Better Late Than Never: The Flight Attendant
Kaley Cuoco has been acting her entire life. For those whose only exposure to her was her undeniably hysterical work on The Big Bang Theory, it’s easy to forget that she’s been acting since she was seven years old. Guest starring on My So-Called Life and Ellen, playing John Ritter’s daughter on 8 Simple Rules to her work on the final season of Charmed, she’d already been acting for most of her life before her work as Penny. But despite being an expert in comic television, Cuoco has neither gotten the ability to play in dark territory nor gotten the recognition from the Emmys. Both are very likely to change very soon with her role in The Flight Attendant.
Cassie Bowden is hard partying and very hard drinking flight attendant. On one night in Bangkok, she meets up with a passenger named Alex (Michael Huisman). After joining the mile high club, Alex is apparently charmed enough that he invites her out to a night of drinking and debauchery in Thailand. The next morning Cassie wakes up in a wrecked hotel room with a hangover… and Alex lying in bed with his throat cut. Understandably, she freaks out. She tries to clean up the mess — badly — then leaves the hotel — messily — and makes her flight and tries to act normal — horribly. Then the news comes out that Alex is dead.
And that’s when things get weird. Cassie starts having flashbacks and hallucinations where Alex and she start talking (think Sherlock’s mind palace on crack, and you’ll have an idea). This gets mixed in with a series of hallucinations that not even Cassie seems able to understand. By the time she arrives back in New York she’s a nervous wreck. Then the FBI starts investigating.
I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the HBO Max series and I will admit that I’m as much in the dark as Cassie is. It’s clear that Alex is mixed up in something very shadowy involving a woman named Margaret. Right now Cassie think she killed Alex because of a bad breakup, but given how we’ve seen her behave I don’t think its anywhere near that simple.
If the series were strictly a whodunit, it wouldn’t be worth the time. What makes it enjoyable is that there’s a very strong sense of hysterical humor. A lot of comes from Cuoco’s exceptional work as Cassie. Yes, she’s blonde and yes she’s messed up, and yes Hitchcock is mentioned in an episode title but Cuoco’s plays a lot of the utter insanity of this for comedy and it makes it work. It also helps that the rest of the cast is spot on. Huisman is quite brilliant as Alex and is clearly as confused as Cassie is about what happened. There are also a lot of very good female supporting characters. Zosia Mamet, who I could never stand in Girls is a measure of sanity as Cassie’s best friend, who happens to be an attorney and is understandably horrified by what she’s gotten into. Merle Dandrige is sold as Agent Hammond, the FBI investigator into the case who has a chip on her shoulder about the agent backing her up. But the best performance belongs to Rosie Perez as Megan, a fellow flight attendant who knows something is going on with Cassie and is hiding her own secrets as well. Perez in particular deserves a nomination as well.
I’m not convinced yet that everything in The Flight Attendant will work. There’s a storyline going on with Cassie’s brother Davey who’s planning a visit to New York with his family and is worrying that his sister is becoming an alcoholic. Much as I love T.R. Knight, I’m not entirely convinced this story is either necessarily nor will pay off in the long term. And like all mysteries you wonder how exactly this will pay out in a second season which has already been agreed to for next year. But for now, as an entertainment, the series is a small gem. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth it to get a subscription to HBO Max, this show may be enough to sell you. (It’s possible Hacks may end up being an added bonus…but the jury’s still out on that.)
My score: 4 stars.