'Mrs. Fletcher': TV Review | TIFF 2019

A promising story not given the time it deserves.

Kathryn Hahn leads the cast of HBO's new limited series based on the Tom Perrotta novel about the sexual reawakening of a middle-aged divorcee.

Misuse of the episodic format is most common in serialized dramas that would have worked better as limited series. But in the case of HBO's latest — the limited series Mrs. Fletcher, which premiered Tuesday night at the Toronto International Film Festival — it's hard not to imagine the whole thing working better if it could perhaps last longer and develop its characters more naturally, since the results of the three episodes shown at TIFF (and the whole season of seven that I saw for this review) felt truncated and underwhelming.

Created and written for television by Tom Perrotta, based on his novel of the same name, Mrs. Fletcher stars Kathryn Hahn as a divorced mother whose son goes off to college and who, in her empty nest, tries to find her own fulfillment. HBO described the series as a "coming of age" story for both mother and son. But mostly it's Hahn being funny and overwhelmed and curious as Eve Fletcher, while her son Brendan, played by Jackson White, goes off to college to be the same clueless douchebag who is tone-deaf to anything that doesn't have to do with being a straight, white, cis male, the same as he was in high school.

At least in an ongoing drama there might have been a decision to make Brendan less heinous so that audiences could care even slightly when the faintest signs of karma strike back. Instead, as Mrs. Fletcher devolves into two storylines with characters seeking to find themselves, even Brendan learning the hard way that he's not the center of the universe elicits nothing from the viewer because he's such a dopey, one-note cliche. Hahn, who imbues all her roles with an enviable combination of comedy, fierceness and vulnerability, gets more to work with, but hardly any of Eve's disconnected searching seems real in any way.

The first episode is both the funniest and best (it was written by Perrotta, while other writers take swings at the remaining episodes, as do directors after first-episode helmer Nicole Holofcener), setting up Eve — with real emotional accuracy — as the sad parent sending off her child to college while said child is less concerned with goodbyes and more concerned with just getting there to start an exciting journey. But the first signs of Brendan's deep awfulness are there already. Meanwhile, trouble looms by the end of the second episode, as unbelievable scenarios and motivations in Eve's life start to pile up and undermine the overall direction of the series.

It's better to be deceptively simple than frustratingly simple, yet every time Mrs. Fletcher starts to take deeper looks at the human condition, it reverts either to something too obvious (Brendan) or too oblique (Eve's muddled desires); much of its promise is lost in the vagaries of Eve's lack of fulfillment, and though Hahn can deftly pull off both the overt comedic parts of the role and the sad and conflicted parts, ultimately the depiction of Eve in the limited series is too scattered to leave much of an impression.

So much of Mrs. Fletcher revolves around Eve's sexual awakening and her pursuit of pleasure, but it barely gets past her newfound (and often funny) lust for porn as she expands her interests into dominance, bisexuality, a much younger potential lover, etc.

The trouble with adapting books for television is that the vast majority of viewers won't have seen the source material, so perhaps the book has more subtle layers that eventually connect into a narrative that the limited series couldn't achieve in seven episodes. It's also interesting that Perrotta turned so much of the writing duties over to others. In either case, Mrs. Fletcher feels both unfinished and rushed — the seven half-hour episodes failing to cement a story rather than just the feeling of a story, while too much short-hand and thus obviousness is used to bring other characters' stories to an end. 

Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Jackson White, Casey Wilson, Jen Richards, Rashad Edwards, Owen Teague, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Josh Pais, Domenick Lombardozzi
Created and written by: Tom Perrotta
Based on the book by: Tom Perrotta
First episode directed by: Nicole Holofcener
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Primetime)

Premieres: Sunday, Oct. 27, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT (HBO)