TV Review – MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021)

MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021, USA) *****
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. Home Box Office (HBO) / Mayhem Pictures / wiip studios; net. Home Box Office (HBO) (USA), Sky Atlantic (UK); exec pr. Gordon Gray, Brad Ingelsby, Paul Lee, Gavin O’Connor, Mark Roybal, Kate Winslet, Craig Zobel; pr. Karen Wacker; d. Craig Zobel; w. Brad Ingelsby; ph. Ben Richardson (Colour. Video (HDTV). ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), 2.00:1); m. Lele Marchitelli; ed. Amy E. Duddleston, Naomi Sunrise Filoramo; pd. Keith P. Cunningham; ad. Gina B. Cranham, Michael Gowen, Michelle C. Harmon; b/cast. 18 April 2021 – 31 May 2021 (USA), 19 April 2021 – 1 June 2021 (UK); r/t. 403m (7 episodes).

Cast: Kate Winslet (Detective Mare Sheehan), Julianne Nicholson (Lori Ross), Jean Smart (Helen Fahey), Angourie Rice (Siobhan Sheehan), John Douglas Thompson (Chief Carter), Joe Tippett (John Ross), Cameron Mann (Ryan Ross), Jack Mulhern (Dylan Hinchey), Izzy King (Drew Sheehan), Justin Hurtt-Dunkley (Officer Trammel), Sosie Bacon (Carrie Layden), David Denman (Frank Sheehan), Neal Huff (Father Dan Hastings), James McArdle (Deacon Mark Burton), Guy Pearce (Richard Ryan), Ruby Cruz (Jess Riley), Enid Graham (Dawn Bailey), Chinasa Ogbuagu (Beth Hanlon), Kassie Mundhenk (Moira Ross), Mackenzie Lansing (Brianna Delrasso).

Kate Winslet stars as a detective in a small Pennsylvania town who investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart. The result is one of the greatest crime TV series ever, driven by a superb script, expert direction and a lead performance from Winslet that is astonishing in its sincerity. Writer Brad Ingelsby has shown how to pace a mystery over 7 episodes whilst fleshing out fully rounded characters with flaws which show them to be real and believable. Where Ingelsby’s writing impresses most is that it avoids the pitfall of many modern crime dramas by refusing to manufacture melodrama and shock twists for the sake of it and instead relies on story progression through quality writing, strong characterisation and natural dialogue. Everything that happens here feels and looks real and is performed with integrity by a cast at the top of their game. Winslet holds the centre ground as the detective haunted by a tragedy in her family’s recent past and reminders in the disintegration of her best friend’s family as she investigates a murder case and a missing persons case, which may or may not be related. As Winslet unravels the mysteries and deals with ongoing personal dramas, she starts to come to terms with the tragedy that haunts her. The audience is pulled in to her life and feels everything she feels as her relationships with family and friends evolve with her investigation. US reviewers pointed to similarities in approach to TRUE DETECTIVE, and here there are parallels with BBC’s HAPPY VALLEY. MARE OF EASTTOWN surpasses the former and sits comfortably with the latter.

Two new Sky series recall earlier classic British TV with differing results

Intergalactic (2021, UK, Episodes 1-4) **½
Fearless young cop and galactic pilot, Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn), who has her glittering career ripped away from her after being wrongly convicted of a treasonous crime and exiled to a distant prison colony. But on the way there, Ash’s fellow convicts stage a mutiny and seize control of their prison transfer ship.
Mare of Easttown (2021, USA, Episodes 1-3) *****
As her life crumbles around her, a small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder. The series explores the dark side of a close community and provides an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.

Intergalactic" (2021) British movie posterSky has two series currently available or broadcasting that have their roots in classic British TV series. The first is the heavily publicised British sci-fi action adventure Intergalactic (Sky One), with the whole series of 8 episodes (curtailed from 10 by the pandemic) available to download for subscribers. The series is the brainchild of Julie Gearey and has a largely multi-ethnic female led cast led by Savannah Steyn as a discredited cop forced to serve her sentence off-world, where she falls in with several other prisoners who take over their transport ship, the “Hemlock” (a cool Millenium Falcon styled spaceship) and go on the run from the Common World. In their midst is a terrorist leader, who has her own secrets the Common World need to suppress. An added complication is the Steyn’s mother is the the leader of the Common World security team in pursuit of the escapees. There is much murkiness behind the back story, which gradually becomes clearer as the series progresses. The plot sounds familiar because it is a direct riff on the 1970s classic “Blake’s 7” , only here the action is more violent, the language much coarser, the characters less likeable, the stories less original and the dialogue is a mix of the truly awful and the occasionally witty. The look and tone is also highly derivative in taking elements of “Mad Max”, “Firefly” and Con Air” blending together their more cliched elements. The cast is, on paper, a strong one that includes Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Eleanor Tomlinson, Thomas Turgoose, Natasha O’Keeffe, Oliver Coopersmith, Imogen Daines, Diany Samba-Bandza, Parminder Nagra and Craig Parkinson. Most of the performances are one dimensional and lacking in nuance as the cast struggle to take their characters beyond the machismo of their dialogue. That said there are moments where the potential for a stronger series emerges – I am currently half-way through the run and after a dodgy start there have been some genuinely funny moments as well as a few unintentional ones. Where the series truly scores is in its look. The production design and CGI visual effects are excellent, if occasionally a little over-processed, from the opening shots of London in ruins to the new raised city and beyond into the galaxy. Its often pulpy trash, but it is also somehow strangely addictive as it struggles to add a fun factor.  Hopefully the characters will settle down and become more rounded as the series progresses. For now it borders between the awful and the entertaining as a distinct guilty pleasure. I’ll come back later with my views on the last 4 episodes.

Kate Winslet as Mare SheehanMare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic), on the other hand, is a reminder of the high quality output from American production company HBO (Home Box Office). Here Kate Winslet plays a detective in a backwater Pennsylvania town. She is dogged by the fact she has been unable to solve a missing persons case and is embroiled with a current murder investigation where the suspects come close to home. No doubt the two cases will at some point be linked. In between time, she has her own domestic issues to address following the death of her son, the break-up of her marriage and her grand-parenting duties due to the absent mother, who is wrestling with a drug problem. It all sounds miserably downbeat, but here the writing is so strong and the characters totally believable with a razor-sharp script (written by Brad Ingelsby) injected with dark humour and witty dialogue. So far I have seen the first three episodes (of 7) of the series, which is being run weekly by Sky concurrently with HBO. The story has more than few echoes of one of British TV’s very best series, “Happy Valley”, and I would be surprised if it were not an influence on Ingelsby. Like “Happy Valley” this series has a gripping and multi-layered story with genuine character interactions and superb performances from its cast – most notably Winslet, who is flawless. It is a drama that sucks you into its world and holds you there in its vice-like grip. It looks set to be one of the best series since the turn of the century.