“FLIGHT ATTENDANT” SERVES UP FULL MEASURE OF COMIC THRILLER
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT” ON HBO MAX
Anyone who has been flying long-distance for decades has not likely encountered the likes of a flight attendant such as Kaley Cuoco’s manic Cassie Bowden, who views the job as an opportunity for free international travel with the fringe benefit of consuming tiny bottles of vodka. HBO Max’s original new series “The Flight Attendant” is a darkly comic mystery thriller of sorts about the misadventures of Cuoco’s titular character that emanate in large part from the mess being made of her personal and professional life.
Our first glimpse of Cassie finds her passed-out from a night of an alcohol-fueled bender on a New York subway bench and then waking up to realize she’d better rush to her next shift on a run to Bangkok. Cassie’s co-workers, including Megan (Rosie Perez) and Shane (Griffin Mattews), tolerate the train wreck party girl’s indiscretions, knowing that she will sneak many gulps of booze in first-class on the long overnight flights. During the flight to Bangkok, Cassie pays more attention to handsome businessman Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman), who becomes known to the rest of the flight crew as “3C,” for his seat assignment.Well, Cassie gets so carefree and flirtatious with “3C” in the middle of the night that an introduction to membership in the mile-high club with her passenger is emblematic of her propensity for precarious behavior.To the surprise of no one on the crew, Cassie takes up an offer from Alex for an extravagant date night in Bangkok, which culminates in a stay in his swank hotel suite. Having blacked out from too many libations, Cassie wakes up horrified to find Alex’s bloodily mutilated corpse without any recollection of how this happened. The only clue seems to be broken glass littered on the floor. Meanwhile, Cassie naturally panics, knowing she would be the prime suspect in a foreign land. Visions of the legal plight faced by Amanda Knox for a murder in Italy dance in her head.
Grappling with her own thoughts of innocence, Cassie claims to be incapable of murder, contending “I’m not that kind of drunk. I’m public nudity yelling in the subway kind of drunk.” In the first of many questionable decisions, Cassie rids the crime scene of key evidence, such as wiping up the bloody trails on the floor and discarding broken glass and liquor bottles, before leaving in haste back to the airport for a flight to Seoul. As her colleagues keep wondering why she is acting more oddly than usual, Cassie finds her conscience grappling with images of Alex conversing about his fatal situation and how she needs to clear her mind to start remembering some details. Alex’s ethereal presence prods Cassie to investigate the murder on her own, which goes against the pro bono legal advice given by her best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet) to not volunteer any unsolicited information to the authorities. Yet, her first major mistake back in the States is a willingness to talk freely and without reservations with two FBI agents (Nolan Gerard Funk and Merle Dandridge) who are only looking for someone to incriminate their actions in Thailand.
As if dealing openly with federal agents is not problematic enough, Cassie channels her inner private eye to show up at Alex’s place of business, pretending to be an investor in a hedge-fund she knows nothing about. Cassie wanders into other situations, often in an alcohol-fueled haze knocking over trays of drinks or a tower of cucumber sandwiches at a memorial service and bumbling along like Inspector Clouseau in search of clues to find Alex’s killer. Meanwhile, Cassie also has to entertain a pending visit from her disapproving older brother Davey (T.R. Knight) and his family, which unearths more details of her childhood trauma that involved an alcoholic father’s unhealthy influence.
“The Flight Attendant” is an eight-episodes series, and HBO Max released for review purposes the first-half of the run, which was more than enough enticement to hang in for the remainder in anticipation that the various plot threads would bear a fruitful conclusion. Several mysteries need to be solved, not just the one involving the death in Bangkok. Why would someone ransack Cassie’s apartment? Who is the mystery woman stalking Cassie and why? What’s the Sokolov family hiding? What’s up with a co-worker meeting with shady characters?
Aside from an interesting cast of characters with their own motivations and hidden agendas, Kaley Cuoco’s performance alone invests “The Flight Attendant” with sufficient curiosity to ride along for a wild and perhaps bumpy adventure. Whether or not “The Flight Attendant” soars to a new altitude or eventually gets grounded, my thought is that each new plot development so far definitely warrants a commitment of another four hours to see where and how the denouement lands.