Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Kitteridge' Miniseries Pays Attention to Detail

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Kitteridge' Miniseries Pays Attention to Detail

Article excerpt

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - HBO's "Olive Kitteridge" (9-11 p.m. Sunday and Monday), based on the novel by Elizabeth Strout, joins the slow TV movement exemplified by Sundance TV's "Rectify." It's another program about quiet characters where the stakes are usually pretty small.

It takes some time to sink into the story - Olive (Frances McDormand, "Fargo") herself is cold and aloof - but by Monday's second part of the miniseries as viewers see the characters age through a 25-year period, there's a relatability that starts to sink in as viewers come to recognize the damage one generation can inflict on the next. Some viewers might even glimpse some personality traits they've encountered in others or themselves.

Ms. McDormand stars as the title character, a wickedly witty and harsh teacher in a New England town who's particularly disdainful of those she finds dumb or uninteresting.

Her kind, attentive, long-suffering husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins, "Six Feet Under"), takes an interest in his sweet but dim employee, Denise Thibodeau (Zoe Kazan). Is Henry contemplating a physical affair? Is it just emotional? Or is he really a nice guy who takes an uncomfortable interest - part fatherly concern, part romantic suitor - in the well-being of much-younger women? "Olive Kitteridge" never really offers a concrete answer but the miniseries rarely takes the predictable, expected path.

By the second night as years have passed, Olive and Henry seemingly grow closer, although they still nurse resentments toward one another that come spilling out during a harrowing event that seems a little out of character for the quietness of the story but it's probably necessary to draw out their feelings of past injustices.

Afterward, Olive attempts to sweep their honesty with one another under the rug. "Let's not talk about it, Henry," she says. "Let's just erase it from our minds."

The miniseries' attention to detail also becomes more apparent, including a piano player who begins in a local restaurant and ends the film playing in a nursing home. ("Olive" fails on some other counts, including its introduction of Olive and Henry's friend Bonnie, played by Ann Dowd, who is glimpsed in night one but never really properly introduced but gets one good scene in night two.)

"Olive" offers a few bizarre fantasy sequences and there's even a two-second clip from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" in night two.

It's really Olive's petty slights that ring true to life, especially when she puts down her grown son, Christopher (John Gallagher Jr., "The Newsroom"). She refuses to acknowledge he's a doctor.

"You're a podiatrist," Olive tells Chris. "It doesn't count."

"Olive Kitteridge" also benefits from several small cameos, including Bill Murray as a Rush Limbaugh devotee in night two, Jesse Plemons ("Friday Night Lights") as Henry's quiet-turned-jerky delivery boy and Patricia Kalember ("Sisters") as Christopher's mother-in-law.

Regarding small towns

Ms. McDormand, a Monessen High School grad who moved around a lot in her childhood including a stint in Western Pennsylvania from seventh grade through high school, said that experience didn't really inform her performance here.

"Actually, Monessen was probably one of the biggest towns I lived in growing up," she said at a July HBO press conference. "I lived in a lot of small, rural towns around America because of my father's profession. But when I look back on my arc of my professional life as an actor, I pretty much played except for a couple Irish and one Brit - American working class or middle class women, and that served me really well."

Ms. McDormand said she wanted to avoid one particular depiction of Maine in "Olive Kitteridge."

"The most important thing was it wasn't quaint Maine. It was a working Maine," she said. "It was a working class Maine. It was a town that had an industrial past, because what you see in the 25 years we span is that it really changes from small privately owned businesses to corporately owned businesses. …

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