TV: Fleishman is in Trouble

Voiceover narration can be a real turn-off, but Fleishman is in Trouble uses the device to good effect, giving this miniseries—adapted from the novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner—a compelling narrative energy. The story follows a period of crisis for one Toby Fleishman (Jesse Eisenberg), a recently divorced physician coming off a long, turbulent marriage. His ex-wife Rachel (Claire Danes) is a high-profile talent agent in New York. The shattered pair has a testy custody agreement, periodically exchanging their children, Hannah (Meara Mahoney Gross) and Solly (Maxim Jasper Swinton,) just long enough to get several verbal jabs in. But when Rachel fails to show up to collect the kids one weekend, Toby’s life starts to spiral, transitioning through several stages of panic as he works to track down his missing ex and find out what’s going on.

Fleishman is in Trouble is a first-rate relationship drama driven by ferocious performances from its three leads: Eisenberg, Danes, and Lizzy Caplan. As Libby, a former magazine writer friend of Toby’s now settled in New Jersey as an aimless stay-at-home mom, Caplan provides the one-step-removed narration, and boy, is she good at it. Her storytelling lends a literary vibe to an inventive, nonlinear narrative that uses copious flashbacks to contextualize the central mystery: where is Rachel? The mystery of her disappearance from Toby’s life isn’t that interesting in itself, but the swirl of personality conflict around that mystery keeps the account uncommonly engaging. The way the intrigue resolves also cleverly pivots the focus to make the story multi-protagonist, as Rachel’s and Libby’s viewpoints gradually intrude on Toby’s centrality. Does it stick the landing? Well, the final episode is only a modest success compared to the exceptional build-up. But overall it’s a riveting drama characterized by terrific acting and confident, polished storytelling.

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