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As McDormand eyes a third Oscar, ‘Olive Kitteridge’ deserves another look

Frances McDormand in the 2014 HBO miniseries "Olive Kitteridge."
Frances McDormand in the 2014 HBO miniseries "Olive Kitteridge."Jojo Whilden

A lot of people are talking about Frances McDormand, now that her latest movie, “Nomadland,” is available to stream (it’s on Hulu). Her performance is sublime in the wistful film, as a guarded, restless woman on the road, and it may just bring her another Oscar, her third.

So: TV chiming in here with a reminder of one of her best performances, in the 2014 HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge,” available on HBO and HBO Max. The four-parter is one of the best TV adaptations I’ve seen, conveying the ordinary lives in Elizabeth Strout’s novel-in-stories with raw honesty and grace. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko and written by Jane Anderson, it doesn’t hit a single wrong note. It made me think a little bit of “The Last Picture Show,” as it reveals a cultural pocket — the fictional Crosby, Maine — where Main Street looks quaint, but where desolation holds on underneath like a barnacle.


McDormand plays Olive, a hard-bitten, stoic lady, a cold, craggy rock in the Maine coastal landscape where she has always lived. Nothing much has happened to her, her husband, and their son across their lives, except the slow erosion of bonds and the withering away of dreams. Olive seems to embody the soul of New England, with her salty, stubborn, enduring, and loyal ways. Thankfully, McDormand never asks us to like Olive, who has been known to insult children and heap resentment onto her nurturing husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins). She never tries to make Olive’s crabbiness into lovability.

The rest of the cast, including Jenkins, Bill Murray, Ann Dowd, Rosemarie DeWitt, Peter Mullan, and Jesse Plemons, is strong. Zoe Kazan is a standout as Henry’s simple, naive assistant at the town pharmacy. If you’re looking for a binge, and who isn’t these days, it’s there for you.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.