You deserve to have some fun. We all do at this point, for a bunch of reasons that don’t especially require rehashing but also because it’s the time of the year when it starts getting dark at like 4:45 p.m. and you probably wouldn’t be all that jazzed about going outside even if you could. It’s a great time for a little diversion, something fizzy and bouncy to watch, a show whose guiding principle is to be entertaining above all else. Not one of those bleak bummer shows, the ones where everyone is miserable and it’s always gray outside and they try to trick you into thinking “relentlessly serious and/or sad” is interchangeable with “quality programming.” Again, something fun. That’s why you should check out The Flight Attendant. The Flight Attendant is so much freaking fun.
A quick summary: The Flight Attendant is a new HBO Max series that stars Kaley Cuoco as a kind of boozy party girl and, uh, flight attendant — no false advertising here, people — who hooks up with a mysterious passenger and then wakes up very hungover next to his blood-covered corpse and, whoops, now she’s eyeballs-deep in a twisty murder mystery. Everyone has secrets and may or may not be up to something. She has hallucinations where the dead guy talks her through the various sticky situations she finds herself in through circumstance and self-destructive behavior. Rosie Perez is on the show. Find me one thing not to like in any of that.
It’s not just the mystery that makes it fun, although I will come back to that shortly, because I really want to talk about it. The show is also very stylish, both in how the characters dress and behave and in how it’s shot. The camera angles are sometimes tilted to push someone off to one side of the screen as a means of throwing the viewer off balance. The colors are bright and saturated within an inch of their lives in some parts, and muted in a cold, blue-ish tint in others. Everyone is always going out to nightclubs or on secret fact-finding escapades to mysterious corporate headquarters or funerals and they are always wearing fancy outfits that are the opposite of the sweatpants and thermals you’ve probably been wearing since October. The combination gives it a kind of Mr. Robot meets Killing Eve visual vibe that is a real blast for the eyeballs.
It’s also a blast for the ears, too, thanks to a soundtrack filled with bouncy horns and dinky bonk piano music that can make walking down a sidewalk or sneaking a glance at a stranger feel frenetic or ominous or extremely cool, depending on the circumstances of the particular scene. I love it. I want to have the soundtrack playing while I’m, like, making coffee in the morning, or reheating leftovers in the microwave, possibly in slow motion, just to add a little intrigue to my day. My favorite part about the music might not even be the music itself. It might be the way the show describes the music in its subtitles.
I love dark investigative music.
But all of that means nothing without a solid plot and set of performances. Let’s quickly run through a few things we had going on in the first three episodes that HBO Max released this weekend:
- Kaley Cuoco’s character, Cassie, has a lawyer best friend who is played by Zosia Mamet and has a secret hacker boyfriend and has a bunch of burner phones and might be up to something
- Rosie Perez — whose character has a name, Megan, but my brain can’t be expected to handle that when Rosie Perez is on the screen looking and talking like Rosie Perez — is a fellow flight attendant who is stealing files off her husband’s laptop and selling them to mysterious Asian businessmen and paying off weird dudes with random bottles of pills
- The dead dude worked for a huge shady corporation and his family appears to be into some wild stuff
- There’s a lady named Miranda who is scary as heck and real slick with a butterfly knife and who everyone talks about in hushed tones like she’s Keyser Soze or something
- The FBI is involved and they sure do think Cassie knows more than she’s letting on, which she does
- Sometimes Cassie lies to people and says her name is “Alessandra Ricci,” which is a good reminder that everyone should have a fake name ready just in case you need to investigate a murder you’re suspected of committing or want to have some goofs while making a dinner reservation
- Mine is Mitch Casino and you can’t steal it
I’ll tell you what really makes this show hum so far, though: Kaley Cuoco’s performance. Man, is she ever good as Cassie, a character who flips between bubbly flirt and anxious wreck and bottoming-out drunk and someone who Has Demons In Her Past, as all protagonists do these days, with hers involving flashbacks and dead rabbits and substance abuse issues starting at a very young age. It’s a lot. It might be too much in the hands of a lesser performer. It might still end up being too much if things skid from fun-messy into gratuitous-messy as the show progresses, which is always a risk with this kind of multidirectional mystery layered with ever-growing conspiracies. But she really is so good. Between this show and her voice work on the animated Harley Quinn series (also extremely freaking fun), Kaley Cuoco is carving out a nice little post-Big Bang career arc all over HBO Max. This is a situation I will continue to monitor.
One note in closing, about the great unknown in all of this. As I mentioned above, HBO Max only released the first three episodes of this show so far. The remaining episodes will go up weekly, every Thursday. This is something that streaming services have been tinkering with recently. The Mandalorian drops one episode per week, Ted Lasso also dropped a chunk upfront and then released the remainder of its season one at a time every Friday. People who are now conditioned to binge entire seasons in a weekend might get frustrated by this, the delayed gratification and forced waiting and not getting the answers to things nownowgimmenow. Personally, I like it, especially for a show like this. I like thinking about a mystery between episodes, and I like when a show has a chance to build and remain a part of the cultural conversation for entire weeks instead of fading out after a long weekend, and I do not have the self-control to not rip through the entire season in one sleepless night and ruin my productivity for the next four days. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the two other shows I mentioned that tried this — The Mandalorian and Ted Lasso — are two of the buzziest shows of the last year or so. I suspect it is not.
But that’s a conversation for another day, probably between a bunch of television critics who think about that stuff a lot because our brains are ruined. You don’t have to worry about it right now. You can just focus on finding cool stuff to watch until we all can and/or want to go outside again. The Flight Attendant is a pretty good place to start.