“Fatal Attraction” was very much a product of its time, so an attempt to cash in on the title – as Paramount+ does with a new version – absolutely needed to reconsider and reimagine the material. Yet the eight-part series awkwardly draped over its bones is a beyond-busy murder mystery, one that – with apologies to one of the film’s signature lines – can easily be ignored.
As it happens, “Fatal Attraction” arrives the same week another streaming show with a very similar framework, “Saint X,” makes its debut on Hulu. Both jump around in time, hinge on the mysterious death of a young woman and build, too slowly, toward revealing what really happened, relying on an abundance of twists to tease out the story.
The former starts with one of the most popular movies of the late 1980s, which famously scared men about infidelity thanks to Glenn Close’s alluring and then obsessed and increasingly dangerous stalker, mixing eroticism, horror and no small amount of sexism, with a memorable pinch of animal cruelty for good measure.
The series updates that artifact in a number of ways – a few of them logical, one (yes) having to do with a bunny, but most merely perplexing. Specifically, it begins with Dan Gallagher (Joshua Jackson), a Los Angeles prosecutor, doing time for the murder of Alex Forrest (Lizzy Caplan), a co-worker with whom he had engaged in a steamy affair before things went very, very sideways.
Relying primarily on hairstyles to designate the 15-year gap as it oscillates between then and now, the show begins with Dan being passed over for a promotion – he thinks he’s a lock to become a judge – which, as constructed, puts him in the mindset to risk his life with his wife, Beth (Amanda Peet), and their young daughter Ellen (Vivien Lyra Blair, recently seen in “Obi-Wan Kenobi”) by stepping out with Alex when the two are away.
Flash forward, and Dan is just getting out of prison, said daughter is now a young woman (played at that age by Alyssa Jirrels) wrestling with her family history, and Beth has moved on. Meanwhile, Dan and his pal Mike (Toby Huss) seek to reopen their investigation, trying to determine what really happened to Alex and potentially clear his name.
Executive producer Alexandra Cunningham (“Dirty John”) capitalizes on the more-expansive format to flesh out a lot of details, more organically developing the relationship and Alex’s side of the story as well as her past. The series also still weaves in touches that defined the movie, from Alex and Dan’s trysts to her famous warning, “I’m not going to be ignored.”
Still, the understandable attempt to bring “Fatal Attraction” into the 2020s – as Paramount recently did, more successfully, with “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” – feels more tortured than most reboots (see the recent “Dead Ringers” as another example), padding on new characters and improbable wrinkles.
Perhaps foremost, it takes what feels like an awfully long time to get to the not-terribly-satisfying payoff, despite solid work by Jackson and Caplan, who were both better served by the erotic series “The Affair” and “Masters of Sex,” respectively.
In the original, Alex told Dan as the sexual tension built between them, “You’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.” There’s still some naughtiness in this incarnation, but it’s more guilty of being a boring boy than anything else.
The same criticisms largely apply to “Saint X,” an adaptation of Alexis Schaitkin’s novel, which begins with the promising premise of how a “missing White woman” story unfolded, reflecting the media fascination with such tales and the toll on those swept up in its orbit.
Specifically, that includes guests and staff at the Caribbean resort where college-student Alison (West Duchovny, David Duchovny and Téa Leoni’s daughter) went missing, and particularly the lingering effects on her much-younger sister, Emily, who as an adult (played by “Fear the Walking Dead’s” Alicia Debnam-Carey) begins nosing around for answers as to what really transpired.
Loosely inspired by the Natalee Holloway case, the issues of class and race – illustrated through the prism of two hotel employees, well played by Josh Bonzie and Jayden Elijah – feel overwhelmed here by the emphasis on Emily’s ill-advised attempt to play Nancy Drew; Alison’s “stupid tourist” behavior, despite her protestations to the contrary; and an ending that doesn’t justify the trip.
Complaining that such mystery series meander too much has become a familiar gripe, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Like “The White Lotus,” “Saint X” sets up provocative upstairs/downstairs themes in an inviting location, but unlike that HBO show, it’s a relatively poor destination for an eight-episode stay.
“Fatal Attraction” premieres April 30 on Paramount+.
“Saint X” premieres April 26 on Hulu.