The Flight Attendant ain’t your father’s penny. Okay, that’s a silly play on the beer Not Your Father’s Root Beer about how Kaley Cuoco, who plays Penny in Big Bang Theory and stars in this TV series from HBO Max, isn’t Penny anymore.
The show, based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Chris Bohjalian, follows Cassie Bowden (played by Cuoco), who is a flight attendant and wakes up one morning after a night of drinking and sex to find a murdered man next to her. Chaos ensues.
So, admittedly, at first, if you’re an ardent lover of The Big Bang Theory, which I am and I just recently finished it, you see Penny in the first episode. That’s Penny! It’s obviously the same face and the same voice because it’s … Cuoco, but also, the character revolves around partying and drinking, just like Penny!
But to Cuoco’s immense credit, as the series goes along, and it’s only eight episodes, she becomes Cassie Bowden and reaches depths as an actress she did not reach as Penny. Because while the show plays itself as sort of a quirky, darkly humorous mysterious spy caper, there’s also a lot of emotional weight here.
As I’ve said before, shows hook you with one thing (the quirky, dark humor and mystery), but are really about something else. In this case, the real meat of the show is about Cassie and how she’s an alcoholic without wanting to acknowledge it, and worse, because of that alcoholism and a tragedy in her past (her father died in a drunken car crash while she was the passenger), she’s romanticized her childhood. To her, her childhood was a fun time with her father, even though he was making her drink at 10-years-old. He made her his drinking buddy. But for her brother, Davey (played by T.R. Knight), who is also gay, it was hell. His father treated him poorly and to Davey, Cassie only encouraged it. I do feel he’s too hard on Cassie though. She was a kid and didn’t know better.
Also, Cassie is dealing with her “friendships” and I put friendships in quotes because that’s the thing, she’s taken those friendships for granted. First, with Annie (played by Zosia Mamet), her lawyer best friend, and Megan (played by Rosie Perez), her co-worker flight attendant. Annie is also dealing with her own issues with intimacy and perhaps crossing the ethical, moral and legal line as a lawyer. And Megan feels such low self-esteem, she gets caught up in in corporate espionage.
Meanwhile, there is the unraveling spy story about who killed Alex (played by Michiel Huisman) and why? It plays well, too, because the mystery is so grand that the FBI and Annie think Cassie is a crazy drunk. Which, she is a crazy drunk — seriously, it gets difficult at a certain point to watch how much she continues to drink and unravel — but she’s right about everything! In particular, FBI agent Van White (played by Nolan Funk) is an awful investigator. He arrives at his conclusion that Cassie killed Alex, and works backward to fit every new piece of evidence into that conclusion, and worse, is arrogant about it all. It’s annoying.
But anyway, the fun of the show is that this bumbling (literally), drunk party girl is somehow figuring all of this grand mystery out? And taking wild risks? And it works? She’s like a drunk Lois Lane in that way. The fact that she survives an international assassin is awesome.
Along the way throughout the first five episodes, we think Miranda Croft (played by Michelle Gomez), who is an assassin, is the one who killed Alex, killed an FBI agent, killed someone at Alex’s company, and is after Cassie. In a jaw-dropping moment, it turns out, nope. She hasn’t killed any of those people! Then we get the absolutely delightful pairing of Cassie and Miranda trying to solve the mystery. To be honest, their dynamic is something I’d watch eight more episodes of because their chemistry is awesome, as the drunk party girl and the dry assassin dynamic works well. Whenever Cassie proposes a solution, Miranda goes, “We’ll die.” It’s great.
There was also another turn toward their end where one of Cassie’s bar hook-ups, Buckley (played by Colin Woodell), turned out to be Felix, an international assassin who has been the one doing all the killing, including of Alex. That surprised me because my guess was that it was Cassie’s fellow flight attendant, Shane Evans (played by Griffin Matthews). Instead, we get another turn when Shane saves Cassie from Buckley, that Shane is secretly a CIA agent who has been tracking Megan. I thought that last reveal was a bit … hokey. I mean, a CIA agent?! And teasing that Cassie should join the CIA?!
But that aside, overall, this was an fun, funny, intriguing and unexpectedly emotionally deep story, as it was quite satisfying to see not only the mystery come to a good conclusion, but to see Cassie rectify her relationships with Davey, Megan, and Annie, as well as seemingly begin her journey to sobriety.
The eight episodes at around 44 minutes to 48 minutes flew by, so I highly recommend it. You’ll never see Penny the same way again. It’s one of those shows with a fantastic hook of a premise, but you’re wondering, how is this going to go seven more episodes? But they do it and it gets more and more compelling. That’s why I’m particularly intrigued to see how they’re going to do a second season, out in 2022. We’ll see!