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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

The Flight Attendant

The ingredients that make up “The Flight Attendant,” HBO Max’s highly entertaining, stealthily thoughtful thriller, should all feel familiar to anyone who loves television, movies, and/or a good page-turner.


It’s a lot of fun, if you’re willing to go along for a ride that doesn’t always track but almost always entertains. It’s a thriller, and it’s a drama, but it’s also almost a comedy, with a brisk pace and a playful tone. It takes itself seriously, but only to a point.


Far from The Big Bang Theory, Kaley Cuoco hits new heights as a cabin crew worker entangled in an elaborate crime in this slick and witty thriller.


Febrile but functioning alcoholic Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) has embraced her hospitality duty fully. Every time a passenger gets a drink, she gets one too, and in the opening episode she flirts with handsome gazillionaire passenger Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) on a flight to Bangkok and ends up spending a fabulous, inebriated night with him. Alas, the fun stops abruptly when she wakes up to find him bloodied and dead beside her. His throat has been cut and she cannot remember anything of the night before.


She cleans up the crime scene and hotfoots it out of there, unaware that her colleagues saw her head off on an obvious date the previous evening, and only discovers later that her ID is missing. On returning home she is questioned with the rest of the crew by FBI agents who have been informed of Sokolov’s murder and suspect espionage shenanigans. As pieces of the night before start to flash into Cassie’s mind – including the revelation that there was at some point a third person with them – she begins to wonder who the murderer might be.


It’s an hour that, pardon the pun, flies by. The premise is fun, the execution is slick and the action is fast and relentless (it only really pauses to let Cassie top up her blood-alcohol level or call her straight-arrow brother to assure him that she’s sober and will be home on time). It’s full of style and brio, from split-screen scenes when she’s talking to her brother or to her lawyer friend Annie (Zosia Mamet, doing her wonderful bonkersly-detached thing) to the hallucinations involving Alex’s risen corpse.


The script is a thing of wonder: propulsive and credible despite its fundamentally incredible premise. It even nails the hardest thing of all: convincing workplace banter. Cassie’s fellow flight attendants include Rosie Perez as Megan Briscoe, her closest friend there, torn between lying to the FBI and betraying her friend, and reminding us at every turn what a funny actor she is.


Above all, though, there’s Kaley Cuoco. And this, after 12 years as Penny on The Big Bang Theory, is unassailably her show. Her comic timing and hitherto unsuspected dramatic chops ground and charge every scene.


She gives charm, wit and true confidence to a character who would otherwise be a hot mess we would neither care about nor believe in. It’s joyfully astonishing to see her spread her wings – and fly.


Seatbelts on – it’s an enjoyably turbulent flight.




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