The Flight Attendant is an oddly rare thing: a Hitchcockian thriller crossed with screwball comedy. And it works because of its star Kaley Cuoco. She plays a flight attendant who wakes up in Bangkok with her date dead next to her in bed and sets out to prove her innocence before she gets arrested or murdered. Hitchcockian thrillers are defined by an innocent person who gets caught up in a crime and has to go on the run from both the law and the bad guys. The Flight Attendant updates the genre through an HBO filter.
Cuoco's Cassie Bowden may be an ordinary person instead of a cop, but she's the kind of self-destructive hot mess that HBO characters usually are. She's not just an alcoholic, but a blackout drunk with a penchant for self-destruction. The difference is Cuoco's natural default is comedy. She's a walking bundle of twitch screwball quirks where a more serious actress would make Cassie unbearable. She's a user and a terrible friend. She's hopelessly self-preoccupied and her alcoholism goes all the way back to a childhood trauma. She has frequent blackouts where she ends up in a memory palace with an idealized version of the dead Alex (Michiel Huisman) serving as her better angel trying to guide her towards a psychological breakthrough and to crack the case.
Cassie's actions drive everyone to their last nerve, from her lawyer and best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet) to her brother (T.J. Knight) to her fellow flight attendant Megan (Rosie Perez), who's getting into some industrial espionage herself out of boredom. There's the cocky FBI agent convinced Cassie is a homicidal mastermind to the mystery woman (Michelle Gomez) tailing her who might be the real killer. Cassie's impulsive actions put her in more danger, but are so chaotic they might also be keeping her alive because nobody can predict what she's going to do next.
Who knew Cuoco would be this good? She's like a young Goldie Hawn in Foul Play, a Hitchcockian comedy-thriller from 1978 with a similar farcical bent, only this show takes things a lot further. And late in the series, Cuoco and Gomez end up together in the most unexpected double act of the year, Cuoco all twitchy and neurotic, Gomez all deadpan and sarcastic with her unique blend of humor and menace. The Flight Attendant is an antidote to the self-serious HBO thrillers like The Undoing by being reverent and funny and a lot more fun to watch.