Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Alcoholism is hot right now. People are loving addict stories, from the best of the bunch, Bojack Horseman, to the distinctly unsavory and exploitative: The Queen’s Gambit and The Sound of Metal, people are relishing in stories of individuals being ravaged by substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and systematic discrimination. The Flight Attendant adds a humorous edge to one of those qualities (alcoholism) albeit, a rather soft one, and much like the latter mentioned above, is deeply insensitive and frustrating. Spoilers: she gets sober by the end of the season, in a perfect bow to wrap up her whole journey, and though the show attempts to hold the main character, Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco), responsible for those she hurts along the course of her journey, exactly like Netflix’s pitiful tour de force The Queen’s Gambit, the plot wipes it away with her seeming ability to overcome every situation tossed at her, inebriated or not. While some may argue that this is a “positive” depiction, it simply doesn’t go far enough, especially compared to a show about anthropomorphic animals that has more or less lapped an industry of substance abusers in terms of honesty about the difficulty, weight and reality of getting sober. So instead, we are treated to another show that treats alcoholism like a super power, like a great time where you snap out of it and are magically forgiven, all the destruction and mounting debt in your wake reconciled by your sobriety. But you know what, for all that, it’s a remarkably enjoyable and simoultaneously deeply troubled show.
The story follows the gloriously hot mess of a protagonist Cassie Bowden as she engages in a series of one night stands, gets drunk as hell and generally stumbles through who her life as the titular flight attendant, it establishes her in a network of characters as this mercurial and gravitational center of their globe-trotting lifestyle. The characters adjacent her are infinitely more interesting than she is, however, she becomes slightly more intriguing when one of her one-night stands ends up dead in bed with her, a man of fascination, importance and apparent wealth Alex Sokolov (Michael Huisman) who haunts/helps Cassie navigate the conspiracy and mystery surrounding his death. Some of the show’s most compelling moments arrive through Cuoco and Huisman’s onscreen chemistry, which for an actress who I consider to have little to no range, she is allotted a bit more flexibility than Big Bang Theory usually allows, Huisman too gets to be a bit more animated and her slightly serious in addition to being charming so having them apply tension on their typical type-casted positions is a pleasure, especially when they are obviously having so much fun together.
There are some fun stylistic flourishes, De Palma-esque splitscreens and spy tropes that make me smile. The moments of Huisman and Cuoco are filmed in an imaginary realm that allows some genuine playfulness on a filmmaking end, watching Sokolov’s character speak with a slit throat is inherently funny and even better in execution. Some of the side-plots feel like padding and everything ties together a bit too conveniently, both in the twists and that abysmal, stinky ending, but the ride there is ultimately unobtrusive and fun.
I finished this! Which is definitely a testament to some quality, the above score is not necessarily positive, however, this is a perfect five out of ten. By that, I mean, it can remain in the background of your life, never calling your attention or demanding too much of you, at worst the moments it does ask you to drop your passive attitude when it crosses a line in the aforementioned alcoholic content and makes you scratch your head as to exactly what the writers were trying to say, and furthermore when you have ideas of your own that probably would have propelled the show into more meaningful and potent territory. While there is an argument to be made for Bowden’s character engaging in the bad behavior that men in “film-noirs” (calling this anything akin to noir is a stretch) many of those characters were interesting because of who they were, not the things that were happening to them, which seems to be a consistent issue in modern media, the disinclination to letting characters breathe, be themselves without loading them up with ailments and societal issues, basically, characters who propel the story forward based on their own agency rather than a pawn in a piece of entertainment for our pleasure. Creators need to restore their respect for the illusion of fantasy, we are not stupid, just deeply misled.