Mrs. Fletcher arrives on screens as a very interesting pedigree; created by The Leftovers author Tom Perrotta and based upon his novel of the same name, with an opening episode directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Kathryn Hahn, this HBO Original is billed as a comedy, and has made it to the UK via Sky Comedy, but Mrs. Fletcher feels less like a comedy and more of a drama that just happens to have some very funny moments in it.
Hahn, a terrific actress thanks to wonderfully comedic turns in Parks and Recreation and the Bad Moms movies, puts in a wonderfully layered performance as the titular character, in seven wonderfully crafted episodes that get better and better the more the series goes on.
The character of Eve Fletcher is the emotional anchor to everything going on, but the series is brilliantly populated by an equally wonderful supporting cast and some nicely portrayed subplots, but its centred around a tremendously developed female character who finds herself in the face of uncertainty after finding herself confronted by empty nest syndrome and subsequently falling into the rabbit hole of online pornography and re-discovering her sexuality.
The online pornography element is obviously a large part in which to promote the series, but Mrs Fletcher isn’t strictly a series which wallows in a character watching porn for seven half-hour episodes, but instead finds a part of herself that has laid dormant for so long and grabbing it with nervous hands.
A lot of what works here is down to a magnificent performance from Hahn. For anyone only familiar with some of her more overtly comedic characters such as in Bad Moms, the quiet integrity of her work here is genuinely wonderful.
Being a HBO series means that some of the content has the potential to be shocking and admittedly some of the sexual scenes in some of their recent productions (Euphoria for instance) have pushed the boundaries in the way that sexuality and the human body have been presented on screen, and the sexuality here is equally raw at times, but outside of Eve’s laptop where some of the scenarios she watches are playing in the background of some scenes, the sex scenes are played from the point of view of Eve.
We see her enjoy her sexual urges on her own initially, and there are many scenes of Hahn portraying masturbation, while one comedic sex scene in a later episode portrays her own frustration at not being to enjoy what it is she wants from the experience, not least an inability to climax due to the same old story of the guy she is having sex with finishing first.
The series ends with a ménage a trois between Eve, her best friend Amanda (Katie Kershaw) and her fellow class mate and admirer Julian (Owen Teague) that never plays for shock value and more for genuine eroticism and a commitment to portraying characters of varying body types than the type of toned levels of ‘perfection’ that Hollywood, and usually many other HBO shows, seem to portray.
While Eve is the emotional centre of the series, the subplots involving her friends and family are equally engrossing and well told. At thirty minutes an episode each instalment covers a lot of ground and does so in a beautifully controlled way, with each sub-plot never intruding on each other, with one ongoing story arc involving Eve’s creative writing teacher Margo (Jen Richards) and fellow student Curtis (Ifádansi Rashad) and their tender romance with another proving especially poignant and lovely.
Of the main subplots, the most central one after that of Eve involves her son Brendon (Jackson White). His moving out to attend college is the catalyst for the events of the show and much of the series splits its time between these two and how the change of dynamic in their lives affects them.
It goes without saying that Brendan is one of the most hateful characters on television in a long time. Where Eve is lovable and deeply sympathetic and we celebrate as she finds her way in her journey of rediscovery, Brendan’s journey is darker. A privileged jerk right from the moment we meet him who, even when being given the cold shoulder from a girl he hits on at a party still ends up having sex with her, this is a character who clearly gets his own way all the time, and yet ends up being given a rude awakening at seeing his stature as the head of the herd at high school give way to being shown that he isn’t as cool or entitled as he thinks he is when he gets a taste of college experience. Possible redemption looks like it might come from a relationship with fellow student Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones), but this then gives way to a disturbing sexual encounter in which Brendan’s entitlement and behaviour with girls leads to a moment that is a violation of Chloe and her consent.
It’s an incredibly disturbing moment in a series that up to that point has portrayed sex and sexuality in a positive way, but the series isn’t afraid to show how a so-called entitled male is inclined to behave when believing he is allowed to get what he wants from life and from sex. Brendan is justifiably punished for this, ostracized from Chloe and her friends, and this coming in a season of television that shows he has no idea how the world works from outside that comfortable sphere from which he came from when in high school.
While his attitude to the world and the increasing diversity around him is one he greets with a sense of panicked indifference, we see Eve grasp the outside world with both hands; from having new friends that are transgender, African-American and bisexual, to enjoying the positivity of sex itself, much of this is undoubtedly down to the choice of having the scripts written by a mixture of male and female writers and every episode being directed by female directors; as well as Holofcener on the first episode, subsequent episodes are directed by Carrie Brownstein, Liesl Tommy and Gillian Robespierre and the female point of view shines through magnificently in all seven episodes.
The sex scenes never feel exploitative in a manner that one gets from many male directors, with Robespierre’s filming and direction of the sex scene that brings the series to a conclusion portraying sex in a positive, inclusive light as opposed simply being a sensationalist, pervy scene with which to finish the show, and it’s an approach that makes Mrs. Fletcher a success.
Billed as a limited series, there has been no word yet on whether we’ll get a second season, although Hahn and Perrotta have expressed an interest. The final scene makes the series feel complete thematically, and if there is to be no more after this, then that’s fine, it’s as great a place to finish the story as any, but it ends on a mini cliff-hanger, hinting at a conversation between Eve and Brendan that you really want to see.
Even if this is a ‘one and done’ season of television, it still stands a fine piece comedy drama and one worthy of re-watching.