family first. They’ll say and do anything to protect their family. As for the duplicity…it’s rampant in America today, lying in court is de rigueur, it’s no longer anathema.

So on one hand you’ve got a typical police whodunit, with the false starts and blind alleys.

On another, you’ve got an incredible depiction of a world that gets almost no coverage in America. In America, you’re either a winner or a loser, a billionaire or homeless. But that leaves a lot of people out. Those who are working for a living, getting by, not always thinking about money, who live to eat microwave popcorn and watch TV and go to the local bar and drink.

And everybody knows everybody. This is what I love about the city, it’s anonymous. Living in a small burg is far too inhibiting, everybody knows your business, you’re labeled, it’s oppressive.

And then there’s Mare’s line about great being overrated. You think you want to do something great, but then people expect you to follow it up. And you’ve got internal pressure. But is being great what it’s all about, or just being enmeshed in the fabric, reaping the rewards of your relationships.

And then there’s the fact that Mare is always, well almost always, trying to do the right thing, and as a result it fractures her relationships. Turns out not everyone wants you to be honest and upfront, friends expect special dispensation. Mare is winning at her job, but she keeps losing in life.

Yes, life is depicted extremely well in “Mare of Easttown.” The opioids, the family dynamics. It’s great television. But is it lasting, meaningful television?

I think of “Happy Valley,” the English crime shows… The talent doesn’t supersede the story. David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are brilliant in “Broadchurch,” but they don’t eclipse the story, and the story is more believable than that in “Mare of Easttown.”

And if you want psychological, interpersonal/family drama, the first season of “Herrens Veje” exceeds “Mare of Easttown,” hands down.

I guess I just lament that everybody raving about “Mare of Easttown” has not partaken of these foreign shows, the English ones don’t even require subtitles! (Not that I don’t turn them on anyway.)

I watch to be entertained, but I also watch to be transfixed by art, to see people testing the limits. Try Bo Burnham’s new Netflix special “Inside” if you want to see someone doing so. I just don’t need another TV show, I need THE TV show! Watch “Ramy,” or “Master of None,” they’re dealing with issues of race and there’s plenty of humor. If everyone watched them we’d have less racism in this country.

So that’s my criticism of “Mare of Easttown,” it just didn’t shoot high enough. It will never top my list of recommendations. It’s another TV show, not art.

And I’m looking for art. Something that affects me, that I think about, that I will never forget. It’s hard to achieve, but first you have to shoot for it. “Mare of Easttown” did not, execution was primary, getting the story right. This was not “The Deer Hunter,” also set in Pennsylvania, that prevented sleep, but a really good ride. I like rides. But I’d rather read “Anna Karenina” than go to Disneyland. I’d rather listen to Frank Zappa than Olivia Newton-John. I’d rather watch “The Sopranos” than “Magnum, P.I.” I want to be transported, I want to be transfixed as you walk the line of experimentation with superiority, never falling off. Like sitting in the audience for “Hamilton.” Don’t make product, make art. I’d rather see you fail at art than make product. “Mare of Easttown” is ultimately just a genre show, I wish it were more.

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