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Friday, 19 March 2021

REVIEW: The Flight Attendant is one of the biggest surprises of the year.

 The Flight Attendant starring Kaley Cuoco finally lands on Sky One and NOW, after initially debuting on the American streamer HBO Max in November 2020.  This series is a dramatic departure for Cuoco; the actress is primarily known to comedic audiences worldwide as Penny Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory.  The 8-part comedy/thriller hybrid may rely on classic Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock storytelling elements but manages to infuse the comedic aspects Cuoco’s fans are accustomed to seeing.    

Cuoco is immediately engaging as  Cassandra “Cassie” Bowden, a flight attendant for Imperial Atlantic whose luggage includes childhood trauma and alcohol issues.  With the amount of trauma Cassie is carrying around, one wonders if she can pull her rollaboard.  Episode one opens with quick glimpses of Cassie working international flights, going out with friends and co-workers for nights of heavy boozing, to random hook-ups.  If the scenes of drunken dancing at night clubs does not underscore Cassie’s drinking problem, the sneak peek inside her Vodka stocked fridge should convince you.  

The Flight Attendant wastes no time introducing the inciting murder.  After Cassie stamps her mile-high membership club card courtesy of first-class occupant 3C, Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman), she is treated to an evening out in Bangkok.  Following a night of drunken debauchery, Cassie wakes up next to a bloody corpse.  Cuoco flawlessly shifts from initial shock and horror to utter panic.  Cassie provides the audience with a dissertation on how not to react when discovering your dead lover while abroad.  The camera marinates on blood-soaked sheets, Alex’s slashed throat, and the apparent murder weapon – a broken wine bottle.        

The exploration of trauma in TV drama is nothing new, these days it is a regular cast member.  One of The Flight Attendant strengths is the way it tackles the subject of trauma.  Alex Sokolov may have met his physical demise early on, but the character takes up residence inside Cassie’s mind.  Over the course of episodes two and three, the physical manifestations of past and present traumas enable the audience (and the lead) to sift through the wreckage that is Cassie Bowden’s life.  If you thought only high functioning sociopathic detectives who reside on Baker Street could use a mind palace to solve mysteries, think again.  Steven Moffat’s version of Sherlock was adept at predicting outcomes and most human behavior.  However, this television fanatic does not recall Sherlock calling upon the fight or flight instincts of a rabbit to escape an office building.         


Cassie initially believes that her worst nightmares are the Thailand authorities and the FBI.  Unbeknownst to Cassie, her greatest threat may manifest itself in the form of Michelle Gomez’s Miranda Croft.  Gomez is very adept at portraying menacing villains from Gallifrey to Academy of the Unseen Arts.  Unlike Missy and Madame Satan, Miranda Croft doesn't rely upon super-science or the dark arts.  She is all business with a calculating demeanour and a stylish wardrobe to match.  Miranda may have initially appeared as a hazy memory, but as things come into focus it becomes clear she is deadlier than a casual business acquaintance.  

The FBI and a relentless assassin are not the only threats to Cassie’s sanity.  Davey Bowden (T.R. Knight) Cassie's brother and his adorable family’s trip to New York City adds another layer of complexity.  Each phone conversation between the siblings reveals more about their relationship.  Davey clearly knows his sister is a walking disaster but is willing to cast aside his doubts for the sake of family harmony.  The scenes between the Bowden siblings enable the audience (and Cassie) to take a breather, before being submerged back into Cassie’s craziness once again.     

Whilst the series has a bouncy, or jaunty soundtrack, as the episodes go on the tone darkens as Cassie tries to solve the mystery of the ferocious death and clear her name. The entire cast is brilliant with Rosie Perez as Cassie's colleague Megan, Zosia Mamet as Cassie's lawyer best friend who tries to keep Cassie under control as she spirals deeper and deeper. However dark it might get, it's a show that remembers the importance of humour and everyone here feels real.

The series is a travelogue through the lens of an Agatha Christie mystery.  Viewers who board the initial episodes will want to remain through the end (and possibly series two since the show has been recommissioned by HBO Max).  Part of this show’s magic must be attributed to Kaley Cuoco’s presence in front and behind the camera; she serves as one of the show’s Executive Producers. She's the star and the heart of the show and the material allows her to show her true range. Cassie Bowden is a deeply damaged individual with the perfect mix of empathy and wit.  The audience may be frustrated with Cassie in one scene, but she will win them back with a bit of self-deprecating humour.  The dramatic twists may initially get you excited about the series, but Kaley Cuoco’s performance kept this reviewer onboard.             

Contributed by Mo Walker   

The Flight Attendant is now available on Sky Boxsets or NOW (TV) 
                 It airs Friday Night at 9.00pm on Sky One.

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