Olive Kitteridge

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Olive Kitteridge TV Poster Image
Powerful adaptation with themes of mental illness, suicide.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Love is complex but important. Marriage, mental illness, parenthood, and death are major themes. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Olive has kindness in her, but she is not likable.


Occasional arguments and yelling. Guns and gunshot wounds visible; a hostage situation is featured. Suicide is a strong theme. 


A few scenes feature sexual elements (sounds, grunts) but nothing explicit. Infidelity is a theme. 


Occasional curses such as "hell," "crap," "bitch, "s--t," and "f--k." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Beer drinking; hard liquor and cigarettes visible. Prescription meds discussed. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Olive Kitteridge, which is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is too mature for kids and probably won't appeal to teens unless they've read (and liked) the book. It features adult themes such as marriage, mental illness, infidelity, and suicide. The language is occasionally strong ("hell," "crap," "bitch, "s--t," "f--k"), and there's some arguing and yelling. Drinking (alcohol, beer) and cigarette smoking is visible. 

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What's the story?

Based on Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title, OLIVE KITTERIDGE is an HBO miniseries that spans the complicated 25-year journey of a middle school math teacher and her family and friends living in Crosby, Maine. Frances McDormand plays the terse and unemotional Olive, whose troubled marriage to the kind and warmhearted Henry (Richard Jenkins) evolves over the years as they interact with people such as Henry's assistant, Denise Thibodeau (Zoe Kazan), English teacher Jim O'Casey (Peter Mullan), and Rachel Coulson (Rosemarie DeWitt), whose struggle with mental illness overtakes her life. From Olive's attempts to negotiate her strained relationship with her son (played by John Gallagher, Jr.) to coping with the change and loss that time inevitably brings, the series underscores how people, like life, can often be very complicated. 

Is it any good?

Despite some minor changes, this TV adaptation successfully intertwines the book's 13 narratives into a smoothly dramatic, intense viewing experience. McDormand successfully captures Olive's unsophisticated -- but complex -- character, who longs to be appreciated and understood but is incapable of exuding any warmth or emotional attachment to those she cares about. 

It's not always easy to watch, but there's an earnestness to the series that makes it worthwhile. Meanwhile, intensely powerful performances by actors such as Cory Michael Smith, (who plays Coulson's troubled adult son) are balanced with occasional lighthearted moments and a cameo appearance by Bill Murray. Viewers who read the book will not be disappointed, and those who haven't will still find something here. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about TV shows and films that are adapted from books. Why are there changes made when the story is told in a different format? What things are often different?

  • How have the mentally ill been portrayed in film and TV over the years? What are some of the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding people who have a mental illness? Has the media contributed to these generalizations? What impact do they have on the way society thinks about mental illness? 

TV details

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