TV review: Mrs. Fletcher is sexy, messy and full of nuance

HBO dramedy gives Kathryn Hahn a juicy leading role as a middle-age empty nester with a MILF porn addiction


MRS. FLETCHER (Tom Perrotta) Premieres Sunday (October 27) on HBO and streams on Crave. Rating: NNNN


HBO’s limited series Mrs. Fletcher parallels two very different coming-of-age stories: the titular Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn), a divorcée and empty-nester trying to find fulfilment now that she’s no longer a full-time mom, and her son Brendan (Jackson White), a conventionally attractive bro entering his first year of college.

Throughout seven half-hour episodes, Eve and Brendan try to adapt to new identities with varying degrees of success. Without the duties of being a full-time mom and unfulfilled in her job as a manager at a senior centre, Eve is listless and enrolls in a personal-writing class. At home, she timidly starts watching internet porn – mostly MILF-focused – and develops a mild addiction.

Meanwhile, viewers will either deeply despise or relate to Brendan. In high school, he was the archetype playful jock-cum-bully, who easily gets with girls even though he’s a dick. In college, though, his shortcomings become brutally clear and he has trouble connecting with his progressive-minded peers. In one brilliant scene, he joins a table of jersey-clad varsity athletes in the cafeteria, assuming he’s found his ilk, only to realize he’s way in over his head as they discuss the merits of cap and trade.

Based on the book by Tom Perrotta (who also penned the novel behind HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama The Leftovers), Mrs. Fletcher is very rarely heavy-handed in its explorations of zeitgeist-y issues like identity, consent, sexuality and masculinity. It’s also refreshing seeing a diverse cast where storylines aren’t wholly focused on their identities. (Trans actor and activist Jen Richards is magnetic as the bookish writing instructor, Margo.)

But as the charmingly awkward and self-aware Eve, who is prone to porny fantasies while grocery-shopping or stopped at a traffic light, Hahn steals the spotlight. Throughout the series, Eve’s own sexual awakening teeters between sweet and cringey, especially as her obsession with MILF porn veers dangerously close to Brendan’s life when she meets one of her son’s former classmates, 19-year-old Julian (Owen Teague), in her writing class. Sexually repressed since her divorce more than a decade prior, Eve’s R-rated sex scenes feel celebratory rather than gratuitous. (And I don’t think that’s a coincidence given all seven episodes were directed by women, including Nicole Holofcener, Carrie Brownstein, Liesl Tommy and Gillian Robespierre.)

As Brendan, White deftly explores how Gen Z approaches sex and identity. For example, in episode four, Brendan’s absentee father (Eighth Grade’s Josh Hamilton) visits for the weekend and what follows encapsulates how toxic masculinity can be subtly passed down through generations. Brendan’s views of women are belittling and objectifying, but you can’t help but feel for him a tiny bit as he flounders in his new environment.

For the most part, Mrs. Fletcher isn’t concerned about its characters learning deep lessons about one’s self and society, but instead leans into the awkward realities of modern relationships where life-changing personal growth doesn’t always happen. One of the series’ most poignant and painful plot lines is about sexual assault and the nuances of consent. The aftermath is messy and unresolved, making it the most accurate portrayal of consent I’ve seen on TV.

The finale is also fittingly abrupt, leaving a slew of questions unanswered. If HBO green-lights a second season, there’s still lots left to uncover.

@SamEdwardsTO

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