TV: The Flight Attendant (Season 1)

There’s a long and storied history of “competence porn” in television story-telling; by comparison, “incompetence porn” is so new that it probably isn’t even a trope. Into that perhaps budding sub-genre one can categorize The Flight Attendant, a resourceful action-dramedy full of fast-paced banter and frantic adventure. Kaley Cuoco propels her well-honed sitcom chops in an impressive new direction as Cassie Bowden, a jet-setting international flight attendant with an unhealthy attraction to impulsive chaos. Cassie’s party-girl behavior lands her in hot water in Bangkok when a spontaneous romantic liaison with a wealthy passenger, Alex Sokolov (Michel Huisman), goes horribly wrong. After blacking out from drinking, Cassie awakens next to Alex’s murdered body in a posh hotel room. Promptly, she panics herself into fleeing the scene after clumsily trying to remove evidence of her presence, which accidentally makes her the primary suspect in Alex’s murder. But it also catapults her headlong into a complex international conspiracy that tests her resourcefulness and exposes long-buried psychological baggage.

For some reason I wasn’t expecting to like The Flight Attendant much; I suspect the bait-and-switch disillusionment of The Big Bang Theory lowered my expectations. But the series quickly won me over with its brisk pace, impressive performances, and inventive eye. Cuoco is eye-openingly good here, successfully upshifting her comedy chops into the hectic crisis mode of a new milieu. The convoluted plot is something of a hot mess, but it’s the right kind of mess for this protagonist, an alcoholic whose penchant for horrible decision-making reaches newly epic proportions, ultimately paving the way for long-overdue personal development. It’s probably too dark and serious to truly fall into the comedy category hanging around its neck, but there’s a zany, whip-fast energy to it, and its psychological elements slot it in nicely with other shows about self-destructive headcases trying to figure themselves out (such as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or, perhaps more tonally similar, Search Party). Cuoco’s heavy lifting is ably abetted by a rock-solid cast, anchored by Huisman, T.R. Knight, Rosie Perez, and Zosia Mamet. Oh, and the credit sequence and theme song are perfection. I’d be surprised if its manic escalations wind up being sustainable over the long-term, but the first season is a wildly entertaining and surprisingly addictive.

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