Mare of Easttown aired its final episode in its limited run just over a week ago, but it comes from a long line of mystery miniseries in the Sunday night slot for the broadcaster, going back almost a decade at this point. Some of them have similarities to other prime time HBO, but what generally sets these pieces apart from shows like The Deuce or Game of Thrones are pacing and scope.
I found Mare of Easttown to be solid Sunday night mystery fare. The acting was phenomenal, the directing was terrific and the writing as well. It wasn’t all positives though, the cinematography was lackluster and the score was utterly forgettable, but overall I would grade it a solid B. This got me thinking, and maybe you as well, where would it fall in the pantheon of HBO’s other limited run noir?
Let’s take a look.
10. Big Little Lies Season 2
Honestly, Big Little Lies Season 2 makes the list because it is better than True Detective Season 2 and a list of ten looked better than nine. It’s not horrible, but it’s not great either.
9. The Undoing
The Undoing is a natural follow-up to David E. Kelley’s other hit HBO suspense series, Big Little Lies. Like the former, The Undoing boasts an impressive cast including a repeat from Nicole Kidman, who is also an executive producer on the newer series. The limited series has ambitions to be something fresh and innovative in storytelling, but I found it to be too mired in mystery tropes that leave the big reveal a little flat.– Me, from before
Just like the recently wrapped Mare of Easttown, the show’s main flaws come from the narrator’s point of view.
8. True Detective Season 3
Season 3 of True Detective fixed a lot of the issues that kept season 2 off of this list, but it felt a little too much like a retread of the first series. The cast was superb and the storytelling was engrossing for the most part, but it just didn’t quite engender the same special mixture of the first run.
7. Mare of Easttown
I was surprised I had to rank Mare of Easttown this low but comparatively I feel like this is where it stacks up. Everything from here and above earns my highest recommendation to watch. It similarly struggles with point of view problems that plagued the undoing. Namely, the audience is viewing the series through an omniscient camera “narrator” so any time information is withheld, it is only withheld so that we can’t know the true killer. Not because the main character doesn’t know, since we know more than her, but because the show intentionally omits details from our view.
6. The Outsider
One of the rare truly supernatural thrillers in the bunch, The Outsider is well cast and cleverly written. Stephen King adaptations are extremely hit or miss and this one was a hit. Here’s hoping some of the characters will make return appearances in future series.
5. Big Little Lies Season 1
The narrative framing of the police interviews help remind you that this is a mystery in what sometimes can feel like a family drama. The soundtrack is what really sets this series apart.
4. Sharp Objects
Sharp Objects is easily the creepiest of the lot. We see the world through Amy Adams’ eyes, so the lines between what is real and what is imagined become blurred for even the viewer. Patricia Clarkson delivers. The set design is impeccable. Don’t tell mama.
3. True Detective Season 1
This is the OG of HBO’s mystery milieu. It paved the way for all of the rest of the shows on this list to get greenlit and was an integral part of the McConaissance to boot. Everything from the opening score onward set the tone perfectly. It’s very rewatchable, which is rare for a thriller since much of the enjoyment is in the finale. Cary Fukunaga delivered an instant classic and those are rare to come by.
I questioned whether to include HBO’s Watchmen, but I think Damon Lindelof’s extraordinary series fully fits the genre. At its core, beyond the fantasy and comic bookiness of it all, it’s the story of a detective uncovering a conspiracy. Regina King’s Angela Abar, AKA Sister Night, is the quintessential badass sleuth and the themes and questions the show tackled felt timely in an echoing way to show number one on this list.
1. The Night Of
The Night Of is perfect. It’s so well paced that you are on the edge of your seat before anything bad ever happens. It doles out information at every little twist and turn, and the evolution of Riz Ahmed’s Naz is heartbreaking. Most of the whodunnits on this list are from the point of view of those seeking justice, and what makes The Night Of feel so fresh is it’s opposing stance.
What is it like to be falsely accused? How does the time in our justice system change a person? How is our carceral state feeding the problems it is supposed to ameliorate? The Night Of honestly might have been a little ahead of its time, showing in more detail and frustration the ways in which the system is broken in a more focused way than shows like The Wire did.