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TV

Tiny Beautiful Things review — Cheryl Strayed inspires heartfelt series about an advice columnist

Kathryn Hahn solves other people’s problems as her own life crumbles in this Hulu comedy-drama

Clare is an unhappy 49-year-old who’s exiled from the family home, suspended from her job and ignored by her teenage daughter. Naturally she’s also an advice columnist, solving America’s problems as her own life crumbles.

Clare (Kathryn Hahn) is a fictional stand-in for Cheryl Strayed, whose bestselling collected writings, Tiny Beautiful Things, serves as the inspiration for this heartfelt Hulu series. Billed as a comedy-drama and presented in eight half-hour episodes, it is more maudlin and misty-eyed than you might initially expect.

The show opens with Clare in a nadir. Feeling hungry, but also “like a shell of a person staring into the abyss”, she seeks solace in an agony aunt called Dear Sugar, who, it transpires, is actually her burly male friend. Having modelled his online persona on Clare, he suggests that she take over the column. “Who am I to give advice to anyone?” she asks, not entirely unreasonably. “Who am I?” she goes on to wonder.

Misty-eyed: Kathryn Hahn and Tanzyn Crawford as Clare and daughter Rae © Jessica Brooks/Hulu

Once Clare hesitantly agrees to become “Sugar”, the second question becomes the focus of the series. With each plea for guidance she receives, Clare re-examines her own life, identifying teachable moments and cautionary tales among plentiful misjudgments and missed opportunities. Through flashbacks to her twenties we learn how life began to get away from her following the death of her mother (Merritt Wever), a trauma which now shapes her strained relationship with daughter Rae (Tanzyn Crawford).

Much of the material is familiar, not least if you’ve recently watched Apple’s Shrinking, which similarly follows a troubled therapist working on himself as he helps others. The execution too can feel hokey; emotive narration is accompanied by mawkish piano, while the point that the past haunts the present becomes laboured in shots where Clare watches her younger self (Sarah Pidgeon).

That said, Hahn herself is a draw. Best known as a scene-stealing supporting actress, she comfortably carries this series, bringing depth and occasional levity to a tricky character exasperatingly caught between poor instincts and sage, self-aware reflections. Her performance is a beautiful thing amid some not-so-tiny flaws.

On Disney Plus and on Hulu in the US

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