TV

Holy Heck, ‘The Flight Attendant’ Was A Freaking Blast

I’ll tell you what I love: I love a show that moves fast. A show that has twists and turns and reveals coming at a breakneck pace. A show that is willing to sacrifice a little bit of reality in the name of a good time. A show that does so much so often that it makes you sound like a babbling maniac when you try to explain the plot to other people. This is probably why I enjoyed The Flight Attendant so much. The Flight Attendant was all of those things and more over its just-completed eight-episode run. It was such a freaking blast.

Start at the top of the list. The show just moved so fast. It stomped on the gas in the premiere with a one-night stand and a dead body in Bangkok and it never let up. There were assassins and conspiracies and secrets revealed at important moments. Kaley Cuoco spent over half the show playing very drunk as she wobbled her way through her own investigation. Zosia Mamet’s character, Annie, was one of the most reasonable people on the show even though she had an open shower in the middle of her living room and a secret hacker boyfriend who got hit by a car at one point. Rosie Perez accidentally provided secrets to the North Korean government and was last seen preparing to go on the lam in Europe wearing a stylish floppy hat. At one point, when cornered by one of the two assassins chasing her (the one who was not also seducing her), Cuoco’s character, Cassie, flicked her shoe at her attacker’s head and ran off in the other direction with one bare foot. It was awesome.

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This is what I’m talking about. Just a ball of messy fun from beginning to end. Yes, there were dark moments, and this is where we mention Cassie’s alcoholism and troubled childhood and the memory-warping her brain did as a form of denial and self-defense. That was in there too, rabbits and deer and car horns and all of it. But even those flashbacks were in service of launching the plot forward at all times, brief pauses that explain why she did the thing she did or is about to do the thing she is about to do. She’s a troubled lady, deeply, beyond the thing where an international financial conspiracy has plopped into her lap and dead bodies keep turning up in the places she’s been. That’s not great either.

But again, fun. The show spent about six and a half of its eight episodes digging her hole deeper as everything got more complicated. It sent her to Bangkok, and New York, and Rome, and into her own head with a vision of the dead guy she woke up next to, and to an aquarium with her nieces, and had her hook up with some handsome zero with a stupid name, but nothing was ever as it first appeared and nothing was ever simple. Buckley the Zero was actually Felix the Psychopath Assassin, and his big plan to kill her and cover his tracks almost worked until one of her coworkers kicked open the door spraying bullets and revealed himself to be an undercover CIA agent who was investigating Rosie Perez’s character’s completely unrelated accidental treason whoopsie, and after everything else that happened in the season I was fully happy to just accept it. “Oh, yes, Shane is a CIA agent, that makes sense,” I said to myself about the completely nutso last-minute twist. Terrific television program.

(This brings up another fun point. The flight crew on the show had four main people. By the end of the finale, one of them had unraveled a globe-spanning conspiracy, one was wanted for selling military secrets to North Korea, one turned out to be an intelligence operative, and the other was… still just a snarky flight attendant. Part of me wants another season just to hear her explain all of this to, like, her sister. Another part of me wants another season so the show can reveal she’s secretly a billionaire drug smuggler or something. Both parts of me want another season. We’ll come back to this.)

I think a lot of the credit for keeping things so fizzy and bouncy despite all the trauma and murder can go to two things: One, Cuoco’s performance, which was so good and threaded a tiny needle when it came to tone; two, the music, which I described in my earlier piece on the series as “dinky bonk piano” music, a phrase I stand by today. The opening theme was catchy in a tinkly and jaunty Archer-style way, animated action and all of it. The music inside the show was perfect too, and yes, this is where I point out, again, that whoever did the subtitles for this show deserves a raise. Like, today.

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HBO MAX

The result of all of these things was that The Flight Attendant didn’t ever feel like a slog, a trap a number of other limited series have fallen into. You’ve seen a few, I’m sure. They’re the ones that have an interesting premise but start to revel in being bleak and dark for the sake of being bleak and dark, like everyone just got done watching the first season of True Detective and decided that a limited series has to be Very Serious At All Times. The ones that somehow drag despite only having six to eight hours to fill. The ones that seem eager to grab you by the shoulders and shout “GET READY TO GET BUMMED THE HELL OUT, BUSTER.” Is there a place for a show like that? Sure. I guess. Why not? But it’s nice to see someone out there taking the format and doing something a little peppier.

Which brings us back to the big question: Should there be a second season of The Flight Attendant? Prior to the finale, I would have shrugged my shoulders. A show with a high degree of difficulty — like five intertwining mysteries about murder and espionage counts as “a high degree of difficulty” — can have trouble with the landing. Even if the finale had whiffed, I still would have enjoyed the ride. But whiff it did not. It wrapped up most of its business pretty nicely and left a few avenues open for further inquiry. Would I watch a second season about Rosie Perez and her floppy hat crisscrossing the globe to try to clear her and her husband of high treason? Yes. Would I watch Cassie and Annie and maybe CIA Shane — WHOSE NAME PROBABLY ISN’T EVEN SHANE — attempt to help her do it? Of course. Would I watch an entire season about Miranda the newly wealthy assassin just doing various Miranda things? Hmm. I think I would, but it would help if someone wore a floppy hat or turned out to be a spy or kicked a shoe at someone.

I’m sorry. I’m conditioned to expect these things now. You can’t take them away from me.

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