TV miniseries review: Mrs. Fletcher (HBO, 2019)
tl;dr: I shouldn’t have to feel so surprised at how progressive this is.
Based on the 2017 novel by Tom Perrotta Mrs. Fletcher is a “limited series” from HBO. It was broadcast on Sky Comedy here in the UK at the beginning of 2020 and by the time I realised it was something I should have watched, it wasn’t available on Sky On Demand. I’ve been keeping an eye out for the past few months, and then suddenly, there it was! Joy to the world and what a way to kick off 2021!
45-year-old Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn, who is seriously fucking amazing throughout) lives alone with her son Brendan (Jackson White), who’s about to go off to college. She divorced Brendan’s father (Josh Hamilton) ten years ago, but doesn’t seem to have moved on much from there. As her son goes off to college it’s time to rediscover herself, which in part includes discovering Internet porn and, uh, the joys of masturbation.
She also enrols in a creative writing class, which one day takes a turn for the more interesting when they decide to go to a bar (owned by one of the classmates, played by Josh Pais, a.k.a. Stu from Ray Donovan) instead of sitting in an uninspiring classroom where the ceiling lights keep flickering. Could there be a few sparks between her and 19-year-old Julian (Owen Teague)? Might there also be sparks between Curtis (Ifádansi Rashad) and class teacher Margo (Jen Richards)?
Meanwhile at college, Brendan is having some issues with school, and he seems to hardly speak to his room-mate (Cameron Boyce, who tragically passed away from a medical condition around the time this was being filmed). He finds Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones), and they seem to take a liking to each other.
So what’s with the progressiveness I mentioned in the tl;dr? Aside from being very frank about female sexuality and masturbation, there’s the will they/won’t they of Eve getting together with a 19-year-old. You don’t often see that (45-year-old men with 19-year-old women? Dime a dozen!), especially not when it isn’t played for laughs or making the woman out to be some kind of predatory cougar.
Margo is a trans woman played by an actual trans woman, and her story line is nice and wholesome. It’s done in a way where her identity isn’t made into a huge thing or a problem to overcome. And the fact that I’m sitting there noticing it being normalised is why I put that tl;dr in there. We shouldn’t have to go “wow, they’re allowing these characters to simply exist for who they are!” when watching something, but you can’t help it, because it really is that unusual. And that’s why representation matters so much!
Now, I’m not trans, so for me personally the more salient point in this progressiveness is Eve’s friend and co-worker Amanda (Katie Kershaw). Do you realise how frickin’ novel it is to see a fat woman (fat is an adjective, not a slur) being allowed to be an actual person and not just her weight? Her weight was never even mentioned, not even once. She wasn’t trying to hide either: she wore bathing suits – or nothing at all! – and she was treated like a human being. (If you don’t think that’s rare, you’re probably not a fat woman.) Not the pitiable fat best friend who only exists to cheer on the protagonist and make her look better by comparison, no. An actual person, with actual feelings – including sexual ones, and it’s not played for laughs. And it’s so incredibly refreshing! Fucking hell, I wish more shows were like this!
And that’s the point I was trying to make. These things should all be considered normal, because they are, but because we so rarely see them portrayed on screen we think they’re not. But they should be. So yes to more of this! And more of women being allowed to not always look their best, because guess what? We don’t wake up in the morning with perfectly made up faces.
Another thing I liked was that Brendan didn’t get away with being an asshole. He was repeatedly called out on it, especially at the point where it mattered the most. And he wasn’t allowed to apologise and magically have it all go away either; his actions had actual consequences for him. This is also really important.
To anyone keeping track, you’ll know within the first five minutes the reason why I was keeping an eye out for this show. While I obviously lament the very limited screen time my favourite discovery of 2020 gets, he puts it to such good use I’m not actually complaining. The story of Roy (Bill Raymond) and his son George (Domenick Lombardozzi) is touching, and also highlights that ageing can be hard both on the person it happens to, as well as their loved ones, and this is also something that should be talked about more but isn’t.
And big props for that eulogy scene. I mean there are reasons I now count Domenick Lombardozzi as one of my favourite actors, quite apart from my inexplicable crush on Ralph Capone* and him proving to be an awesome human being on social media. It’s the fact that he’s a brilliant – but criminally underused – actor, and when he gets a chance to shine, BOY HOWDY does he shine! (See also: Ray Donovan, season 6. I’m still blown away by that.)
So while the reason for me putting this on my to-watch list turned out to be in it for something like five minutes in total (out of seven 30 minute episodes), Mrs. Fletcher turned out to not just be an entertaining dramedy, but also something I wish other shows saw and took note of. It’s possible to make good TV and be inclusive and treat everyone like human beings. More of that, please.
4.7 out of 5 hastily closed laptops.
*Which is not, in fact, all that inexplicable when you realise how ridiculously attached I am to my vampire character.