Entertainment » Television

Review: 'The Flight Attendant' Aims High, Cruises Comfortably

by Padraic Maroney
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 23, 2020
Kaley Cuoco in 'The Flight Attendant'
Kaley Cuoco in 'The Flight Attendant'  

Cassie Bowden (played by Kaley Cuoco) is a party girl who has a job as a flight attendant, which allows her to take her partying ways into international territories. Her reign of terror comes to a head when she meets up with a passenger, Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman), while on a layover in Bangkok and spends the night at his hotel. When she wakes up the next morning, Alex is dead and she is covered in his blood. Even worse, she doesn't remember the night before and whether or not she might have been involved with his murder.

"The Flight Attendant," based on the book by the same name by Chris Bohjalian, adapts the main conceit of the book, but liberally changes many of the characters and plot elements. Purists of the book might not be able to get past some of these changes, but for those who haven't read the source material should be able to enjoy the film on its own merits.

Throughout most of the book Cassie is on her own trying to figure things out, but the film adaptation has smartly fleshed out her world a little bit. Her best friend, Annie, is a bad-ass lawyer who's dating an adorable hacker (Deniz Akdeniz). She also is keeping Alex alive in her head, and this version of him helps her think through things and solve problems that arise along the way. There's also her gay brother (T.R. Knight), who's planning a family visit to Manhattan to visit his sister in the big city.

Cuoco, who also serves as a producer on the series, does well in the lead role. In some ways, Cassie seems like a spiritual relative to the actress's more famous role. Penny could have turned into Cassie had she not met the lovable nerds from "The Big Bang Theory" and wasn't constrained by broadcast television's censors. It's the actresses' good will that she has built up over the years and considerable charm that makes Cassie into a likable character instead of a drunk train wreck.

Based on the the first four episodes, which were made available for review, "The Flight Attendant," doesn't take itself too seriously, injecting humor by allowing Cassie to know that she is a walking mess. That doesn't keep the series from having tense moments as she tries to clear her name and recall anything she can about her night in Bangkok — or about the mysterious Miranda (Michelle Gomez), who might be the key to clearing up these questions.

The producers have also made the show feel very stylized. Many times throughout the episodes they will do split screens to offer multiple perspectives on the scene being shown. It gives the show a feeling similar to the old spy movies. Susanna Fogel, who directs the first two episodes, creates a world all of its own that serves as a blueprint for subsequent directors to follow. It's a world in which reality is slightly heightened — where Annie's shower just happens to be a glass box, out in the open for anyone to see as they enter her apartment, and where the entire flight crew wears a uniform that is form-fitting and flattering to them. The set designers also had fun decorating the scenes that take place in Cassie's head, between her and Alex.

Where the show does flounder is in a subplot, invented for the show that wasn't part of the book, involving Cassie's fellow flight attendant, Megan (Rosie Perez). It's not entirely clear what she is doing in the story, beyond vague conversations about corporate espionage. Perhaps that's because the subplot is not fully fleshed out, but it seems like something invented just to attraction an actress of Perez's caliber to play an otherwise minimal supporting character.

Adding to the fun and intrigue of each episode is the expertly designed, animated opening sequence. It's just off-kilter enough to be endearing without being over the top. While "The Flight Attendant" might not be smooth sailing during the first half of the season, and some of the changes from the book might surprise and possibly irk readers, there's enough here to keep you coming back each week. Cuoco's charm is enough in itself to help make it worth fastening your seat belt and enjoy the ride.

"The Flight Attendant" streams on HBO Max beginning November 26, 2020.

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