Once every few years, an era-defining sitcom finally reaches the end of its successful TV reign and when it does, a blindingly bright spotlight always falls on the stars it shot to fame. From Friends phenomenon Jennifer Aniston and The Office’s Ricky Gervais, to How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick Harris and Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, all breakout actors face that terrifying question when the credits stop rolling and the screen goes blank: “Well, what’s next?”
It was undoubtedly no different for The Big Bang Theory starlet Kaley Cuoco, who’d spent the first 20 years of her career jumping from one successful comedy to another when the CBS sitcom came to an end in 2019. Whether she’s playing ditzy teen Bridget Hennessy in 8 Simple Rules or outgoing wannabe-actress Penny in TV marmite The Big Bang Theory, most viewers know Cuoco as an established sitcom darling whose one-liners are frequently delivered to audiences of up to 18 million.
In crime thriller The Flight Attendant however, Cuoco sheds her sitcom skin and soars as Cassie Bowden, a party-loving air hostess and functioning alcoholic who wakes up next to one of her passengers after a flight to Bangkok to find him brutally murdered.
Executive produced by Cuoco and based on Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the same name, this eight-part drama finally makes its UK debut after landing (brace yourself for more plane puns further down) on HBO Max in the US back in November and follows a freaked-out Cassie as she evades the FBI team investigating the murder whilst searching for the truth herself within the murky criminal underworld.
The series is a stylistic blend of 1960s murder mystery and modern thriller, with its Hitchcockian opening sequence and a soundtrack which alternates between suspenseful piano and the likes of Lizzo, Dua Lipa and Courtney Love. The pop-y, fun yet anxious tone of The Flight Attendant seems to reflect its protagonist Cassie, who unravels over the course of each 45-minute episode, experiencing flashbacks to unresolved childhood trauma and talking to a mental projection of the rich, handsome but shady murder victim – Alex (Michiel Huisman) – who now lives inside her head.
Cuoco finally gets to stretch her acting legs as the damaged Cassie, who paints over the cracks in her hardy, quick-witted exterior with countless mini bottles of airplane vodka and a string of one-night stands. While you really feel for Cassie, who’s found herself in a horrific situation and witnesses a number of deaths throughout the show, her decision-making skills will sometimes make even the most patient viewer tear their hair out with frustration. From the get go, she makes a number of terrible choices, from attempting to clear up a crime scene she had nothing to do with and fleeing Bangkok in a panic, to attending the deceased’s funeral and snooping around the home of his family who are revealed to be heavily involved in some sort of criminal enterprise.
Not only does Cassie make life difficult for herself by running head-first into dangerous and legally questionable situations, but she subsequently impacts the lives of those closest to her, including best friend and high flying lawyer Annie, played by the wonderfully dry Zosia Mamet, and her insecure colleague Megan (Rosie Perez), who appears to be dabbling in some shady business herself.
While Cassie is contending with the FBI, who are tracking her every move, she’s trying to learn more about a mysterious woman called Miranda who’d joined herself and Alex on the night before his death. Played by the glamorous yet terrifying Michelle Gomez (Doctor Who, Green Wing), who brings the energy of a toned down Missy to the role, Miranda proves to be the murderous mouse to Cassie’s chaotic cat and vice versa as Cassie begins to realise just how dire her situation is.
Stressful to watch at times but intriguing, funny and thrilling, The Flight Attendant is a drama that takes a little while to take off but is an eight-parter stuffed with terrific performances from its stellar cast, particularly Cuoco whose ability to maintain a state of deteriorating mental distress for so long definitely deserved that Golden Globes nod. Being Cuoco’s first project since Big Bang, The Flight Attendant was definitely a risk worth taking and I, for one, can’t wait for season two to jet over to the UK.
The Flight Attendant arrives on Sky One and NOW TV from Friday (19th March). If you’ve already completed the series, read our breakdown of The Flight Attendant ending. While you’re waiting visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out our Drama hub for all the latest news.