“The Flight Attendant” feels like the TV equivalent of summer beach reading, in mostly good ways. Kaley Cuoco stars as the globetrotting party gal of the title, who has the unfortunate experience of waking up next to a dead guy. What happens thereafter plays like a Hitchock-ian thriller, punctuated by the comedy of a protagonist who greets each new development by nearly hyperventilating.
Adapted from a novel by Chris Bohjalian, the limited series introduces Cuoco’s Cassandra drinking her way through various cities, in one of many montages – set to a jazzy score by Blake Neely that really sets the mood – that actually do a lot of work in moving the story along.
Soon enough, she’s working a flight, flirting with a handsome first-class passenger (“Game of Thrones’” Michiel Huisman) and getting together with him when they land, which, as noted, does not end well.
A panicky Cassandra flees the scene, but she’s far from a master in covering her tracks despite telling herself,”You did nothing wrong.” The booze-filled haze begins giving way to periodic snippets of clarity, gradually (over the four episodes previewed) filling in snapshots of what transpired, while simultaneously unearthing uncomfortable childhood memories she had long since buried.
Messy as all that sounds, it mostly works thanks largely to Cuoco, “The Big Bang Theory” star who doubles as a producer (along with writer Steve Yockey and the prolific Greg Berlanti), and manages to convey the darkly comic aspects of Cassandra’s plight without undermining the thriller-like foundation.
Those elements include a mysterious woman and questions about what sort of activities might have prompted the victim’s death. The show also boasts a good supporting cast, with Rosie Perez as Cassandra’s colleague, Zosia Mamet (“Girls”) as her attorney pal (convenient, given the circumstances) and T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as her exasperated brother.
The basic scenario has been a sturdy one through the years, but Hitchcock’s traditional formula usually involved an ordinary bloke (think “The 39 Steps,” “North by Northwest” or “The Man Who Knew Too Much”) thrust into perilous cloak-and-dagger circumstances. The wrinkle of putting Cuoco in that role – and her character being so completely flummoxed by it – mildly freshens up the mix, adding amusing complications like running away in heels.
Most of all, “The Flight Attendant” is mindless fun, a quality often in too-short supply in the world of premium TV. Gradually rolling out its eight episodes over four weeks, that appraisal doesn’t necessarily mean the show will stick the landing, but give it credit for a smooth takeoff.
“The Flight Attendant” premieres Nov. 26 on HBO Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.