NEW YORK (CNS) — The potentially absorbing crime drama "Mare of Easttown" squanders its appeal as it becomes ever more gruesome and shocking. The seven-episode limited series is streaming now on HBO Max.

There's a killer on the loose in the eponymous Pennsylvania burgh, a community that has seen better days. As creator and writer Brad Ingelsby dissects the lives of its oddball citizens, viewers are confronted with often-gory violence, including domestic abuse, graphic sex scenes, nudity, drug use and foul language.

There's even a purely gratuitous subplot involving a Catholic clergyman, Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle), who's accused of wrongdoing.

Lost in the welter of all this is the program's first-rate acting and fever-pitch suspense as well as a story line overstuffed with twists and jaw-dropping moments.

At the heart of the action is Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), a one-time high school basketball star-turned-police-official whose life is falling apart. She juggles crises at home and at work with little success.

Mare lives with her teenage daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice), a lesbian seeking a new sexual partner, and her dotty mother, Helen (Jean Smart). The household also includes her 4-year-old grandson, Drew (Izzy King). Mare became his guardian after her son, Kevin (Cody Kostro), committed suicide and the boy's mother, Carrie (Sosie Bacon), got hooked on heroin.

Mare has never come to terms with her son's death. And now Carrie is in rehab and seeking custody of Drew.

At work, Mare is haunted by her inability to solve a year-old cold case involving a missing teen. The mystery returns to the spotlight with the sudden disappearance of three more local girls. When one turns up dead, Mare's boss, Chief Carter (John Douglas Thompson), calls for back-up. Handsome young Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) arrives to assist, much to Mare's dismay.

Based on the first five episodes, "Mare of Easttown" works best when focusing on the murder investigation as reluctant Mare and eager Colin follow the clues. Efforts to humanize Mare by giving her an unexpected suitor — a dashing creative writing professor named Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) — are a distraction at best.

Mare, moreover, is thoroughly unlikable since she keeps making bad personal and professional choices, including a shocking dereliction of duty. Her cynicism is, at times, overpowering.

"Doing something great is overrated," she tells Colin. "People expect that from you all the time. What they don't realize is that you are just as screwed up as they are." Not exactly a heartening takeaway.