Olive Kitteridge, Parts 1 and 2

I started writing this on my computer, but then it kept freezing, which probably has something to do with the heat. So now I’m using WordPress on my phone without it having saved the draft.  Olive Kitteridge is something my family decided to record because it was on Tuesday nights at 7:30, which is a strange time for an HBO miniseries, and we decided to watch it tonight because it’s hot and there was nothing else on the television. I became aware of Frances McDormand about a year ago, when I watched  Fargo for the first time. I was blown away by her performance as Marge Henderson, and she’s just as good as Olive Kitteridge.

Olive Kitteridge is a middle school maths teacher who is married to a pharmacist and has one son. There’s nothing extraordinary about her, and that’s what’s great about this show: it’s just about ordinary people. Arguably Parenthood (may you stay forever young) is about that too, but those people never seem to have real problems. Neither does Olive really, but she doesn’t live with the obvious privilege that the Bravermans do. Her husband owns his own pharmacy, and she gets annoyed at the way he always wants to look after people, but that’s also why she loves him, too. When his assistant at the pharmacy dies on her way back from getting a coffee, he hires a young, lovely, mousy woman named Denise, who has a husband, also named Henry. When Denise’s Henry dies, Henry Kitteridge looks after her, to the slight annoyance of Olive, but she knows that he just loves to help people and lets him do it. She also knows he’s a little bit in love with Denise, but that he’ll never act upon those feelings. He’s the sort of guy that gives Jerry (played by Jesse Plemons, who is always fantastic) some money to take Olive to the movies and then they’ll end up getting married.

Olive is brash and blunt, but she cares in her own way (and sometimes she really is just mean). Parts 1 and 2 of Olive Kitteridge also explore the lives of Rachel Coulson (Rosmarie DeWitt), a single mother and her son Kevin (Cory Michael Smith in Part 2, there’s no listing for the actor who played the young Kevin in Part 1), who both suffer from mental illness. Kevin was Olive’s favourite student, and he ended up becoming a psychiatrist after his mother shot herself; she suffered from bipolar disorder, and Kevin has an unnamed illness that makes him suffer from hallucinations. Kevin returned to Maine to kill himself, but as it happened, Olive ran into him, saw his gun, and figured out what was happening. So, she invites Kevin to stay the night, tells Henry that she’s going to check on the snails in the garden, and makes Kevin throw his gun into the bay. Olive’s father shot himself and she found him in the kitchen. She knows what depression is, and knows she probably has it. She’s a compassionate woman with a tough exterior, because she doesn’t want people to think she’s weak.

Olive Kitteridge would be incredibly bleak if it wasn’t also funny. Olive has her mean streak, and also a wicked sense of humour. And she loves her family fiercely. Olive and Henry had a house built on the bay for their son, Christopher, and when Christopher gets married, she doesn’t approve of his wife (or his wife’s parents, though that’s understandable). So, when she’s having a lie down after the wedding, she hears her new daughter-in-law insult her, the dress she made herself, and the house she built for her son, she gets back using her wits and passive-aggressive manner. Olive can read people quite well, and she knows her daughter-in-law is a very neat and orderly person, so her revenge is stealing one shoe, and one earring, to make Suzanne think she’s lost them, knowing it will drive her mad.

Olive Kitteridge is clever, funny, mean and kind all at the same time. She’s just an ordinary person, and this show is a joy to watch.