Frances McDormand is Perfect in HBO's Olive Kitteridge

November 2, 2014 10:03 PM

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Frances McDormand is Perfect in HBO's Olive Kitteridge

It might seem inconceivable that one could describe a four-hour miniseries about emotionally constipated small-town Maine citizens as “thrilling,” but that what Olive Kitteridge is. Its excitement is due mainly to Frances McDormand’s performance as the title character, a woman whose sharp tongue wounds everyone, and who takes her kindhearted pharmacist husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins, of course, and thank goodness), and their son Chris (John Gallagher, Jr.), for granted. Once you know what Olive is capable of saying and doing, and that she is nearly incapable of censoring herself, you look forward to each scene with a mix of dread and glee. Cast as the sort of wife who chucks her husband’s Valentine’s Day card in the trash right after reading it because she “knows what it says,” and the sort of mother who tells her son, “Sit up straight, you look like a thug in a pool hall,” and the sort of teacher who tells her class, “I’ll be out in the hall, and I’ll know if you’re talking,” McDormand is, to no one’s surprise, perfect. Her skill at playing irascible characters adds an element of impending chaos to every scene: Who will Olive cut down next, and for what reason—and how appallingly funny will it be? There should be an Olive Siren that warns people she’s coming, so they can gather their possessions and flee.

The character would be purely comical, and maybe insufferable, if her crankiness were all that we knew about her, and if Olive Kitteridge (which airs tonight and Monday on HBO) were just about what it’s like to deal with a domineering prig who prefers to think of herself as a person of high standard...

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