If you aren’t current on these three shows, stop reading now, as there are spoilers ahead.
Seriously, I mean it. Stop reading.
Okay, now that I’m alone, allow me to continue. This past Sunday, my wife and I finished the new HBO series, Mare of Easttown. Having a Sunday night show to look forward to every week was a real treat, even if it left us as emotional puddles on the couch. I’d have to say, for my money, this was the best Kate Winslet performance to date. You know how critics use words like “powerhouse” to describe a really good performance? Yeah, she was exactly that: a powerhouse.
This morning I was listening to her appearance on the podcast “The Watch” and I’m not sure what exactly she said that made the connection for me, something about parenting. But my big reveal, after THE big reveal, is how interesting it is that three of the better new shows in the past year, Mare of Easttown, Defending Jacob and Your Honor all had characters going through a very similar nightmare. Each had a parent or parents working to protect their teenage son’s after a murder, which they may or may not have been responsible for.
The fact that similar stories came out around the same time, isn’t all that interesting. Typically, I believe it’s been the inverse of that (see: Dante’s Peak & Volcano, Armageddon & Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen & White House Down). But what makes these three different, besides the super quality compared to the previous examples, is what I feel it’s saying about society in the 2020’s.
Mental health has, rightfully, been receiving some much needed attention of late from society as a whole. I think this is a manifestation of all of our worst fears. As Adam Sandler’s character said, in the incredibly underrated 2004 film Spanglish, “Worrying about your kids is sanity, and being that sane… can drive you nuts.” As we all know, some more intimately than others, our kids are up against some real challenges. Just about all of them being our fault, but I digress.
These three shows each shine a light on one of every parents worst nightmares: what if my kid did the unthinkable? As upsetting as these shows can be, to different extents, I think their existence is a strong step in the right direction. We’re worried about our kids, we have no idea what we’re actually doing, but damnit, we’re sure we’d do the unthinkable to protect them.
In fact, thinking about this as I write, these three shows aren’t alone on this path. I think we are seeing a very strong shift in storytelling. This year there is also Mosquito Coast¸ where a couple of parents are trying so hard to protect their kids that they’re escaping their lives. While Ozark comes off as a show that was originally about a man bending his morals to get ahead, it’s also very much about how we screw up our kids, even acting with the best intentions. Similarly, a major theme in Big Little Lies, was about how our selfishness damages our kids. A couple of years ago, Netflix released the powerful Unbelievable, which hammered home how much we need to really listen to our kids.
It’s a clear shift from the decade plus of the best shows centering around fantastic antiheroes. A trend that I loved and couldn’t get enough of, and I’m happy that it won’t be going completely away. But I’m truly encouraged by this current trend. Now if we could just get movies to follow suit, and spend a little less time universe building.a