If you like Netflix’s “Dead to Me,” I’m thinking you’ll probably like “The Flight Attendant,” which premieres Thursday on HBO Max. 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.
Based on the 2018 novel by Chris Bohjalian, the show revolves around Cassie, a flight attendant played by Kaley Cuoco. Cassie loves her international partying ways, as she always just makes her latest flight after a night of good times. Quickly we can see that she is a barely functional alcoholic for whom blackouts are a way of life. Everything comes crashing down when she has a wild night out with a man she meets on one of her flights, played by Michiel Huisman, and she wakes up in his Bangkok hotel room next to his bloody corpse. Whoops.
Cassie cannot remember what happened, and she decides to get out of that hotel room as fast as she can and try to cover her tracks. She immediately reverts to the denial mode that has enabled her to continue her hazardous lifestyle — pretend nothing is wrong and it will all go away. But as she moves forward, she keeps having dreamlike moments during which she chitchats with the dead man’s ghost. Oddly, Cassie and the dead guy have a sweet chemistry, as he tries to help her solve his murder, and I found myself wishing that he wasn’t really dead. Meanwhile, she tells the truth to her lawyer friend, played by an amusingly mordant Zosia Mamet, whose sage advice she proceeds to ignore. Also in the mix: Rosie Perez as Cassie’s flight attendant pal and T.R. Knight as Cassie’s brother, who is frustrated by and worried about his sister’s carelessness.
HBO Max only provided four of the season’s eight episodes for review, so I can’t say whether the show remains enjoyable as Cassie’s life continues to go off the rails and as the FBI gets increasingly involved. But I had a good time with those four hours, which glide along with the help of split-screens, and I admired Cuoco’s ability to play a woman for whom charm has become a liability. Cassie is waking up, not just to a crime scene but to a life in need of a rethink.