Imagine a typical small-town cop character who's in over his head investigating a particularly violent crime — but the cop is a woman and she knows exactly what she's doing.
That's Mare Sheehan, the main character of HBO's overnight murder-mystery hit, "Mare of Easttown," played by Kate Winslet. Sheehan, a police sergeant in fictional Easttown, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, is Winslet's first TV role in 10 years, and based on episode one, she takes her responsibilities as a detective, mom and grandma incredibly seriously.
In many ways, the show feels familiar. The vibe is gloomy, Sheehan knows everyone in the small town, and you can feel that a crime that will test her skills and dedication is looming for the entire first episode. But her backstory feels new: She lives in a multigenerational household and is navigating blended family dynamics with her ex-husband. She doesn't have a lot of money, and she wants her teenage daughter to succeed in ways that she didn't. She also has less empathy for the mother of a girl who went missing a year ago than you'd expect.
The first episode introduces Sheehan, a high school basketball star who won the town's last championship decades ago, investigating a possible peeping Tom in the community. Back at the police station, she sees a press conference held by the mother of the missing girl, Katie Bailey. After Sheehan stops by a pet store to pick up a turtle tank for her grandson, she responds to a burglary call from a woman whose brother has a drug problem and robbed her trophy case. Sheehan injures her ankle chasing after him, but it doesn't seem to faze her much. She even assures the burglar that she'll help him get his heat turned back on.
Sheehan later learns that her ex-husband is getting engaged to his new girlfriend and she skips the family's party, instead reluctantly attending an event celebrating her high school's basketball victory. Afterward, she meets a man at a bar and goes home with him.
Meanwhile, a teen mom in the town, Erin, who's struggling to pay for her 1-year-old son's ear surgery and has no explicit connection to Sheehan, attends a high school party where she's assaulted by the girlfriend of her son's father. Her body later turns up in a creek, and shortly after, in the middle of the night, Sheehan receives a phone call.
"Mare of Easttown" will no doubt appeal to viewers of "True Detective," "The Sinner," "The Undoing," "Sharp Objects" and any of the other crime-focused series that got people talking around the water cooler every week (back when we used to work in offices). But as many people have remarked, it's the characters, mostly women, who will keep the intrigue moving forward.
Others have said that it's what Winslet in particular brings to the role that makes the show. She's done her best to capture the accent from Delaware County, where the show is set, though it's a pretty tough one to nail. She seems to care about the people in the community, even if she's often irritable. Sheehan's clearly about to do her damndest to find Erin's killer and perhaps figure out what happened to Katie along the way, while navigating her own relationships.
Tune in to HBO Sundays at 10 p.m. ET to watch as Sheehan finds some answers and be immersed in one American small town.