Kaley Cuoco impresses as the flawed, complicated title role in HBO Max’s dark and witty comedy.
The most unexpected and refreshing thing about Greg Berlanti’s new series The Flight Attendant is just how many genres it manages to pay homage to without being constrained by any of them. It’s a murder mystery, conspiracy thriller, dark comedy, and bizarre romantic fantasy all rolled into one bright and bubbly package that hides some seriously dark undertones. Best of all, every major player in this series is a woman. The Flight Attendant doesn’t just pass the Bechdel test, it yeets it into outer space.
Determined to rise above her tenure on Big Bang Theory, Kaley Cuoco stars as Cassie Bowden, who is introduced in the first of many montages, this one set to Sofi Tukker’s ‘Good Time Girl’ to reinforce the idea that Cassie is indeed a Good Time. Not even waking up hungover on the subway is enough to make Cassie think that maybe, just maybe, her life is a tad out of control. She gloats to her older brother (TR Knight) that he—a husband and father of two—isn’t so much worried about her well being as “jealous of my super fun life.” If you can’t call waking up on the D train fun, do you even really know what fun is?
Despite her chaotic life, Cassie is well suited to her job as a first class flight attendant, where she’s surrounded by beautiful and witty coworkers. The most notable among these being Megan Briscoe (Rosie Perez). Perez has made a career of playing tough, smart women with hearts of gold (see her glorious turn in Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey). So it’s disarming to see her playing such a vulnerable woman who—like Cassie—makes the wrong choice at every turn.
And Cassie seems to have a gift, almost a calling, to make the worst possible choice every opportunity. When she hits it off with a handsome passenger (Michiel Huisman) in 3C, she skirts company policy to make out in the first class lavatory. A good rule of thumb is to never engage with the good looking stranger reading Crime and Punishment, no good can come of it. Even his name—Alex Sokolov—sounds worthy of a Bond Villain. After Cassie and Alex spend a delirious night of wining, dining, baring their souls and their bodies, their connection feels so genuine and honest you start to believe that maybe this was the first right thing Cassie has done in some time.
The Flight Attendant doesn’t just pass the Bechdel test, it yeets it into outer space.
So of course the next morning Cassie wakes up next to Alex’s dead body. What follows is a series of tense, sometimes hilarious situations, like Cassie calling her best friend and attorney Annie (Zosia Mamet) to ask for the details on the Amanda Knox case. You know, as friends do. Cassie only emerges from her vodka-soaked social life to go to Alex’s office, crash his memorial service, and steal his parent’s trash. This is all much to the amusement of FBI agent Kim Hammond (Merle Dandridge), who is in charge of investigating Alex’s murder, and a total pain to the icy, deadly operative Miranda Croft (Michelle Gomez, who is just the best). While there are laughs to be had, they’re tempered by Cassie’s trauma-fueled self destruction, something she had long before crossing paths with Alex.
The damage Cassie has done to herself and others in her life is, for lack of a better word, sobering, and Cuoco plays it beautifully. There is a lot to love about Cassie. She’s kind, she’s smart, she truly loves the people in her life, but spends so much time repressing her own trauma that she’s only halfway there for any of them. She’s messy, especially compared to Annie and Megan, who seem able to function despite having ties to the Russian mob and/or facilitating espionage. That’s really the beautiful thing about The Flight Attendant. Everyone here is just as messy as Cassie is, they just do a better job of hiding it.
The Flight Attendant works so well on the strength of its cast. Cuoco’s wide-eyed put-upon innocence is at odds with her pernicious lifestyle. Her interactions with Huisman—pocket scenes of Cassie fantasizing her way out of trouble by talking things over with the guy who caused it in the first place—have a real spark of connection that makes you think, “Hey, he may be dead, but maybe these crazy kids will work it out.”
Cuoco also optioned and produced this series under her own production company, Yes, Norman, proving she’s ready to step out of the shadow of her sitcom past. It’s exciting to see an actress so completely embody a role, and if this is only the beginning of Cuoco choosing the parts she wants to play, I can’t wait to see what she chooses next.
The Flight Attendant is now available on HBO Max