“Tiny Beautiful Things” lives up to its name, offering small moments of the sublime, made more poignant by the brokenness of its characters. Hahn delivers; sometimes, she’s melancholy or bombastic, but always with a thread of sloppiness pulling through. Crawford also gives a strong, effortless performance, embodying the teenage tendency to swing from vulnerable child to righteous adult to curious adolescent.
The show jumps between multiple timelines, most notably between current-day Claire and her late-teen, twentysomething self, played by Sarah Pidgeon. That was when her mother died, and so in addition to the coming-of-age plots, young-adult Claire finds herself experiencing many “lasts” that she didn’t know would be—the last gift her mother would buy her, for example.
“Tiny Beautiful Things” is a thoughtful exploration of grief and how old wounds carry forward, with particular attention to motherhood. Claire feels guilty about all the times she slighted her mom, like when she returned that last gift, wanting something more expensive. And she struggles with Rae, the two screaming more often than talking. Claire remembers her mother as kind, patient, and calm but can’t share those traits with her teenage daughter. Yes, there is lots of love there. Still, Claire is stuck expressing it as loss waiting to happen—she’s preparing herself and Rae for tragedy, imagining every fight as their last potential conversation and weaponizing the possibility.
Into this troubled mother-daughter echo chamber, “Tiny Beautiful Things” deeply analyzes class, wealth, and poverty. Claire grew up poor in a house her mom built to escape the abuse of her children’s father. Claire is the first in her family to go to college and finds herself to be different—the one with homemade clothes and a mom who attends with her, sharing her scholarship. She tells Frankie many times that she wants more than the relative poverty she grew up in—she wants books, travel, and art. Her mom never seems to take it personally, but looking back, Claire can’t help but feel ashamed of making her mother feel ashamed, which makes her current middle-class status all the more uncomfortable for nearly-50-year-old Claire. She sees her economic success as a way of betraying and making her mother proud.