the newsroom, series finale
jane the virgin, season one break

olive kitteridge (lisa cholodenko, 2014)

When I write about movies, I include the name of the director in the header. When I write about television, I don’t do this … TV is often considered a writer’s medium, although in recent years, the “showrunner” is the person who gets the attention. But I’ve done it here, because Cholodenko directed all four episodes of this mini-series.

However, this is misleading, for Elizabeth Strout wrote the novel on which the mini-series is based, and Jane Anderson wrote all of the episodes. I’m going to leave Cholodenko’s name in the header, but I’m probably overestimating the contribution of the director in a case like this.

Still, Olive Kitteridge reaches greatness when its actors achieve greatness, and while it’s easy to imagine that Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins will deliver no matter who is directing them, at some point, you have to look at the sheer number of top performances and realize the director had something to do with it. Readers of the novel probably had their own idea of what kind of actress would play Olive … now that the series is over, it’s hard to imagine anyone but McDormand in the role.

Cholodenko did a good job of showing the passage of time in subtle ways. The four episodes cover around 25 years, so the changes must be subtle, and Cholodenko never bashes the audience over the head. The same goes for McDormand and Jenkins, who age believably … the makeup is good, but the acting is better.

It’s all about the character Olive Kitteridge, who is fascinating, although she is also quite off-putting … at times I wondered why I was spending four hours with this woman. But a hint of humor occasionally peeked out from McDormand’s performance, and even when Olive was acting her worst, we understood her point of view. Although the blowout doesn’t occur until late, there is a sense that Olive is gradually beginning to understand the effect she has on those close to her. When she finally accepts how poorly she has treated others, it is heartbreaking. Her husband is something of a flawed saint; her son is a complete mess. And she finally knows how badly she treated a husband who didn’t deserve it, a son she couldn’t connect with. There are suggestions of a family tendency towards depression, which doesn’t exactly put us on Olive’s side, because we know her own depression creates problems for others.

I’m having a hard time explaining why this character, almost always making others uncomfortable, rarely happy, not given to flights of fancy, makes such a good person to spend time with. That we become invested in Olive Kitteridge is a testament to the great things Frances McDormand does with the character. Grade for mini-series: A.