(heavy spoilers for Mare of Easttown)
The end of the year is almost upon us and with it comes the usual spate of “Best Blank of the Year” lists from all the major news/entertainment outlets. Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, NYT, Vanity Fair and others assembled lists of what each consider to be the best television shows that aired this year. There’s some variation (the lists tend to range from ten to twenty series) but the similarities are many, with certain shows consistently garnering a spot on each list (Hacks deservedly, The White Lotus less so). But one television series has been conspicuously absent on almost every single one of these lists:
Surprisingly, it seems that, with a few notable mentions, hardly any critics citing the year’s best had the HBO drama rank on their lists or even receive an honorable mention. It’s as though the limited series never existed, the collective memory of this gripping murder mystery seemingly gone in a matter of months. Are we really going to act as though the mystery of who murdered poor Erin McMenamin didn’t hold a sizable portion of the population in utter thrall over the course of seven weeks this past spring? People, Kate Winslet didn’t give us the most emotionally scarred, hoagie gnawing, hard-boiled detective of 2021 just to be passed over like this.
Sure, The White Lotus had Jake Lacy doing a stupendous job acting like a huge dick, but you know what it didn’t have? Julianne Nicholson giving a master class in acting and shoving her hand down our collective throats to pull our painfully clenched hearts out to raise it triumphantly overhead. Nicholson’s a performer who’s so good that Winslet herself pleaded with her to take the role as Lori Ross, Mare’s best friend who winds up on the wrong side of the murder investigation yet still manages to be the character we sympathize with most. In a rare display of good decision-making, the Emmys saw fit to grace Nicholson with the Outstanding Supporting Actress award for her work on Mare of Easttown. So if the freaking Emmys can acknowledge the greatness of Nicholson, as well as costars Winslet and Evan Peters, than the likes of The New York Times can do the same. Speaking of which…
Look, I’m sure Station Eleven is a decent watch (it’s only been viewed by a handful of critics, thus far), especially since it landed on multiple ‘Best of’ lists despite not being widely available until December 16. But even though I haven’t seen it yet, there’s one thing I know for certain: it doesn’t have sweet baby-face Evan Peters among its cast.
As Detective Colin Zabel, Peters could have easily played the role of the young, hotshot detective to type, but chose to give him the heart of a deeply vulnerable romantic instead. He may try to play it cool on the outside, but underneath that professional façade lies a man who can neither hold his liquor nor his emerging feelings for the tough as nails Mare Sheehan. Alas, our lovely Zabel, at his most optimistic—hot on the trail of the abductor and landing a kiss on Mare (a love connection that would never have worked out, alas)—is killed with a gunshot wound to the head, breaking legions of fans’ hearts, including my own. Poor Zabel. Despite the fact that his death occurs a little more than halfway through the series, his loss is keenly felt over the remaining episodes.
While it’s certainly a heartbreaker of a show—the pained sound that escapes from Mare’s lips as she watches that surveillance footage has stayed with me—there are some fabulous moments of levity, especially in the scenes with Mare’s live-in mother, played by the sublime Jean Smart. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the series also inspired one of the greatest SNL sketches in recent memory:
While this has been a year with a plenty of excellent television (Succession made it on every single list for damn good reason), Mare of Easttown is absolutely one of the best genre offerings of the year. Why it’s been left off of so many high-profile “Best of” lists is a mystery to me, but Kate Winslet worked too damn hard on that Delco accent not to get at least a passing acknowledgment by so many otherwise astute critics. Here at Pajiba, we’re not terribly inclined to compile annual lists (save for our annual Pajiba 10, which is coming soon!), but if we did, by God, I would make sure that Mare of Easttown got the respect it deserves.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t also wishing that Invincible made it onto more critics’ radars (shoutout to Vanity Fair for recognizing its greatness), she can be found on Twitter here.
Image sources (in order of posting): HBO/YouTube, HBO/YouTube